Heading into spring training, the Brewers knew they would likely have to make a tough decision or two when it came to the starting rotation. After sigining Randy Wolf and Doug Davis, it seemed like one of Dave Bush, Manny Parra, and Jeff Suppan would be left out of the rotation (if not off the roster completely). And that was before Chris Narveson continued the hot streak he was on to close last season.
Narveson hasn't allowed a run in 10 spring innings so far, and has been getting glowing review from Ken Macha. Given the Brewers' problems with pitching depth last season, it would make sense to keep as many starters around as possible. Unfortunately, most of the players involved in this race for the final rotation spots are out of minor league options.
Narveson can't be sent down without clearing waivers, and with the spring he's putting together, it seems doubtful someone wouldn't take a chance on him. Parra is also out of options, and also probably wouldn't make it through waivers -- even though he's struggled, he still has very good stuff and throws left-handed. Dave Bush has enough service time to decline a return trip to the minors, and Jeff Suppan is making too much money to not start the season on the 25-man roster.
So if the Brewers want to keep Narveson, what do they do? As Tom Haudricourt noted a couple days ago, the Brewers could trade another picher to make room for him, but in the end they'll only be subtracting from that depth. As it stands now, the Brewers won't have many viable major league stopgaps in their Triple A rotation outside of Chris Capuano, who may not even be stretched out enough to start. If the team isn't sure they'll be able to sneak Parra or Narveson through waivers, they may be forced to get creative with the big league bullpen to keep everyone.
Out of the original three vying for two rotation spots, whoever is left out of the rotation to start the year is still likely to make the team as the long reliever (for the sake of this argument, let's just assume that guy is Parra). David Riske is likely going to start the year on the DL, and there are a few relievers that could be sent down to make room for "Starter #7," which is probably where Narveson stands at the moment. Of the candidates to get sent down, Carlos Villanueva seems to be the most likely. He's been far from consistent, isn't making all that much, and if the team hasn't completely given up on the idea of him starting, could put him in the Nashville rotation to stretch him out again.
It would be a bit of an unconventional bullpen -- essentially two long men, and three or four total lefties (depending on if Scott Schoeneweis makes it as a second lefty reliever) -- but it would allow the Brewers to keep their starting pitching depth. Considering how bad things got last summer, I don't think many people could argue with keeping that many potential starters. It would be better than throwing Mike Burns out there every five days if someone gets hurt, wouldn't it? Until the Brewers can get some pitching prospects in the high minors, this may be the way to go.