PHOENIX -- Brewers manager Ken Macha knows as well as anyone that versatility is at one time a blessing and a curse. It keeps you in the game, but it also tends to keep you on the bench.

It's one of the reasons Macha enjoyed a Major League career that spanned six seasons, five positions and three teams.

"When you play that many positions," Macha said earlier this spring, "it usually means you're not very good at any of them."

Mike Lamb has Macha beat, appearing at six different positions in a career entering its 10th big league season. Lamb has played mostly as a third baseman -- 446 games and 405 starts -- but he's also manned first base for 255 games and made a handful of appearances at second base, left field, right field and catcher.

Lamb, 33, will cash $3 million worth of paychecks this season -- $400,000 from the Brewers and the rest from the Twins, who released him last year with more than a year left on a two-year, $6.5 million contract. He said he has his versatility to thank for his comfortable living.

"It's probably the reason I'm sitting here today," Lamb said. "It's a double-edged sword, I always say. Without it, I would be out of the game. But with it, I'm the Great Insurance Policy everywhere I go, and ... it's tougher to get an everyday gig. People view you for your versatility."

He was supposed to be the everyday third baseman for Minnesota but did not pan out, hitting .233 with a .276 on-base percentage before getting released. The Brewers picked him up in September, then re-signed him over the winter as an option at third base. If Lamb makes the team, he will probably share time in a left-right platoon with right-handed hitter Bill Hall.

Another option for third base is cut from the same cloth. Craig Counsell has played at least 300 Major League games at three different positions -- second base, shortstop and third base -- and in one four-year stretch started four consecutive Opening Days at a different spot.

"It was third, short, second, third," Counsell said of his run from 2003-2006. "If I played only one of those positions, it wouldn't have worked. So I've always looked at it as an opportunity, not a curse."

The way Counsell sees it, there are two types of versatile players. Some are everyday players who happen to play different positions, and some are utility types who come off the bench.

At this stage of his career Counsell is in the latter category, though Macha did mention him Monday as being ahead of Lamb to start at third base against right-handed pitchers. Earlier in his career, Counsell fit the former billing.

Players like the Indians' Mark DeRosa and the Angels' Chone Figgins have defined it in recent years, Counsell said.

"When you can play a bunch of positions, even if you're not a 'Plan A,' you can be a 'Plan B' at three positions," Counsell said. "That turns into opportunity."

That's precisely what Brad Nelson is hoping for. He was once widely considered Milwaukee's top prospect, a left-handed, power-hitting first baseman. Until the Brewers drafted another in Prince Fielder.

So Nelson moved briefly to third base and then to the outfield, where he played both corner positions. Now those spots are occupied in the big leagues by Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, prompting Nelson in 2008 to move back to first base for a big year. He's getting a look this spring for a backup outfield spot, but presumably also could fill in at first base.

"My positions are taken by Fielder, Hart and Braun," Nelson said with a chuckle. "If I make it, I'm going to have to mix and match. None of those guys are going to get many days off, but if you add them all up, all of a sudden you have something. That's going to be my best opportunity.

"If it comes down to a crunch-time [roster] decision, I'm hoping that the fact I can play multiple positions gives me a chance to be on the team."

He appears to be making the most of it. Nelson smacked another double in Monday's loss to the Giants and is hitting .563 in the Cactus League. He's tied for second on the team with 14 total bases.

Versatility applies to pitchers, too, a fact evidenced by hard-throwing righty Seth McClung. He went 6-6 with a respectable 4.02 ERA last season in 12 starts and 25 relief appearances. It was his best big league season, and it left McClung ticketed for the starting rotation entering the month of February.

Then the team signed Braden Looper, and McClung appeared headed back to the bullpen. But then Looper got hurt, and now McClung is preparing to start. He worked in a "B" game against the Rangers on Tuesday.

"I'm only 28 years old and I'm still learning and developing, and versatility is what's giving me my 'in'" McClung said.

He would prefer to start, so McClung understands, perhaps better than anyone in a Brewers uniform, Lamb's concern about being the Great Insurance Policy.

"Nobody wants to be a backup quarterback forever," McClung said.

But serving as insurance in the big leagues is better than winning 20 game at Triple-A, so McClung soldiers on. Macha did the same three decades ago, and remembered a Spring Training intrasquad game in 1980 in which Expos manager Dick Williams sent Macha to right field, where he made a nice catch of a ball hit over his head.

(As an aside, it was identical to the ball Nelson tracked down in a Brewers intrasquad game last month. That play is what first caught Macha's eye, and he's been praising Nelson nearly every day since.)

Back to 1980. When the Expos' regular right fielder, Ellis Valentine, came down sick on Opening Day, Williams sent out Macha to man that position at Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the sun is particularly torturous.

"I held my breath for seven innings before he put a defensive replacement out there," Macha said. "But I got through it."

Spoken like a true utility man.