Predicting Milwaukee Brewers’ 2012 Opening-Day Starting Lineup, Depth Chart


What will Milwaukee's lineup look like without Fielder?

The Milwaukee Brewers’ spectacular 2011 season came to a screeching halt on Sunday night at Miller Park, when the club dropped a must-win Game 6 of their NLCS bout with the St. Louis Cardinals by a 12-6 mark.

Truthfully, the lost hurt in more ways than one.

Not only did the loss shatter the hearts of Brewers fans across the nation, but it would also mark the commencement of a new era of baseball in Milwaukee.  With Prince Fielder now set to become an unrestricted free-agent, it’s only inevitable that Milwaukee’s 2012 lineup will be one with an entirely new scope.

What could their opening day depth chart look like?  Here’s a way-too-early sneak-peak before opening-day against the Cardinals.

Starting Rotation

Projected Depth Chart

Yovani Gallardo

Zack Greinke

Shaun Marcum

Randy Wolf

Chris Narveson

Breakdown

Although a portion of Milwaukee’s opening-day starting lineup will look completely different from 2011, the starting rotation is one aspect that shouldn’t alter at all.  Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum are still under contract through 2012, and Randy Wolf is also under contract through next season, with a $10 million 2013 option pending after next season.

The biggest question mark for Milwaukee’s rotation heading into next season is whether or not GM Doug Melvin decides to re-sign Chris Narveson, who made a shade over $400,000 in 2011.  If the Brewers sign him to a new deal, this is what Milwaukee’s opening-day rotation should ultimately look like.

Bullpen

Projected Depth Chart

John Axford

Frank Francisco*

Kameron Loe

Takashi Saito+

Frankie De La Cruz

Zach Braddock+

Mitch Stetter+

Breakdown

If I had to distinguish one specific area Melvin might try to improve the most with Fielder’s massive contract off the books, it would be refreshment of Milwaukee’s bullpen.

At times, it seemed as though the Brewer bullpen was one of the deciding factors in their 2011 success.  After all, they did go from maintaining MLB’s fifth-worst ERA (4.58) in 2010 to ninth-best (3.63) in 2011 after acquiring Takashi Saito, who will need to be re-signed in the offseason.

38-year-old LaTroy Hawkins had a respectable year (2.42 ERA, 20 HLD), but will likely not be back with the club next season.  The same can be said for midseason pickup Francisco Rodriguez, who restructured his contract with Milwaukee, thus avoiding a hefty $17.5 million 2012 vesting option.

In turn, the Brewers will need to seek a veteran reliever with much experience to fill the gaping hole left behind from Rodriguez, and I suspect Milwaukee to target a power right-handed setup man much like Frank Francisco this offseason.

Catchers

Projected Depth Chart

Jonathon Lucroy+

George Kottaras

Breakdown

There’s been some speculation surrounding Lucroy’s free-agent status over the past few weeks.  Allow me to clear things up: the Brewers would be foolish not to re-sign the 25-year-old catcher.

Lucroy has been an unsung hero in Milwaukee’s postseason success.  Holding true to a .993 FPCT, an MLB-best 8.96 RF and but one passed ball in the regular season, Lucroy is one of the better defensive catchers in the game today.  His bat wasn’t half bad either, amassing 12 HR, 59 RBI and a .265 BA during the regular season.

Backup George Kottaras is arbitration eligible this offseason, but I think management will work out a deal to bring him back next year.

First Basemen

Mat Gamel should be a solid replacement for Fielder in 2012 and beyond.

Projected Depth Chart

Mat Gamel^

Breakdown

With Fielder’s exit, 26-year-old prospect Mat Gamel will finally have his shot at being Milwaukee’s starting first-baseman.

Surely, he won’t be as big of a home-run threat as No. 28 once was, but Brewers fans should have confidence in what Gamel brings to the table.  He does have power, amassing 105 HR, 503 RBI and a .873 OPS over seven highly productive seasons in the minors, and he has proved himself to be a .300-plus hitter, most notably batting .304 last season with AAA-Nashville.

He’ll need some time to become acclimated defensively, but I expect him to get into the swing of things quickly.  He’s a diamond in the rough, folks.

Second Basemen

Projected Depth Chart

Rickie Weeks

Josh Wilson

Breakdown

Another year, another injury-plagued season for Rickie Weeks.

The Brewers’ second baseman put up some of truly magnificent numbers during the first-half of 2011.  Batting .278 with 52 RBI and a MLB-best 17 home runs, Weeks’ output was enough to name him the NL’s starter at second base.

Yet, it would be an ankle sprain in late July that would get the better of Weeks’ campaign, and he would never really return to his previous form thereafter.  Nevertheless, the Brewers will be absolutely in need of No. 23 to step it up in 2012 with Fielder now gone.  Chances are, he’ll be protecting Ryan Braun as the cleanup hitter — something he’s done just twice in seven seasons.

Shortstops

Projected Depth Chart

Clint Barmes*

Josh Wilson

Breakdown

Do I think the Brewers will pick up Yuniesky Betancourt’s $6 million 2012 option?  Of course not.  The 29-year-old shortstop has largely overstayed his welcome in Milwaukee after just one season.

That being said, if Milwaukee does decide to look elsewhere for talent on the left side of the infield, I think Melvin will key in on someone like Clint Barmes to hold the fort down.  The 32-year-old shortstop will be one of the most defensively apt infielders on the free-agent market this offseason.  I think Melvin will pull the trigger.

Third Basemen

Another season with Hairston will work wonders for prospect Taylor Green

Projected Depth Chart

Jerry Hairston, Jr.+

Josh Wilson

Breakdown

Acquiring Hairston fromWashington in a trade that added depth to Milwaukee’s injury-plagued infield back at the deadline proved to be invaluable to the Brewers’ late-season run.

The 35-year-old Hairston essentially swiped the starting position right out from under Casey McGehee’s feet, and produced impressively.  His .385 BA in the postseason ranked second among all third basemen in the playoffs, surprisingly enough.

Making $2 million last season, Hairston is relatively cheap, and with his outstanding performance (for the most part) in the postseason, I expect him to be the opening-day starter for Milwaukee next season, ergo giving prospect Taylor Green another productive season down in the minors.

Left Fielders

Projected Depth Chart

Ryan Braun

Josh Wilson

Breakdown

I attempted to come up with something fascinating here, but it’s really just a vanilla subject at best.  Looking ahead, expect Braun to be starting in left field for at least the next nine seasons.

Center Fielders

Projected Depth Chart

Carlos Gomez

Nyjer Morgan+

Mark Kotsay+

Breakdown

Could “Beast Mode” already be over?  Not so fast.

Last year, Nyjer Morgan earned every penny of his one-year, $450,000 salary, batting .304 with 4 HR and 37 RBI.  There’s still a chance Milwaukee could re-sign him, and I think Melvin will take than chance.

That being said, Carlos Gomez must be able to produce with consistency if a starting roll is imminent.  Despite missing significant time due to a collar bone injury last summer, the speedster batted just .225 with 8 HR and 24 RBI in 231 at-bats, while notching 16 stolen bases.  He’s the better defensive outfielder, without question, but his bat remains a hit-or-miss (pun not intended).

Right Fielders

Corey Hart will be key in Milwaukee's successes in 2012

Projected Depth Chart

Corey Hart

Mark Kotsay+

Breakdown

Again, not much to be said here.  Milwaukee came to terms with Hart on a three-year, $26.5 million contract extension back in August of 2010, and they’ll need his services next season and beyond.

Mark Kotsay is set to become a free-agent, and there’s no questioning the depth and talent he brought forth to the club in 2011.  Expect him to be re-signed this offseason to a short-term deal.

Complete Opening Day 25-Man Roster

Starters

1. RF Corey Hart

2. CF Carlos Gomez

3. LF Ryan Braun

4. 2B Rickie Weeks

5. 1B Mat Gamel

6. 3B Jerry Hairston, Jr.

7. SS Clint Barmes

8. Jonathan Lucroy

9. Yovani Gallardo

Bench

George Kottaras

UTIL Josh Wilson

CF Nyjer Morgan

UTIL Mark Kotsay

Starting Rotatoin

RHP Yovani Gallardo

RHP Zack Greinke

RHP Shaun Marcum

LHP Randy Wolf

LHP Chris Narveson

Bullpen

RHP John Axford

RHP Frank Francisco

RHP Kameron Loe

RHP Takashi Saito

RHP Frankie De La Cruz

LHP Zach Braddock

LHP Mitch Stetter

Follow Alec Dopp on Twitter! @alecdopp

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