The Milwaukee Brewers’ 2011 season is nearing it’s collective climax, but if you’re anything like me, you can’t help but take a quick glance into the future.
In case you haven’t already noted, All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder is set to become an unrestricted free-agent at season’s end. Speculation around the league says he — along with Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols — will undoubtedly be the hottest free agent strolling the market. To no surprise, analysts and skeptics believe the Brewers won’t be able to afford their attractive superstar.
Who could blame them? Milwaukee’s roughly $85 million payroll was just enough to trade for Royals ace Zack Greinke and Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum in the offseason, much less acquire Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.
Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has defended his stance that Milwaukee will be able to afford their slugging cleanup hitter at season’s end. Whether or not Milwaukee is able to resign Fielder this winter is irrelevant at this point. There are plenty of question marks hampering next season’s outcome.
Let’s run down 10 free-agents the Brewers should consider signing this winter
First Things First: Positional Concerns
Before we begin, let’s get a general overview of what needs to be improved.
As it stands, LaTroy Hawkins, Craig Counsell, Yuniesky Betancourt (who maintains a 2012 option) and Fielder are all set to become free-agent this offseason. It shouldn’t be too hard to fill their shoes — with exception to Fielder’s — but moves will need to be made and signings are imminent.
Third Base: Is Casey McGehee the answer?
Milwaukee’s primary third-baseman had a career 2010 campaign, compiling 23 HR, .285 BA, .801 OPS and beat out both Ryan Braun and Fielder for the team lead in RBI (104). Expectations may have proved to be a bit too high in 2011, as McGehee’s .238 BA, 12 HR, 65 RBI and an appalling .295 OBP have been anything but impressive. The emergence of prospect Taylor Green in September could be something to watch this offseason.
Bullpen: Is it solidified enough?
The addition of Takashi Saito last offseason has worked out decently thus far. Last season, Milwaukee’s bullpen ranked 26th in all of baseball in ERA (4.58). This season, things have turned around quite dramatically: posting a team ERA of 3.64, the Brewers now rank eighth in MLB. The addition of K-Rod following the All-Star break also helped, as you can imagine. With LaTroy Hawkins likely leaving, the Brewers will need added depth to the ‘pen.
Shortstop: Will the Brewers pick up Betancourt’s 2012 option?
At times, Betancourt has proved to be an all-around elite shortstop at the MLB level. At the same time, though, he’s struggled to hold down the fort at shortstop, which makes his winter all the more intriguing. Will the Brewers pick up his 2012 option? If not, we could be in for quite the offseason with Melvin looking to upgrade via trade or free-agency.
The Rangers successfully snatched up the 33-year-old Gonzalez just hours before the waiver trade deadline, but rumors suggest the Brewers were very much entrenched in discussions for acquiring the veteran left-hander.
Truth be told, Gonzalez hasn’t played up to his capabilities lately. Posting a 4.01 ERA in his first season with he Orioles last season, along with a dismal 4.27 ERA in 49 appearances with Baltimore in 2011, Gonzalez was anything but dominant.
However, don’t get too discouraged.
In his best season as the Braves’ set-up man/closer, Gonzalez amassed 17 HLD, 10 SV and a stunning 2.42 ERA in 74.1 innings of work. If he can muster up the ability to produce as he did just a few seasons ago, the Brewers would be foolish not to pursue him.
Francisco has become one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated power-relievers in the game today despite his impressive career 9.88 K/9-inning ratio.
The Brewers have plenty of right-handed relievers ready to step in whenever called upon, but few have the stuff the 31-year-old Francisco has: a power fastball with great command.
He’s relatively younger than what most would expect, so signing him may be a bit more costly than previously expected.
You can’t argue with what he brings to the table, though.
The Brewers had their sights set on the streaky Barmes prior to the July 31 trade deadline, but a deal never quite came to fruition.
I may be one of only a handful of people who think Barmes is a great fit to replace Betancourt at shortstop, and I’ll give you a couple reasons why you should do the same:
- At just 32 years of age, he still has his best days ahead of him
- His 2011 salary, $3.925 million, is actually lower than Betancourt’s $4 million base salary
Barmes and Betancourt have the same career fielding percentage as shortstops (.970), however Barmes provides much more pop in the batter’s box.
Not even in our wildest dreams.
Another unheralded reliever, the 34-year-old Sherrill would not only be an ideal addition to Milwaukee’s bullpen, but he would also be a cost-effective reinforcement in potentially resigning Fielder.
Although the Braves placed him on the 15-day disabled list back on August 27, Sherrill was in the midst of a solid season by all accounts. Carrying a 3.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7 HLD while striking out 38 in just 36.0 innings pitched, Sherrill was just one of many talented hurlers featured in Atlanta’s impressive bullpen.
Sherrill is due to make $1.2 million in 2011 — which, for all intensive purposes, should make him one of the most practical candidates on the market to replace Hawkins next season. Doug Melvin — I’m looking at you.
Assuming the Brewers and Casey McGehee aren’t able to restructure a new contract/extension this offseason, things could get a little dicey regarding who should play third base for Ron Roenicke next season.
Mat Gamel has been waiting in the wings down in Triple-A Nashville for quite some time now, but with Fielder likely leaving, he could (and should) be Milwaukee’s first baseman in 2012. With Taylor Green making a name for himself in his stint with the club, he could be starting at the hot corner next season for all we know.
But with veteran Craig Counsell also leaving in all likelihood, the Brewers will need to restock their depth chart. This is where Betemit comes in.
Milwaukee had been looking to trade for Betemit’s services around the July 31 trade deadline. Bringing a above-average glove and tolerable bat, the 29-year-old Betemit would be a solid addition by and large.
How Bell wasn’t dealt at either the non-waiver trade deadline nor the waiver deadline amazes me. If the season ended today, San Diego’s boisterous closer would have (on average) accumulated 41 saves, maintained a 2.38 ERA and compiled 206 strikeouts in just 193.2 innings of work.
Maybe it’s because he’s due to make a whopping $7.5 million in 2011, or maybe it’s just because no contenders felt the need to make the move for the power right-hander. Either way, it’s astonishing. For what it’s worth, however, the Brewers could almost certainly step up and pursue Bell this offseason — pending whether or not they can resign Fielder, of course.
Sure, John Axford has been a gem in the ninth inning and, sure Francisco Rodriguez is under contract through 2012 and holding down the reigns as the setup-man. But something tells me Melvin is up to something.
Alec Dopp is a Milwaukee Brewers featured columnist on Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @alecdopp.
by Adam McClavy, MLB.com
This season more than ever, Miller Park has been the Brewers’ dome, sweet dome.
Rainouts are all the rage in Major League Baseball, 31 of them in a baseball season not one-third complete. At the same time last year, there were nine postponements. In all of 2010, there were only 21.
According to data provided by the Commissioner’s Office, from 2000-2010 the previous record for postponements through May 25 was 30, set in 2007, the year an Angels-Indians series was moved to Miller Park because of snow in Cleveland. The record for postponements in a season over that 11-year span is 50, set in 2004.
Albert Pujols might be slumping, but Mother Nature is working on a career year.
Even when games have been played this season, many have been miserable. In Arlington earlier this week, a Rangers-White Sox game was delayed nearly three hours by a dangerous storm that prompted Rangers officials to move fans into the service tunnel underneath the ballpark. The game eventually resumed, but didn’t end until 1:27 a.m. CT.
Ninety miles south of Milwaukee, fans at Wrigley Field shivered through mid-40s temperatures this week, and on Thursday afternoon they were greeted by a 30-mph wind blowing in during the Mets-Cubs game.
At Miller Park, under its 10.5 acre, 12,000-ton convertible roof, the weather has been just perfect.
“I know this was a big part of the stadium debate, and I know it added to the cost,” Brewers chief operating officer Rick Schlesinger said. “But I don’t see how anyone can look at this now and say the roof wasn’t a great idea.”
The roof does have something of a stormy history. Three iron workers — Jeff Wischer, William DeGrave and Jerome Starr — were killed in July 1999 when a huge crane collapsed in high winds at the Miller Park construction site. The accident delayed the ballpark’s debut until 2001, and since then, crews have had to fix the system of flaps that keep the playing surface dry. During the 2006-07 offseason, crews replaced the bogeys with which the five massive, movable panels open and close.
But on an otherwise miserable Wednesday in Milwaukee, Zack Greinke pitched and homered his way to a sweep-clinching win over the Nationals inside the dome, and the Brewers were happy to have a roof over their heads.
Here are three reasons why:
1. It’s good for the pitchers
Pitching coach Rick Kranitz had the same job with the Florida Marlins in 2006, when right-hander Josh Johnson was a promising rookie with a 12-7 record and a 3.10 ERA. Johnson’s season ended Sept. 12, and Mother Nature may have been partly to blame.
Johnson resumed pitching after an 82-minute delay but exited after the fifth inning with a sore elbow. Less than a year later, he needed Tommy John surgery, and it wasn’t until 2009 that he logged a full season in the big leagues and emerged as an ace.
“You never know what triggers it when a guy gets hurt, but you can’t rule out that it was because he stopped and then [came back] and pitched,” Kranitz said.
Johnson represents the extreme case. But even a routine rain delay can wreak havoc on a pitching staff.
Shaun Marcum has made most of his starts in domes, with Toronto from 2005-10 and now with Milwaukee. In May 2008, he was part of a manager’s worst-case scenario, a game that begins, lasts only one inning and then is delayed by rain.
Marcum pitched the first inning that day, and then he was done. The Blue Jays had to empty their bullpen.
“I’ve been blessed to have a dome in both places,” said Marcum, who will start Friday night against Tim Lincecum and the Giants. “As players, you love that feeling of knowing you’re going to play. We have so few off-days, and you hate to lose them later in the season [when make-up games are scheduled].”
Kranitz knows that feeling from his two seasons as the pitching coach in Florida, where rain is a threat nearly every afternoon. The good thing there, he said, was that the weather forecasts were so precise he could plan accordingly. It was tougher in Chicago, where Kranitz was an assistant pitching coach for the Cubs from 1996-98 and 2000-01.
Each day, he would look up at the skies to see what his pitcher would be contending with. The conditions would help determine the game plan.
Not at Miller Park.
“When this is what you do for a living, it’s huge to know you’re going to play every day, you’re not going to have rain delays and the conditions are going to be about the same,” Kranitz said. “You can get into your routine every day and know you’re going to play. We have it good here.”
2. It’s good for the hitters
Ryan Braun had 105 million reasons to sign a contract extension last month that will keep him in a Brewers uniform through at least 2020. But beyond the dollars, Braun pointed to the ballpark itself as a reason he wanted to stay.
“This past road trip,” he said then, referring to a soggy trek through Pittsburgh, Washington and Philadelphia, “we dealt with rain almost every day, and I think that realizing that we’re never going to get rained out or have a rain delay, fans not having to worry about driving three hours and then dealing with a rainout and having to drive back home [is important]. There are so many things here that just really make this a special place.”
The dome means that if the Brewers want to take batting practice on the field, they can take batting practice on the field. During that East Coast trip, they were mostly banished to the batting cages.
It also means favorable in-game conditions, unlike the days at County Stadium, where Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Gorman Thomas had to bundle up in April and sometimes in May. The chilly early-season conditions were part of what made County Stadium a pitcher’s park, but Miller Park most definitely favors the hitters.
The Brewers have baseball’s best home batting average at .291 and the best OPS at .860. It’s one reason the team is 19-6 at home this season, the best mark in the National League.
Braun & Co. will put a nine-game home winning streak to the test on Friday night against Lincecum and the World Series champion Giants.
3. It’s good for business
General manager Doug Melvin uses Miller Park to draw players, touting the roof in a letter he sends to free agents of interest each winter. Schlesinger uses it to draw fans, and he is still bullish on the idea of reaching the three-million mark in attendance in 2011.
Group sales account for about 600,000 tickets each season, Schlesinger said, and the Brewers consistently rank in baseball’s top five in that category. They can outdraw much larger metropolitan markets because guaranteed games mean the club can market itself throughout Wisconsin, and school kids in La Crosse or a civic group in Green Bay can bus to Milwaukee knowing they won’t be rained out.
Schlesinger calls it, “a huge advantage.” Braun just calls it fun.
“To be in one of the smallest markets in baseball and be able to have three million people come see us play every year, it’s incredible,” Braun said. “It’s special to me, it’s special to all of us and it makes it easy for me to want to stay here and to want to be a part of this organization going forward for the rest of my career.”
If Schlesinger had his way, every stadium would have a roof. The Brewers benefit from large crowds in the other 29 markets because they are a recipient of revenue sharing dollars.
Rainouts cost those teams in the form of lost concession revenue and staffing in addition to tickets. All told, a rainout of a well-attended weekend game can cost a club $1 million, Schlesinger said.
“We could have had four, five, six rainouts already, and some of those games are never made up,” Schlesinger said. “Without the roof, it’s a much different business model for us, a much bigger challenge.
“[Weather] makes for added stress for everybody. We are so privileged not to have to worry about it.”
by Adam McClavy
There was Zack Greinke’s first Brewers start, then his first home start and his first Brewers win. Now comes another first for the home fans: Greinke and Yovani Gallardo pitching in the same series at Miller Park.
Gallardo will go first on Friday night against the Pirates, the Brewers’ favorite punching bags since 2007. Left-hander Chris Narveson is slated to pitch Saturday, and Greinke will finish the series on Sunday afternoon.
The bolstered staff has general manager Doug Melvin dealing with a new problem.
“This is the first time in 15 years as a GM that I’ve gone around town and now heard, ‘We need some hitting!'” said Melvin. “It’s the first time people haven’t been getting on me about our pitching.”
He’ll take it, considering where the Brewers have been.
Melvin made pitching, particularly starting pitching, a high priority after two seasons lost to pitching problems. After the sensational CC Sabathia carried the Brewers to the 2008 National League Wild Card and then departed via free agency along with longtime Brewer Ben Sheets, Milwaukee tied for last in the Majors with a 5.37 starters’ ERA in ’09. The Brewers invested just shy of $30 million in free agent Randy Wolf the following winter, but they improved only to 27th of the 30 teams in ’10, with a 4.65 starters’ ERA.
After a strong start in 2011 — Brewers starting pitchers led the NL in ERA through April 21, even while Greinke recovered on the disabled list from his cracked left rib — they are back in the bottom half of baseball. Including back-to-back tough starts for Shaun Marcum and Wolf this week, Milwaukee has fallen to 21st, with a 4.25 starters’ ERA.
If Gallardo’s no-hit bid on Saturday in St. Louis is a sign he’s back on track after a string of five subpar starts, that would help. So should Greinke’s arrival.
But some Brewers wonder if hopes are still running a bit too high.
“He was pretty good, but I still think people have sort of unrealistic expectations,” Ryan Braun said of Greinke’s Miller Park debut on Monday. “He’s not going to throw a no-hitter every time. He’s not going to be perfect.
“I think people expect him to do what CC did. That’s just not realistic.”
Greinke was sharp through his first four innings on Monday against the Padres, but he lost some zip on his fastball and command of all of his pitches in the fifth and the sixth. Those areas should improve as he builds arm strength after missing most of Spring Training. He’s thrown only 86 and 89 pitches in his two Brewers starts.
Greinke has already been compared often to Sabathia, who was otherworldly after joining the Brewers in a July 2008 trade. Both are former American League Cy Young Award winners, Sabathia in ’07 and Greinke in ’09, and joined a Brewers club with postseason aspirations.
But they’re not the same, Melvin argues.
“They’re two different stories,” Melvin said. “CC was July and in a pennant race. We had never won before.”
Greinke was over the winter, with the Brewers trying to climb back into contention.
“The similarities are that we were surprised we got them,” Melvin said. “But as far as the expectations go, the team is altogether different.
“It’s always hard to put the expectations on one pitcher. They’re 30-some games of 162. That’s not even 20 percent of your schedule.”
The Brewers are actually excited about 60-some starts, between Greinke and fellow newcomer Marcum. With Gallardo, a 2010 All-Star, that’s a relatively formidable 1-2-3, and all three pitchers are under contract at least through the end of 2012.
“With three starters like that who can go out and beat anybody in the league … we have some great weapons,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “I consider [myself] to be pretty blessed to catch guys of this quality, for sure.”
Now, the challenge will be getting all phases of the team working together. The Brewers’ usually-potent offense is just coming out of a deep funk, the defense has been unsteady, the baserunning mistake-filled and the bullpen injury-struck.
That combination means the Brewers took a day off Thursday with a 16-21 record, in fifth place in the NL Central and five games behind first-place St. Louis.
“I wish we had been playing a bit better coming into [Greinke’s return],” Melvin said, “but we all know that if we get good pitching, we can stay in this thing.
“I understand the excitement. I’ve been around here, and I get why the fans are excited, because they’ve never seen [Greinke] pitch before. Our offseas