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.
Projected Depth Chart
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.
Projected Depth Chart
Frankie De La Cruz
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.
Projected Depth Chart
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.
Projected Depth Chart
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.
Projected Depth Chart
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.
Projected Depth Chart
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.
Projected Depth Chart
Jerry Hairston, Jr.+
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.
Projected Depth Chart
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.
Projected Depth Chart
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).
Projected Depth Chart
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
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. C Jonathan Lucroy
9. P Yovani Gallardo
C George Kottaras
UTIL Josh Wilson
CF Nyjer Morgan
UTIL Mark Kotsay
RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Zack Greinke
RHP Shaun Marcum
LHP Randy Wolf
LHP Chris Narveson
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
After a magnificent 2011 regular season in which he produced massive MVP-caliber numbers, Prince Fielder has solidified himself as this offseason’s hottest free-agent commodity. The only question is, where will he sign?
Several teams will battle it out for the right to MLB‘s most famous vegetarian, but some are beginning to separate themselves from the pack as the postseason winds down. With the offseason just around the corner, here’s an in-depth look at the six teams most likely to nab Fielder this winter.
2011 Team Payroll: $68 million. Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): Ivan Rodriguez ($3 million), Mike Morse ($1.05 million), Tom Gorzelanny ($2.1 million)
Maintaining MLB’s ninth-lowest payroll, the Nationals finished their 2011 campaign with a surprisingly competitive 80-81 mark, despite the absence of Stephen Strasburg. Ranking 17th in baseball in home runs (154), 24th in RBI (594), 25th in OBP (.309) and 22nd in SLG (.383), the Nationals lacked the offensive power necessary to compete in a power-packed NL East. With the addition of Fielder and a Bryce Harper promotion, that could change substantially.
The Nationals won’t have nearly as much money to throw at Fielder as some of the more desperate teams, but they do have one thing going for them: young talent. Fielder would be wise to recognize the tremendous potential in D.C., with Strasburg, Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and a slew of up-and-coming prospects making the Nationals top competitors for No. 28 this offseason.
2011 Team Payroll: $86 million. Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): David Aardsma ($4.5 million), Jason Vargas ($2.5 million), Brandon League ($2.3 million)
If Fielder is keen on getting his money’s worth this offseason, he should look no further than Seattle, where it’s safe to say they’ll be desperate to gain big-time offensive firepower. Ranking dead last in runs scored (556), hits (1,263), RBI (534), OBP (.292) and SLG (.348) in 2011, the Mariners will likely set their sights on Fielder’s big bat in order to reshape their once-proud franchise.
Toronto Blue Jays
2011 Team Payroll: $63 million. Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): Kelly Johnson ($5.8 million), Yunel Escobar ($2.9 million), Frank Francisco ($4.0 million), Brandon Morrow ($2.3 million)
Picturing Prince Fielder and Jose Bautista in the same lineup is frightening.
The Blue Jays, who have now gone 18 illustrious seasons without a postseason appearance, would be thrust into postseason contention with the addition of a talent such as Fielder. With the talent they’ve already assembled, an AL East title may be on the horizon.
Granted, it’s easier said than done. Toronto has a number of contracts that will need to be restructured this winter, including re-signing Brandon Morrow to a respectable new deal. The money won’t be flowing quite as much as it will in Seattle; however, there’s more to be had than his $15.5-million contract with Milwaukee. This deal could certainly be a possibility.
2011 Team Payroll: $125 million. Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): Aramis Ramirez ($14.6 million), Jeff Baker ($1.2 million), Matt Garza ($5.9 million), Carlos Pena ($10 million)
With Theo Epstein now running the free-agent show in Chicago, anything is possible. Inking Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142-million deal last December, the former Red Sox general manager isn’t hesitant toward wafting around vast amounts of cash.
Wrigley Field has been a home away from home for Fielder throughout his career. Batting .298 with 11 HR and 34 RBI to go with a 1.003 OPS in 49 games at the friendly confines, Fielder should be Chicago’s primary offseason target as the Cubs prepare for next season.
San Francisco Giants
2011 Team Payroll: $117 million. Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): Mark DeRosa ($6 million), Carlos Beltran ($20 million), Cody Ross ($6 million)
It remains to be seen whether San Francisco chooses to pursue re-signing Carlos Beltran, but with the way things turned out, it would shocking if they did. Struggling to produce runs at the plate all season long, the Giants will be on the hunt for a bat such as Fielder, who can also take over the reigns at first base along with driving in runs.
Other than signing Tim Lincecum to a contract extension, San Francisco doesn’t have much else on their plate this offseason. We’ll see if that plays into their aggressiveness with Fielder.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2011 Team Payroll: $138 million
Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): Joel Piniero ($8 million), Fernando Rodney ($5.5 million); Howard Kendrick ($3.3 million)
The Angels avoided arbitration by re-signing Jered Weaver back in August, locking the star right-hander up with a five-year contract extension worth roughly $85 million, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, tries to woo the slugger to Anaheim.
They Angels will look for more starting pitching via free agency or trade this winter, but there is one clear lingering issue restraining Mike Scioscia’s ballclub from postseason contention: the ability to hit the long ball.
Stacked up against AL teams, the Angels ranked eighth in home runs (155), 10th in RBI (629) and 11th in OBP (.313), and still nearly snuck into the playoffs. With the addition of Fielder, they could be early favorites to represent the AL in the World Series next season.
After jumping out to an impressive 2-0 NLDS lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday night, the Milwaukee Brewers took to Chase Field in Phoenix with high hopes of sweeping Kirk Gibson and company and moving on to the NLCS, where they would face either the Philadelphia Phillies or St. Louis Cardinals. Needless to say, Milwaukee played uninspired baseball in both Game 3 and Game 4, allowing the suddenly confidence-saturated Diamondbacks to even the series at two games apiece.
Game 5 will be Friday night at 5:00 p.m. ET in Milwaukee, with a trip to the NLCS on the line.
Here are five things that must happen for the Brewers to take the series’ final matchup.
Yovani Gallardo MUST Pitch Brilliant
This goes without saying.
More or less the only Brewers pitcher to have any noteworthy success against Arizona up to this point, Yovani Gallardo, must duplicate his Game 1 performance from Saturday afternoon if Milwaukee intends to advance. Allowing just one earned run over eight solid innings of baseball in Game 1, Gallardo now boasts a career 5-0 record, 1.20 ERA and a stunning .188 BAA against these same Diamondbacks. If he can limit Arizona as he did on Saturday, Milwaukee will be on its way to the team’s first-ever appearance on the NLCS stage.
They MUST Keep Willie Bloomquist in Check
Willie Bloomquist has to be one of the most underrated leadoff hitters in the game today. In four games, Arizona’s shortstop is batting .353 (6-for-17), scored six times, walked twice and has stolen two bases. Bloomquist’s aggressiveness at the plate has become an integral part of Arizona’s comeback, and unless Brewers pitchers make a few adjustments in Game 5, Milwaukee will be watching the NLCS at home.
Carlos Gomez MUST Be in the Starting Lineup
Don’t get me wrong—I love Nyjer Morgan as much as the next guy. But, after Carlos Gomez’s exceptional performance in Game 4, I’m convinced he’s the man who should be patrolling center field for Milwaukee.
Gomez is not only immensely better defensively than Morgan, but he is the most lethal weapon on the basepaths and is playing with a colossal chip on his shoulder right now. His two-run home run and stolen base on Wednesday night proves he’s the best option, even though righty Ian Kennedy will be on the bump for Arizona. Baserunners will be crucial in this winner-take-all Game 5, and there’s no doubt Gomez is the best option.
John Axfod MUST Close the Door Late
In Milwaukee’s victories in Game 1 and Game 2, John Axford was able to close the door in convincing fashion against the Diamondbacks, recording three combined punchouts between the two contests.
Should the Brewers take a slim lead into the top of the ninth, the 28-year-old Axford absolutely must be able to shut the door the way he’s demonstrated he’s capable of doing during the regular season.
Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder MUST Show Up
It all comes down to this. After five historic seasons together, Friday afternoon’s contest in Milwaukee may be the last Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder ever play together…ever. In Game 1 and Game 2, Milwaukee’s dynamic duo combined for a .563 BA (9-for-16), including two home runs and six RBI. On the road, it was a different story, as the two combined for a .214 BA (3-for-14) while accumulating just one RBI.
Braun and Fielder are obviously Milwaukee’s biggest offensive threat, and things could get ugly fast if the two aren’t able to deliver in Game 5.
The 2011 Milwaukee Brewers, in theory, could go down as the most successful team in the franchise’s 42-year history.
In the club’s 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night, Ron Roenicke and his record-breaking crew surpassed what was previously the franchise’s record for home wins in a season (55), with winning their 56th home victory of the season. The win would be enough to put the Brewers at a 95-66 overall mark, with one final game remaining with the postseason just around the corner.
The game would also prove to be a historic night for Prince Fielder.
In three at-bats during Tuesday night’s memorable victory, Milwaukee’s first-baseman launched three home runs off Pittsburgh pitching, marking the first time the slugger had ever reached such a feat. His three home run effort would become the third instance this season a player managed three-home runs in a game (Casey McGehee, Corey Hart).
Fielder, who has been presumably losing ground on Matt Kemp and fellow teammate Ryan Braun in the NL MVP race over the past few weeks, could have bought a few more votes after his performance on Tuesday night. With one game remaining, Fielder is now tied for the league lead in home runs (38) and is second in RBI (120).
The production out of Milwaukee’s hearty slugger this season has been enough to put the Brewers over the top and into the postseason for just the second time since 1982, and will likely be enough to make him one of MLB‘s most highly payed players next season and into the future.
For the past few months, Brewers fans have been clinging to the hope the Fielder will resign with Milwaukee this offseason. After his remarkable performance on Tuesday night, that notion will more than likely take a turn for the worse.
If you needed any more proof, here’s what Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweeted:
@Haudricourt: “That “ka-ching, ka-ching” you’re hearing is coming from Scott Boras’ office.”
With each home run, the chances of Fielder returning to Milwaukee next season only become more unlikely. I hate to dampen the mood, but enjoy it while he’s here, Brewers fans.
Fully realizing that much of Milwaukee Brewers fans’ attention is fixated on the heroics of Ryan Braun and company, I’ll make this as simple and to-the-point as possible.
September call-ups Taylor Green, Jordan Schaefer and Michael Fiers have been able to become acclimated with the major-league pace during this historic month of September. Odds are they’ll likely take on a whole new role within Ron Roenicke’s lineup, possibly as soon as next season, with a number of contract dilemmas looming for Doug Melvin and company to deal with this offseason.
Let’s take a look at five prospects we can’t wait to see in 2012.
Mat Gamel, 1B
The 27-year-old Gamel has played, up to this point, his entire career in Milwaukee’s minor-league system, excluding his short-lived stint with the club back in the 2008 season. While this may not be appealing to Brewers fans, seen as how Prince Fielder’s exit will leave a colossal hole in Roenicke’s lineup, we should have confidence with what he brings to the table. His left-handed bat will be an ideal replacement for Fielder next season and into the future. Granted, he’ll need to clean up his rather sloppy defensive habits, however there’s no questioning his raw talent and aptitude at the next-level. A quick fact-check for all Gamel doubters: Since his first full minor-league season in the Brewers’ system way back in 2005, Gamel has registered 105 HR, 503 RBI, has a .304 BA while maintaining a .873 OPS. He won’t be anything close to what Fielder has been, but he’ll be good enough.
Wily Peralta, RHP
If there was one surefire September call-up bound to come to fruition last month, it would’ve certainly been Peralta. Finishing 2011 with a combined 3.17 ERA between AA-Hunstville and AAA-Nashville, Peralta, if nothing else, would have been a solid addition to add depth to Milwaukee’s bullpen for the strech run toward the postseason. Yet, for whatever reason, that largely anticipated call-up never happened — leaving us all scratching our heads in amazement. Nevertheless, expect to see the 22-year-old Peralta in a Brewers uniform by the end of 2012. With a number of discouraging contract situations looming, such as LaTroy Hawkins, you could make the case for the young right-hander to be in the bullpen on opening day.
Taylor Green, 3B
Unlike many top-tier prospects that have emerged from Milwaukee’s farm system in year’s past, Green has taken a much more unconventional route to the majors in that he has remained relatively unheard of by most Brewers fans. Spending five surprisingly productive seasons in the minors, Green has suddenly vaulted himself into a part-time role, with a full-time role potentially waiting for him in 2012. All Green has managed to do in his six minor league seasons is amass 71 home runs, 402 RBI, 142 doubles and maintain a .831 OPS. If he can transition that success into an everyday role with the Brewers, he’ll have a chance to become a fan-favorite and All-Star candidate in no time.
Michael Fiers, RHP
If you haven’t already heard of him, you might want to change that. The 26-year-old Fiers was recently named Milwaukee’s minor-league 2011 pitcher of the year, holding true to a combined 1.86 ERA with AA-Hunstville and AAA-Nashville. In 10 starts with the Sounds, Fiers went 10-0 with a stifling 1.11 ERA and 69 SO in 64.2 innings of work. His successes in 2011 were enough for the Brewers to bring him up from the minors, making his MLB debut on September 14, where he struck out two while allowing two hits in an inning of relief. Like Peralta, Fiers will more than likely get his shot at Milwaukee’s bullpen by 2012.
Logan Schaefer, OF
Though you’re probably more likely to recognize him from one of Sports Center’s most bizarre plays than for his on-field productivity, we shouldn’t lose sight of what the 25-year-old center fielder brings to the table. His 6’1″, 180-pound frame has enabled him to roam the outfield with great efficiency for three of Milwaukee’s top minor league affiliates in 2011. His bat isn’t half bad, either. Maintaining a .315 BA while accumulating 5 HR, 43 RBI and 16 SB this season, Shaefer was recalled from AAA-Nashville, adding another left-handed bat to Roenicke’s lineup, not to mention add some much-needed speed on the bases. With Nyjer Morgan’s contract situation yet to be handled, Shaefer could potentially be included in Milwaukee’s opening-day depth chart. We’ll have to wait and see.
Follow Alec Dopp on Twitter: @alecdopp.
If there’s one thing Brewers fans have learned over the course of this marvelous 2011 regular season, it’s that Prince Fielder’s inevitable exit will sting. A lot.
Assuming Fielder’s ill-timed comments in an interview with TBS earlier this month prove to be valid, Milwaukee natives must live with the fact that they will be without their star-studded first baseman for the foreseeable future — for better or worse.
Wait a minute…doesn’t this sound eerily familiar? It does, as a matter of fact.
One could make the argument Fielder’s stay in Milwaukee is comparable to that of LeBron James’ in Cleveland.
James, whose rookie season came all the way back in the 2003-04 season with the Cavaliers, stood pat in Cleveland for seven full seasons until his rookie contract dissipated at the end of his 2009-10 campaign. He then, as we all know well-and-full, took to the free-agent market. Amid the persisting speculation and controversy, James decided to (literally) air a live show on ESPN, declaring once and for all where he would “take his talents” for what would presumably be the remainder of his historic career.
While I can’t say Fielder will hold a live press conference announcing where he plans to play for the next decade, I can say this: the loss of Fielder, no matter how likely or unlikely it may be at this juncture, will be catastrophic for the city of Milwaukee. What No.28 has been able to accomplish over his six full years as a Brewer (.281 BA, 226 HR, 648 RBI, .536 SLG, .924 OPS) will never again be replicated — just like that of James’ stay (40.1 MPG, 27.7 PPG, .328 3P%) in Cleveland.
Sure, Fielder has (through last season) never successfully won an MVP award like that of James. But, statistics aside, Fielder is every bit as valuable to the city of Milwaukee as James was to the city of Cleveland, and his departure will be treated as such.
Here’s to the hope that Milwaukee doesn’t burn Fielder’s jersey after he cashes in this winter.
Alec Dopp is a Milwaukee Brewers featured columnist on Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @alecdopp