It’s been a long, difficult, often perplexing offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fanbase. But if recent indications prove valid, things may take another turn for the worse.
Last month, we learned from a report leaked by ESPN that Brewers left fielder and recently named 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun had reportedly tested positive for either a performance enhancing drug and/or banned substance during Milwaukee’s historic playoff run last October. Major League Baseball subsequently gave Braun a 50-game suspension for his actions, and Braun is currently in the appeal process.
Many fans remained optimistic regarding the future of their beloved left fielder, however, Braun’s appeal to the league doesn’t seem likely to be overturned, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently wrote. Should Braun not be in Milwaukee’s lineup on opening day against the St. Louis Cardinals, there are dozens of potential directions manager Ron Roenicke might set his starting lineup. Let’s take a look at the most logical approach to how it might look.
1. CF Carlos Gomez
Carlos Gomez is still very much in the prime of his career and with the opportunity to be the everyday starter in center-field to start next season, I expect him to be where he batted on opening day 2011: At the top of Ron Roenicke’s lineup.
Being one of the fastest center fielders in baseball as well as being one of the best bag-stealers (he has a career 78% stolen base percentage), Gomez clearly should be Milwaukee’s lead-off man to start next season. Granted, he’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts and work on getting on base, but I still believe he’s the right man for the job.
2. LF Nyjer Morgan
Nyjer Morgan probably fits the bill to be the Brewers’ leadoff hitter better than anyone on the roster. Based on what he did last year in the No.2 hole, though, he’ll probably stay put — at least for opening day.
In 429 total plate appearances, Morgan spent 352 of them batting second — exactly 82 percent. In that role, he batted .310 with two HR and 31 RBI, 46 runs and a .353 on-base percentage that finished as one of the best OBP in the National League. Without having to split time in center-field with Carlos Gomez to start the season, GM Doug Melvin will be able to adequately judge whether or not Morgan is worth re-signing at season’s end. If he can bat over .300 as he did in 2011, there’s no question he’s worth keeping around.
I have to admit — Rickie Weeks originally came to mind as the best option to take Ryan Braun’s spot in the lineup, but after doing my research, I found Corey Hart is simply the better overall substitute. Not only did Hart’s numbers from a season ago (26 HR, 80 RBI, .510 SLG, .226 ISO) trump Weeks’ (20 HR, 77 RBI, .468 SLG, .199 ISO) from a power standpoint, but their career statistics also marginally favor Hart.
Since entering the league in 2005, Hart has stockpiled 124 home runs, 425 RBI, a .487 slugging percentage and maintains a 19.6 K%. Weeks, who also broke onto the scene in 2005, has 109 home runs, 314 RBI, a .435 slugging percentage and has struck out 22.6 percent of the time. While the raw numbers don’t substantially favor Hart over Weeks, the subtle contrast coupled with how strong he finished his 2011 campaign should give Hart the nod.
4. 3B Aramis Ramirez
After agreeing to terms with Milwaukee to a three-year, $36 Million contract, Aramis Ramirez knew expectations would be high with Prince Fielder on his way out. However, with Braun’s suspension now likely to be upheld, expectations have risen considerably. The pressure on Ramirez to help carry the Brewers through the first 50 games next season is mounting quickly. So, where does he best fit in Milwaukee’s lineup?
Ramirez, 33, has a great deal of experience hitting third and fourth, and his bat seems to be the best possible protection for Corey Hart to start the season. He’ll probably hit behind Braun once his suspension is up, moreover.
5. 2B Rickie Weeks
If Rickie Weeks can stay healthy, for a full season, for the first in his career, there’s no doubt he’ll reach 35 home runs and there’s an outside chance he could hit 40. He has a tremendous amount of power that has concealed itself over the past few seasons, and I’ve gone on record saying that if not for injury last season, he would have been the is the best offensive second baseman in baseball.
I originally had him batting third, but quickly found out Corey Hart would be better suited for the job. That consequently puts Weeks fifth in Roenicke’s lineup and inherent protector of Aramis Ramirez to start next season.
6. 1B Mat Gamel
Mat Gamel has been an exceptional talent at the minor league level for a number of seasons, but there are some concerns over how well his game will translate as a full-time starter in the big leagues. In 171 career at-bats, the 26-year-old holds true to a .222 BA, .309 on-base percentage and in 2009 (his only true taste of the majors) he struck out in 36.5 percent of his plate appearances. He has a lot of upside and potential but he definitely has his work cut out for him at the start of next season.
That said, there isn’t yet a discernible spot for him in Roenicke’s opening-day lineup. He could potentially be placed in a number of spots to start the season. Given how evident his power was in triple-A last season, though, I can’t see him falling any lower than sixth in the order.
One of Melvin’s preeminent goals of the offseason was to upgrade at shortstop. He accomplished just that in signing Alex Gonzalez to a one-year, $4.25 Million deal with a $4 Million 2013 option.
During his 12-year career, Gonzelez has become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, harboring a .981 fielding percentage and 5.938 zone rating last season at 33 years of age. His hustle in the field will manifest itself early next season.
Gonzalez’s pop at the plate has diminished, but he will still be held accountable to at least a .250/.270/.390 line next season. He has experience batting just about anywhere in a lineup, which will make Ron Roenicke’s job that much easier. For now, though, batting seventh seems to be the most logical spot for Gonzalez.
8. C Jonathan Lucroy
Jonathan Lucroy isn’t a superstar, and he probably never will be. But that’s okay — he’s exactly what the Brewers need him to be: Dependable.
After splitting time Gregg Zaun in 2010, Lucroy inherited the starting role at the beginning of last season, and boy did he make the most of it. In 430 at-bats, he batted .265 with 12 home runs, 59 RBI and boasted a .391 slugging percentage.
In the field, though, he was a superstar. He committed just seven errors (.993 FPCT) despite having to deal with a staff that administered a league-high 70 wild pitches. Lucroy spent 64 percent of his at-bats out of the eight-hole last season. Expect him to be in familiar scenery on opening day this season.
9. P Yovani Gallardo
Yovani Gallardo is just 25 years old and will enter his third consecutive season as Milwaukee’s No. 1 starter. When it’s all said and done, he’ll easily be the greatest pitcher in franchise history.
Last season, he went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA while striking out 207 in 207.1 innings (33 GS). He led all Brewers starters in wins, ERA and strikeouts, and finished with a better K/9IP (8.99) than AL MVP Justin Verlander (8.96). Each year Gallardo continues to better every facet of his game and I suspect him to take the next step and lower his ERA to 3.20 or lower in 2012.
The Milwaukee Brewers have answered nearly all of the question marks that faced them coming into their 2011-2012 offseason, and now wait in anticipation for spring training to commence roughly two months from now. Let’s take a look at how their lineup might look on opening day 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
1. Corey Hart, RF
Nearly half of Corey Hart’s plate appearances last season came as Milwaukee’s lead-off man but I suspect 100 percent of his at-bats to be at the top of Milwaukee’s order on opening day against the Cardinals. Roenicke toyed with a number of players at lead-off before Hart returned to the lineup from an abdominal strain in late April but none definitively fit the role.
In 256 at-bats at the top of Milwaukee’s order, Hart posted a .301 BA, 15 HR, 36 RBI, 47 runs as well as a .366 on-base percentage, roughly comparable to Jose Reyes’ .388 from a season ago. Many feel the Rickie Weeks is best suited here as he clearly has the most background at the top of Milwaukee’s order. However, Aramis Ramirez will need adequate protection and Weeks’ game is slowly converting to power first, speed second. Hart is the right man for the job.
2. Nyjer Morgan, CF
Nyjer Morgan may be best suited to be a lead-off type hitter, but there’s simply no ignoring what he accomplished out of the No.2 hole last season.
In 429 total plate appearances, Morgan spent 352 of them in batting second — exactly 82 percent. In that role, he batted .310 with 2 HR and 31 RBI, 46 R and a .353 on-base percentage that finished as one of the best OBP in the National League. With either Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter, both right-handed, likely to take the mound for St. Louis, expect Morgan to get the nod over Carlos Gomez strictly because of Morgan’s left-handed bat.
No matter what the final verdict is on Ryan Braun’s alleged PED-usage, GM Doug Melvin says he is going about his normal business as through he expects him to be in the starting lineup on opening day. So, we’ll do the same. Do you really need an explanation?
4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Aramis Ramirez has lingered in either the third or fourth spot for most of his career, and since the No.3 spot is already taken, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that he’ll bat cleanup next season. Out of the cleanup spot last season with the Cubs, Ramirez batted .291 with 8 HR, 32 RBI and a .450 slugging percentage in a feeble Chicago lineup.
While we shouldn’t expect him to completely fill Fielder’s shoes next season, we should expect a solid middle-of-the-order bat that can protect Braun. Anything short of a .275 BA, 25 HR and 85 RBI would be considered inadequate on Ramirez’s behalf.
5. Rickie Weeks, 2B
Gone are the days of Rickie Weeks being Milwaukee’s lead-off man. At 29 years of age and a bevy of past injuries, he’s clearly entering the second phase of his professional career in that he’s much more of a power-first, speed-second type player. Last season, Weeks amassed 20 home runs and 49 RBI with a .269/.350/.468 line despite missing a substantial chunk of his season due to a ankle injury.
With Prince Fielder gone and Ryan Braun still facing a 50-game suspension to start his season, Weeks will much more better suited to be batting either fourth or fifth in Milwaukee’s lineup. He has the potential to hit 30 or possibly even 35 home runs next season and should be the one protecting Aramis Ramirez new season.
6. Mat Gamel, 1B
Incumbent 26-year-old prospect Mat Gamel has accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish in six minor-league seasons, but filling the shoes of Prince Fielder at first base won’t be a cakewalk by any means.
Last season in triple-A, Gamel managed 28 home runs and 90 RBI with a .310/.372/.540 line. Impressive to say the least, but he’ll need to vindicate his career .222 BA and .309 OBP with the Brewers in a timely fashion. Batting behind Rickie Weeks is most likely the best spot for him on opening day. He’ll be a modest defensive upgrade from Fielder but don’t expect him to be a gold-glove caliber first baseman as he’s been known to be a bit lackadaisical from time to time.
One of Melvin’s preeminent goals of this offseason was to upgrade at shortstop. He accomplished just that in signing Alex Gonzalez to a one-year, $4.25 Million deal with a $4 Million 2013 option.
During his 12-year career, Gonzelez has become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, harboring a .981 fielding percentage and 5.938 zone rating last season at 33 years of age. His hustle in the field will manifest itself early next season, and will be a noticeable upgrade from Yunieksy Betancourt.
Gonzalez’s pop at the plate has diminished, but he will still be held accountable to at least a .250/.270/.390 line next season. He has experience batting just about anywhere in a lineup, which will make Roenicke’s job that much more easy.
8. Jonathon Lucroy, C
Jonathon Lucroy is by no means a superstar talent behind the plate nor in the batter’s box, but 2011 certified just how important he is to Roenicke’s ballclub.
Last season, Lucroy committed just seven errors on his way to a .993 fielding percentage — a commendable feat given Milwaukee’s league-high 70 wild pitches from a season ago. He also posted a 7.87 range factor that ranked fifth-best among all MLB catchers. At the plate, he managed a .265 average with 12 HR and 59 RBI, but garnered a 21.2 K%. Improving his plate discipline and on-base percentage will be key moving forward. Expect him to be in the No. 8 hole on opening day nonetheless.
9. Yovani Gallardo, P
Yovani Gallardo is just 25 years old and will enter his third consecutive season as Milwaukee’s No. 1 starter. When it’s all said and done, he’ll probably be the greatest pitcher in franchise history.
Last season, he went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA while striking out 207 in 207.1 innings (33 GS). He led all Brewers starters in wins, ERA, and strikeouts and finished with a better K/9IP (8.99) than AL MVP Justin Verlander (8.96). Each year Gallardo continues to better every facet of his game and I suspect him to take the next step and lower his ERA to 3.20 or lower in 2012. There’s really no question as to who will take the mound for Milwaukee on opening day.
Updated Starting Lineup and 25-Man Roster Projection
1. RF Corey Hart
2. CF Nyjer Morgan
3. LF Ryan Braun
4. 3B Aramis Ramirez
5. 2B Rickie Weeks
6. 1B Mat Gamel
7. SS Alex Gonzalez
8. C Jonathon Lucroy
9. P Yovani Gallardo
C George Kottaras
CF Carlos Gomez
3B Taylor Green
OF Logan Schafer
RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Zack Greinke
RHP Shaun Marcum
LHP Randy Wolf
LHP Chris Narveson
RHP John Axford
RHP Francisco Rodriguez
RHP Kameron Loe
RHP Jose Veras
RHP Frankie De La Cruz
LHP Zack Braddock
LHP Mitch Stetter
RHP Wily Peralta
After being shunned by the St. Louis Cardinals in last month’s NLCS, Ron Roenicke and the Milwaukee Brewers enter the 2011-2012 offseason on a somber note. However, that shouldn’t deter them from rectifying their past woes as next season comes into focus.
With last winter’s acquisitions Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum set to return to Milwaukee for at least one more season, the Brewers know well and full that they are still one of the top clubs heading into 2012, despite Prince Fielder’s potential departure. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of other question marks concerning the Brewers moving forward.
How will GM Doug Melvin retool his defending NL Central champions this offseason? Is there still a possibility that Fielder will be back in 2012? How about Tony Plush?
Let’s take a look at the eight biggest question marks facing the Brewers this offseason.
Will Dale Sveum Be Back with the Club in 2012 and Beyond?
While the entire coaching staff will be welcomed back with open arms next season, bench coach Dale Sveum could be on the move much sooner than later. According to sources, Milwaukee’s bench-coach of the past six seasons has already interviewed with the Red Sox and Cubs in regards for the two clubs’ coaching vacancies.
Sveum knows the insides and outs of the game of baseball and has proven it thoroughly during his tenure in Milwaukee. Will he leave or will he return for 2012 and beyond?
For a last-minute roster addition prior to the regular season, Nyjer Morgan proved to be a sumptuous left-handed bat in Ron Roenicke’s lineup. Still, is he worth bringing back in 2012?
Last season, the candid center-fielder produced at an alarming rate. In a mere 378 at-bats, Morgan registered 115 hits (enough for a .304 BA), notched four home runs and 37 RBI. He also garnered 13 stolen bases on his way to a 4.0 WAR.
This winter, Morgan is arbitration eligible after making $450,000 last season. Will Melvin decide to bring Tony Plush back next year?
What Does Casey McGehee’s Future Hold in Store?
It’s difficult to put into words how awful Casey McGehee was in 2011.
Coming off a sensational 2010 campaign in which he beat out Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder for the team-lead in RBI (104), McGehee won over the hearts of Brewers fans to no end, and seemingly won over the starting role at the hot-corner for the prospective future. Nowadays, there’s speculation over whether or not Milwaukee should even retain the 29-year-old journeyman.
Last season, McGehee collectively batted .223 and maintained a gruesome .280 OBP on his way to just 67 RBI and 13 HR. Consequently, his poor execution resulted in just a .249 BABIP and a lousy .346 SLG. McGehee is arbitration eligible this offseason for the first time. Will he return to the Brewers in 2012 or be dealt away? You’re guess is as good as mine.
The Brewers kicked off their offseason by declining Yuniesky Betancourt’s mutual 2012 option late last month, marking the end of the shortstop’s forgettable one-year tenure with the club. Unfortunately, there isn’t much prominent free-agent talent to be had this winter, making Melvin’s job of replacing Betancourt only that much more hard.
Rumors have surfaced about Milwaukee’s strong interest in pursuing former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, however it seems less than probably that they actually sign the superstar. This leaves room for more practical additions such as Clint Barmes, Alex Gonzalez and Rafael Furcal. Lord knows replacing Betancourt shouldn’t prove to be too problematic.
Who Will Become Milwaukee’s New Set-Up Man?
Finding their setup-man in Francisco Rodriguez following the All-Star break proved beneficial in Milwaukee’s regular season and postseason achievements.
In 29.0 IP with the Brewers, the veteran hoarded 17 HLD and 33 SO, walked just 10 and maintained a 1.86 ERA. Melvin wisely declined Francisco’s monstrous $17.5 Million vesting option late last month.
The question Milwaukee must now ask itself is who will fill K-Rod’s shoes next season. There are several noteworthy names available for signing this winter, of which include Frank Francisco, David Aardsma, Matt Capps and Octavio Dotel. None are nor have strikingly brilliant repertoires, however, the Brewers cannot afford to be too picky with such a arid free-agent market.
Is Mat Gamel Ready for the Big Stage?
With Prince Fielder likely to have played his last game in a Brewer uniform, big changes are imminent.
Incumbent 26-year-old prospect Mat Gamel now appears to be the most-likely replacement for Fielder next season. But is he ready for the big stage?
Experts and pundits have been skeptical about his future in the big leagues for a while now. Many point to his feeble .222 BA in 171 career at-bats with Milwaukee as a cause for concern, along with his 36.5 K% in 2009. Even so, a sample size of 171 at-bats is hardly a testimonial to what he could be in a full-time starting role with the Brewers. In his last two seasons in triple-A, Gamel averaged a .310 BA, 21 HR, 82 RBI, .337 BABIP and a .526 SLG.
At this juncture, its hard to determine what management will decide to do regarding the youngster’s future. His 2012 season will ultimately come down to his sheer production in spring training.
While there’s no escaping the fact that Milwaukee’s farm-system is drained at best, that doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t prospects ready to make the leap.
As we pointed out last week, the Brewers are interested in promoting RHP Wily Peralta and CF Logan Shafer from triple-A by opening day next season. Third baseman Taylor Green also made an impression on the club last September, and it remains to be seen whether management feels he can be the everyday starter by 2012.
Given the number of uncertainties pertaining to the bullpen, it looks as though Peralta should make the 25-man roster next April. Nevertheless, all three have a legitimate shot at being on the opening-day roster. Who will get the nod in 2012?
Can Management Actually Bring Back Prince Fielder?
There are many question marks surrounding this Milwaukee club, but none are more prominent than what Fielder’s future holds in store.
Popular belief has said that the young 27-year-old isn’t likely to return to the Brewers in 2012 and beyond. After yet another MVP-type season (.299 BA, 38 HR, 120 RBI, .415 OBP), its easy to see why. Clubs with money to spend like the Rangers, Nationals, Mariners and Cubs are at the top of the totem pole at this juncture, but the Brewers are still very much contenders for Fielder’s services.
Owner Mark Attanasio claims he will make a valiant effort at retaining the Fielder’s bat this winter. Is it a realistic possibility or simply a publicity stunt?
Follow Alec Dopp on Twitter: @alecdopp.