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September 27, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Milwaukee Brewers

by Marc Normandin, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade— whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Milwaukee Brewers goodbye.

The overview

The Brewers tried to rebuild their rotation during the last offseason, signing Randy Wolf and Doug Davis, but in the end, they only went as far as their pitching allowed—and that wasn't very far. Milwaukee ranked near the bottom of the league in starters' ERA all year, and closer Trevor Hoffman struggled so badly at the outset of the season that he lost his job. The only way the Brewers and manager Ken Macha could have overcome the problems with the pitching staff would have been to hit through them, but Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun each had seasons filled with deep valleys—as well as some peaks—and center fielder Carlos Gomez and shortstop Alcides Escobar struggled to contribute.

John Axford did become established in their bullpen; the power right-hander has posted 22 saves and 70 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings. Casey McGehee, a third baseman cast off by the Cubs, had a good season that will likely conclude with at least 100 RBI. The final numbers for Braun and Fielder will be more than respectable, and Lorenzo Cain has looked good in his month-long audition in center field. Wolf gave the Brewers exactly what they paid for—200 innings and a stabilizing presence behind Yovani Gallardo, who has struck out more than a batter per inning and demonstrated that he can be a No. 1-type starter.

Moving forward, the Brewers have to find a way to get some power pitching for their starting rotation, and they must prepare to restructure their lineup for the days after Fielder departs. Fielder is eligible for free agency after the 2011 season and reportedly turned down a five-year, $100 million offer from the Brewers, so in all likelihood Milwaukee will look to trade Fielder for some young arms—but trade interest in him will be mitigated by the fact that Fielder is represented by agent Scott Boras, who historically takes his players into free agency rather than working out long-term deals.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Corey Hart rebounded from two injury-filled, low-production campaigns to post his best season and earn himself a shiny new contract. Gallardo continued to look like one of the better pitchers in the NL, despite the terrible defense behind him. While Wolf began the year shaky, his second half (85 1/3 IP, 3.80 ERA, 7-3 record) salvaged the season and gives the Brew Crew some hope for the last two years of his three-year contract. Axford, powered by a mustache that channels Rollie Fingers, whiffed over 11 batters per nine innings and posted both an ERA and an adjusted ERA under 3.00 in his rookie season.

What went wrong: Fielder once again had a down year following a power outburst, posting his worst Isolated Power (SLG minus AVG) since 2006. Fielder has driven in just 10.7 percent of the runners on base, which ranks 237th amongst the 255 players with 300 plate appearances or more. Escobar failed to make an impact in his rookie season: his .230 TAv is right at replacement level, and the speedy shortstop has swiped just 10 bases. Outside of Gallardo and a half-season of Wolf, the rotation was a mess—Chris Narveson looked solid at times, but Dave Bush and Manny Parra were both disasters. Parra, at this point, looks like Oliver Perez with less stamina despite flashes of brilliance. The defense was one of the worst in the majors, and there is no easy solution; improving the glove work may cost the Brewers on offense, their one bright spot.

The key number: 72. The Brewers' stolen base attempts— for a lineup that has many players who can run. Only three teams have attempted fewer thefts. Macha doesn't like to send runners, and it kept Escobar, who stole 42 bases at Triple-A Nashville in 2009, from adding any value to a putrid offensive showing.

What won't happen again: Braun's season was great, but not typical Braun—the right-hander has hit just .280/.351/.460 against southpaws, after putting up a .364/.432/.708 line against them from 2007-09. He has also hit worse at home than on the road, despite Miller Park favoring hitters, but anything can happen in a small sample, and both of these occurrences are most likely a blip that will be forgotten by 2011.—Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Pitching woes: The Brewers have made no secret of their off-season priorities. "We know we've got a problem, which is starting pitching," owner Mark Attanasio said in late August. Over $45 million in salary could be coming off the books, so there is speculation that the Brewers will try to make a major splash and find a complement to Gallardo. Attanasio would love to have Cliff Lee, but that appears too pricey. A nice alternative could be Bronson Arroyo if the Reds decline his $11 million option. The same would hold for Jeff Francis if he becomes expendable in Colorado. There will be plenty of pressure on GM Doug Melvin if he does offer another big contract—the Jeff Suppan deal was a bust and the first year of Wolf's deal didn't work out that well. Before the Brewers can recruit any free agents, they have to settle issues in the dugout, where Macha is headed out the door. The buzz is that bench coach Willie Randolph may no longer be the heir apparent to Macha and that pitching coach Rick Peterson is not certain to return, even though he has a year remaining on his deal.

The Prince situation: One way to free up money for pitching would be for the Brewers to finally pull the trigger on a deal for Fielder, who hits the free agent market after the 2011 season. The Brewers were believed to be asking for two front-end starters for Fielder at the July trade deadline, and teams obviously found that price way too high. Fielder remains the Brew Crew's most marketable trade bait, and the growing consensus is that he will be actively shopped. His market could be hurt by the abundance of first baseman on the free agent market this winter. Either way, the Brewers will no longer be pursuing so many aging veterans after the likes of LaTroy Hawkins, Gregg Zaun and Jim Edmonds all broke down this season. You can also say goodbye to Trevor Hoffman now that the more affordable Axford has taken over the closer's role.—Doug Mittler, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

Two of the best stories in the system are spending September in the big league bullpen, as former first-round picks Mark Rogers (2004) and Jeremy Jeffress (2006) have overcome considerable adversity with breakout seasons. Rogers' long injury history is well-documented, while Jeffress' problems are self-inflicted due to a number of drug-related suspensions that have him one mistake away from getting banned from the game. Moved to the bullpen and dominant this year, the Brewers are now tinkering with the idea of making him a starter again, but why take the time when shorter stints are the only time he's had success? It's like fixing something that isn't broke—or maybe breaking it again.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Prince Fielder,  The Who,  Brewers

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