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October 19, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Milwaukee Brewers

by Ben Lindbergh, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in October (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm-system overview.

Today we bid farewell to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Projected 2012 Lineup
The Brewers are a completely different team without Fielder, but there are additional questions in the infield, particularly at shortstop. Greinke and Gallardo are a great 1-2 at the top of the rotation, but Milwaukee could use another quality starter before it hands the ball off to Marcum and Wolf.

Batting order
RF: Corey Hart
CF: Nyjer Morgan
LF: Ryan Braun
1B: ?
2B: Rickie Weeks
SS: ?
3B: Casey McGehee
C: Jonathan Lucroy

Rotation
SP: Zack Greinke
SP: Yovani Gallardo
SP: ?
SP: Shaun Marcum
SP: Randy Wolf
 

Signs of disaster: Signs of disaster were few and far between on the team with the second-best actual and expected records in the senior circuit. However, the Brewers were vulnerable on the road, where they won at only a .481 clip. Until Doug Melvin plucked Francisco Rodriguez out of the Mets' midseason bargain bin, the bullpen lacked an attractive set-up option. With Rodriguez available to the highest bidder this winter, the Brewers may have to build another bridge to closer John Axford, who excelled in his second season. The Brewers also need to upgrade at shortstop, where they endured a typically weak offensive season from Yuniesky Betancourt (whose 1.0 WARP made him the 26th-most valuable SS in baseball), and they lack a suitable in-house replacement for first baseman Prince Fielder, who is almost certain to take his 5.0 WARP to another team via free agency.

Signs you can ignore: Casey McGehee was worth two wins to the Brewers in each of the past two seasons, but he gave a lot of that value back with a disastrous 2011 that subtracted 1.2 WARP from his career total. McGehee's .223/.280/.346 line translated to a .221 TAv, the lowest mark recorded by any major leaguer with at least 600 plate appearances. However, the right-handed hitter's greatest struggles came against left-handed pitchers, whom McGehee handled well from 2009-2010. His abysmal .169/.228/.185 performance against southpaws was accompanied by a .202 BABIP. It's unlikely that McGehee suddenly lost his ability to hit opposite-handed pitchers (while holding his own against right-handers) at the age of 28, so he may have been the victim of more than a few bad bounces that should go his way more often in 2012. Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
The bold move I think the Brewers should make this offseason is to pony up and resign Fielder and keep him together with Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks as their offensive nucleus going forward. In their pursuit of Prince, it can only help the Brewers that the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox all have marquee first basemen owed a significant amount of money in the coming seasons.

In addition to pursuing Fielder, the Brewers also need a long-term solution at third base, a better defensive shortstop, another starting pitcher, a left-handed reliever and a set-up man to replace Rodriguez, who is expected to leave the club via free agency.

The Brewers have a talented club and should be a contender for the next several years, especially if they can re-sign Fielder and keep this explosive middle of the lineup together. Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 92-70

The exit from the playoffs was disappointing, but it's still hard to complain too much about a season in which you set a franchise record for wins. The biggest uncertainty is what happens with Fielder. While it's almost certain that Prince leaves Milwaukee, the unknown is who replaces him. Milwaukee will have extra money if Fielder does leave, and it must use the cash to address other needs while using Mat Gamel and Taylor Green wisely. Without Fielder in the lineup, there's less room for error and Milwaukee can't afford to do things like letting McGehee be a hole in the heart of the order for an entire season or being satisfied with a shortstop who doesn't hit or field well. The fact that the Brewers had a run differential more fitting for a 90-win team may make natural regression seem like a steeper dropoff. There are still opportunities in Milwaukee, but the team is made to win now and GM Doug Melvin will have to continue to be aggressive.

Worst-case scenario: 75-87
Trading for Greinke and Marcum were bold moves that paid off, but the deals came with a downside as Milwaukee cleared the organization of most guys who could contribute in the majors in the next year or two, the heart of the club's championship window. The Brewers enjoyed a level of health in the starting rotation that would be foolish to expect again in 2012, and without the prospects to pull off a blockbuster trade or the cash box to go after C.J. Wilson, the organization will need to be a little creative with moves on the margins. The Brewers are still definitely in the conversation to be NL Central favorites next season, but they must address issues with the infield and pitching depth this winter, or a little bad luck in 2012 could send them into a fight for fourth place. Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
The Brewers went all in in 2011, trading a significant amount from what was already a weak farm system to acquire Marcum and Greinke. That left them with the worst system in baseball heading into the 2011 season, and while some strong seasons on the farm and a pair of first-round picks in June helped to bolster things, there is still a significant deficit for Milwaukee when it comes to prospects. With Fielder most likely departing, first in line for the job appears to be Gamel, who has proven he can hit Triple-A pitching. But in the mind of many scouts, Gamel has also proven that he's a 4-A type with a .222/.309/.374 line in 194 plate appearances in the majors. Right-hander Wily Peralta could help shore up the back end of the rotation in 2012. But for the most part, the Brewers' big league team is what it is and will be for some time. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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

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

23 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

kddean

I know it's fashionable to rip on Bowden, but given the multiple needs that he spelled out for the Brewers, of which only the bullpen arms can come cheaply, it doesn't make sense to "pony up" for Prince.
You can't upgrade all those areas and keep Prince.

Oct 19, 2011 06:17 AM
rating: 0
 
timber

That was my thought exactly. And he follows that sentence up with "should be a contender for the next several years." With that many needs, I don't see how. They don't have the prospect chops to fill all those voids and, while Attanasio isn't averse to spending, the well isn't bottomless.

Oct 19, 2011 08:37 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

They don't need all those voids filled to contend. With a core of Braun, Weeks and Greinke locked in to Brewers contracts for years and a relatively weak NL Central, the Brewers can contend for years.

Oct 19, 2011 11:57 AM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

On the other hand, they could do something like use McGehee/Greem at 3rd, sign a halfway competent SS like, say, Scutaro, and sign someone who can field well at first, say Pena. Even the Brewers farm can come up with some bullpen pieces, and Peralta could, as Kevin said, fill out the back end of the rotation, which is pretty much all that's required, given that they have Greinke/Gallardo/Marcum as a very decent top 3. I would imagine that the pitchers may also have better luck with a more competent infield behind them.

Oct 19, 2011 06:42 AM
rating: 2
 
ColonelTom

Unless ownership raises the payroll, the raises due to players currently under contract will eat most of the money "saved" by letting Prince Fielder walk. My back-of-the-envelope calculation has them about $6.5M under last year's payroll *after* losing Fielder.

They can't make up Fielder's offense, but they should be able to upgrade defensively from the horrors of Fielder, McGehee, and Betancourt. Presumably Mat Gamel gets the 1B job, so the defensive upgrade has to come on the left side. I'd let Taylor Green get the majority of the at-bats at 3B (perhaps platooning with McGehee) and sign Clint Barmes or Marco Scutaro to play SS. That gives them better defense and offense at both SS/3B - it won't completely replace the overall drop from Fielder to Gamel, but it helps a lot.

Oct 19, 2011 07:24 AM
rating: 1
 
Mike W
(830)

It should be possible to come within a couple WAR of Fielder with a good-field, ok hit 1B like Pena or LaRoche (if Wash signs Fielder), and the money saved should go to a better SS. Pena can join the rotation, and Narveson/Estrada are ok as backups. Relievers are always around and noone, especially a team like Milwaukee, should spend a lot to get them. Between Green and McGehee 3B should be fine. Gamel can be a bench bat.

They are going to need a better 4th OF. He must be lefthanded and should be able to play CF, because Morgan may wear out his welcome, and Kotsay just isn't that good a hitter, or fielder. Gomez is solid as the RH half of the CF platoon/wheels off the bench.

Oct 19, 2011 07:28 AM
rating: 2
 
ColonelTom

Logan Schafer fits that 4th OF role perfectly - no need to waste money on Rick Ankiel or someone similar.

Pena would be an upgrade over Gamel at 1B; I'm not sure about LaRoche, who looked lost last year on the rare occasions when he was healthy enough to play.


Oct 19, 2011 09:37 AM
rating: 1
 
Mike W
(830)

Remember, the Brewers made some bank with the six playoff games, and success usually results in good attendance the next year. They should be around 3 million next year again. It's pretty reasonable to expect they'll be in the thick of it next year.

Oct 19, 2011 07:30 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

On the chance that they make the playoffs again next year, 'Move #1' is to cut Kotsay. I half-expected Roenicke to have him on the pitching mound for the start of Game 6.

Which, well, wouldn't have worked out that much poorly than things did.

Oct 19, 2011 09:03 AM
rating: 0
 
ColonelTom

If you're David Ortiz's agent, do you give the Brewers a call? After all, Prince Fielder wasn't exactly nimble at 1B, and the Brewers played him there for years.

Oct 19, 2011 09:33 AM
rating: -1
 
VDracul

Funny that for years BP made fun of Bowden as a GM, yet he now contributes to these articles.

Oct 19, 2011 09:52 AM
rating: 1
 
bobgale

The mixed messages in this article about Fielder and McGehee create the impression that it was kind of slapped together at deadline.. Probably not the first time that's happened, but leaves the article with questionable value. I'm not sure if "bold" is the word I'd use if the Brewers were to somehow re-sign Fielder at the pay rate and contract length Scott Boras will seek. I thought McGehee looked lost virtually all season both at the plate and in the field, except for a couple of short bursts. My bold move would be to use the Fielder "savings" and attempt to sign Jose Reyes, which also addresses the Betancourt problem and the leadoff issue.

Oct 19, 2011 10:05 AM
rating: 2
 
steverynear

As someone who follows the Brewers very closely, this is what I expect will happen:
-Taylor Green will start at 3b next year.
-Corey Hart will move to 1b.
-They will sign a RFer to a 1-3yr contract (It's possible they sign a 1b and keep Hart in RF, but the market looks pretty grim after Fielder and Pujols).
-Matt Gamel will open the season at AAA playing either 1b or RF.
-Betancourt may actually be on the team in 2012. There are almost no SS available. I'm sure Doug Melvin will exhaust every option though.
-The rotation will stay the same: Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum, Wolf, Narveson. Willy Peralta will be the 6th starter and possibly will bump Narveson as the season progresses.
-They will sign or trade some journeyman 6th starter for AAA depth
-They will acquire a reliever or two.

These moves will probably bump up the payroll slightly this year. If you figure the Brewers true talent was 93 wins last year and you start doing some pluses and minuses its pretty tough to say the Brewers expected talent level is much worse than winning in the upper 80s. That being the case, it doesn't make sense to resign Fielder when you know the Brewers will expect to compete next year, but the future after 2012 (Greinke and Marcum leave) starts to get a real hazy.

Oct 19, 2011 10:11 AM
rating: 1
 
ColonelTom

Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee, and Adam LaRoche are all available as 1B options. Unless they sign Carlos Beltran to play RF (unlikely due to cost), I don't see another RF option being attractive enough to offset Hart's likely defensive struggles at a new position.

I fear Betancourt may return, since they'll have to pay him $2M to go away ($6M if he stays). There are better options, but at an effective cost of $4M, they may figure he's worth that. They would be wrong, of course.

Oct 19, 2011 11:21 AM
rating: 0
 
steverynear

I think Hart at 1b + cheap RF platoon would be a much better option than Hart in RF and Lee or LaRoche at 1b. I could live with Pena at 1b.

Apparently Melvin is not considering Hart at 1b, however.
http://www.brewcrewball.com/2011/10/19/2500920/melvin-said-moving-corey-hart-to-first-base-is-not-an-option-hed#comments

Seems like a pretty stupid thing to say. Why give up leverage by limiting yourself?

Oct 19, 2011 11:54 AM
rating: 0
 
StarkFist

I wonder if Brandon Inge or Kevin Kevin Kouzmanoff would benefit from a change of scenery. And even if they don't hit, they can only improve the Brewers' infield defense.

Oct 19, 2011 12:10 PM
rating: 0
 
smocon

The article mentions in a couple of places "contenders for years to come"....this is not really true, since both Greinke and Marcum are Free Agents after 2012. At best they will contend next year before having a pretty dramatic fall off.

Oct 19, 2011 13:01 PM
rating: 1
 
BillJohnson

Tony Plush is "endlessly entertaining"? Perhaps in a pro-wrestling sense. I, for one, would be saddened beyond words to see baseball turn into pro wrestling.

Oct 19, 2011 13:12 PM
rating: 0
 
smocon

Welcome to the Roman Colesium, or Baseball at Miller Park.

Oct 19, 2011 14:00 PM
rating: 0
 
anderson721

I can see the Dodgers signing Fielder, the brewers signing Loney for pennies,....and Loney outplaying Fielder.

Oct 19, 2011 16:43 PM
rating: -2
 
onegameref

Might they sign Buehrle to fill out the rotation? He should be relatively cheap and would likely provide ample innings in the pitcher's league.

Oct 19, 2011 21:10 PM
rating: 0
 
lesmash

I'm going to second what bobgale said and go hard after Jose Reyes with your Prince Fielder money. This gives you pretty dramatic upgrades on the defensive and offensive side of the ball. I would also give Mat Gamel a good long look at 1B or 3B. Give him 250 - 300 plate apps, playing every day for half a season, and see if the guy can figure it out in the show. To date, he has not had a consistent chance to make adjustments at the MLB level. I think the rewards outweight the risk in this scenario.

I think the rotation is good enough as is . . . I don't see a need to go after a #3 starter. How many teams in baseball have a better #3 than Shaun Marcum? Gallardo + Greinke + Marcum is definitely good enough to compete in any playoff series, and Randy Wolf will suffice as a #4.

I do see a solid 8th inning guy as a real need on this club. Somebody has to be able to bridge the gap to get the ball to John Axford. That said, I only want to sign a guy for 1 or 2 years as this team could be in rebuild mode by 2013 if they don't win in 2012 and Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum leave via free agency. I would not want to be paying a set-up guy $7 million a year for a team that is not contending, hence my desire for a very short contract with my 8th inning guy.

Oct 20, 2011 08:29 AM
rating: 0
 
gpurcell

Don't know why you have Marcum as a fourth starter. His FIP/WARP were pretty darn close to Gallardo this season.

Oct 21, 2011 10:58 AM
rating: 1
 
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