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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

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