2011 Milwaukee Brewers: The addition of Greinke and Marcum make the Brewers an instant winner at the expense of their future.

2010 Record: 77-85, 3rd NL Central
2010 Prediction: 82-80, 3rd NL Central
Diff: 5
2011 Prediction: 1st NL Central

Impact Player: 1B Prince Fielder
Impact Pitcher: RHP Zack Greinke
Best Reliever: RHP John Axford
Top Prospect: RHP Mark Rogers

General Manager: Doug Melvin
Manager: Ken Macha (157-167, .485)

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Shaun Marcum, RHP Takashi Saito, RHP Sean Green, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, C Wil Nieves, OF/1B Mark Kotsay

Significant Departures:
SS Alcides Escobar, OF Lorenzo Cain, C Gregg Zaun, OF Jody Gerut, RHP Dave Bush, RHP Todd Coffey, RHP Carlos Villanueva, RHP Trevor Hoffman, LHP Chris Capuano

This offseason put the Brewers’ franchise at a decision point.  Trade franchise cornerstone Prince Fielder who will probably bolt via free agency after the season and being the daunting rebuilding phase, or keep Prince and try to fix your broken starting rotation and make a run at a World Series while you still have the offensive core to do so.  Thankfully for fans in Wisconsin, the Brewers chose the latter.

No NL team made more impactful transactions this offseason than the Brewers.  They first traded top prospect Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays for Shaun Marcum and then turned the baseball world upside-down by outbidding such giants as the Yankees for the services of Royals’ ace and former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.  With incumbent ace Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers now have one of the best 1-2-3 punches in the NL, rivalling that of the Giants and maybe even the Phillies.

The downside, of course, is the butchering of an already underwhelming farm system.  Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi, Alcides Escobar (who was no longer on the farm), and Jeremy Jeffress were all included in trades leaving the farm in dire straits.  Once this window closes, the Brewers may have to embark on a long and arduous rebuild, making it all the more important that they succeed now.  GM Doug Melvin will no doubt be the first to fall if this bold series of moves doesn’t pay off.
Starting Rotation
Some people have told me that Greinke is an overrated pitcher who has essentially had one good season.  I think those people are out of their damn minds.  Yes, it’s true that Greinke’s 10-14 record and 4.17 ERA from 2010 don’t look good, but he still had an excellent 3.29 K/BB ratio and rarely allowed a fly ball.  His 3.34 FIP will attest to just how unlucky he was in 2010.  Make no mistake, Greinke is a stud and moving to the National League will only help him prove that once again.

Gallardo finally pitched a full season in 2010 and finished with a 3.84 ERA and outstanding 3.02 FIP.  He walked a few too many, but made up for it by striking out batters at a ridiculous 9.73 K/9 rate.  His HR/FB rate was slightly below league average, but nothing suggests a regression this season; in fact, he should get better.

Marcum was the Blue Jays’ Opening Day starter last season and showed zero ill-effects of the Tommy John surgery he had that caused him to miss all of 2009.  His 1.98 BB/9 rate and solid strike out numbers make him a terrific peripherals pitcher.  He gave up a lot of homeruns last year, which isn’t surprising since he’s a flyball pitcher and he was pitching in Rogers Centre and the AL East.  A move from the toughest division in baseball to the weakest will no doubt help him.  He’s a well-above-average number three starter.

The remainder of the rotation will consist of veteran Randy Wolf who was not great last year may benefit from matching up against number four starters instead of number two starters like he did last year.  He’s being paid $19-million over the next two seasons which is very expensive for a 34-year-old number four starter who had a 4.85 FIP in the first year of his contract.  He still led the team in innings pitched.

The fifth starter will likely be left-hander Chris Narveson who was inconsistent in 2010, but was solid enough to warrant a job this year.  He finished with a 4.22 FIP and 12 wins.  At 29, he’s already reached his modest ceiling.

Injury depth could include top prospect Mark Rogers who was once very highly regarded until a series of injuries limited his potential.  He probably has a higher ceiling as a reliever.

Bullpen
Canadian John Axford immerged as the closer in 2010 after all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman collapsed and has since retired.  Axford posted 24 saves and a very, very good 2.13 FIP that had a lot to do with an 11.79 K/9 rate and a 0.16 HR/9 rate.  The strike out rate could very easily stay in that range so even though his homerun rate may go up because of a ridiculous HR/FB rate last season, he won’t give up enough total flyballs to really effect him too much.  His flyball percentage last year was just 32.6%.

The rest of the Brewers bullpen is a rather good bunch.  Despite the age of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito (38 and 41 respectively), both could be very good at the back end of the bullpen.  Hawkins was limited to just 16 innings last year which certainly calls into question his durability, but he posted a 3.95 FIP in spite of an elevated 8.44 ERA.  Saito, on the other hand, was terrific in Atlanta last year posting a 2.83 ERA and even better 2.43 FIP.  Even at his age, Saito managed to strike out a staggering 11.50 K/9 in 2010.

Young left-hander Zach Braddock is a converted starter who couples a mid-90s fastball with a filthy slider.  At just 23, his potential has skyrocketed as a reliever and he could be a dominating left-handed setup option.  His strikeout numbers throughout his pro career are stupidly good, but he has yet to find the command that he exhibited at times in the minors.  He was solid against righties, but was lights out against lefties with a 1.97 FIP.

Kameron Loe was also terrific in 2010 with a 2.78 ERA and 3.71 FIP to go along with solid command, while lefty Manny Parra could have his long-awaited breakout year pitching strictly out of the bullpen, which is likely what Milwaukee will do with him this season.

The final spot could go to veteran Sean Green who struggled to stay in the majors last year while Justin James, Brandon Kintzler, Mike McClendon, Rogers, and lefty Mitch Stetter may also have a shot and will provide depth.

Veteran Mark DiFelice is back on a minor-league deal and posted a 3.68 FIP in 51.2 innings with the Brewers last year.

Catchers
The Brewers seem content going with young Jonathan Lucroy as their catcher in 2010 after an okay rookie campaign.  Lucroy didn’t hit terribly well with a .253/.300/.329 slash line, but played solid defence and is athletic enough to steal some bases.  If he falters, Milwaukee signed veteran Wil Nieves away from the Nationals, but he’s not even a quality backup at this point.

Canadian George Kottaras is also on the 40-man roster and could crack the team, and Milwaukee also brought back veteran minor-leaguer Mike Rivera after a year with the Dodgers and Marlins last season.

Infielders
The biggest question mark for the Brewers this season is their defence, especially in their infield.  Fielder at first base is anything but (see what I did there?), while third baseman Casey McGehee and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt could be the worst defensive left-side in baseball.  Second baseman Rickie Weeks was considered slightly above average according to UZR last year, but is not well-regarded generally in the field.

At the plate, however, this group is very good.  Fielder posted a .380 wOBA and 32 homeruns and although there are concerns that his conditioning (or lack thereof) will eventually get the better of him, at 27, he’s still one of the most feared sluggers in the game.  He had a ‘down’ year in 2010 and still finished with a 4.1 WAR rating.

Weeks was finally able to stay healthy in 2010 and reaped the benefits posting a 6.1 WAR that ranked him 6th in the NL behind only Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Holliday, and Troy Tulowitzki.  He finished second in WAR among two-baggers behind only Robinson Cano in all of baseball.  He showed patience at the plate, walking over 10% of the time and hit 29 homeruns.  His BABIP was a bit elevated which could indicate some luck, but doesn’t necessarily.  Ultimately, most of those numbers look rather repeatable if he stays healthy.

McGehee is a rather underrated offensive player even if his future is at first base defensively.  He had a .285/.337/.464 slash line last year and has a .316/.358/.589 line against left-handed pitching.

Betancourt should probably not be an everyday player at this point.  He might be the worst defensive shortstop in baseball and an awful .288 on-base percentage and .300 wOBA cancel out the power he showed last year hitting 16 homeruns for the Royals.

Veteran Craig Counsell was brought back for this season and can provide solid depth at any infield position.  He’s also still a solid defensive contributor despite being 40-years-old.

The once highly-touted corner infielder Mat Gamel is still around but is out of options and could be elsewhere if he doesn’t crack the team.  He tore up AAA last season with a .309/.387/.511 slash line and 13 homeruns in only 82 games.
Outfielders
Leftfielder Ryan Braun is still one of the best all-around hitters in the game and had a .380 wOBA, 25 homeruns and a 4.2 WAR last season.  He’s a terrible outfielder who will likely be a DH someday in the future, but he’s athletic enough to not completely embarrass himself.

In the other corner is Corey Hart, who most definitely wears his sunglasses at night, so he can, so he can.  Hart looked more like his 2007 self last year, but is still in danger of going back to being the player that was barely above replacement in 2008 and 2009.  Like most Brewers, he’s not a good defender.

The one player on the team who can be considered a good defender is centerfielder Carlos Gomez who could probably win a gold glove if he ever did enough at the plate to get any attention.  He enters the year as the everyday centerfielder, but could be moved off the mark by Chris Dickerson or even Brandon Boggs who was very good in AAA-Oklahoma City last year in the Rangers’ organization.

Dickerson will probably be the fourth outfielder while veteran Mark Kotsay is also in on a major-league contract and can also play first base.  Kotsay is not a guy that can be counted on to contribute much, however.

All the roster info you need about your favourite beer-masters is right here.
Overview
The Brewers won 77 games last year despite having one good starting pitcher.  This year, they have a legitimate 1-2-3 punch that should win them more than a few extra games.  Their defence is still a major problem as is Prince Fielder’s durability, but overall it’s hard to see the Brewers not contending this season.  They have the raw talent to beat both the Reds and the Cardinals and if they get to the playoffs, they could be a very dangerous team with that front-end of pitching.  And let’s face it, the Central is an easily attainable division this year.

With the farm system striped to the bone, the Brewers window for contention may not extend much past this season, after which there could be many trying years for this franchise.
Final Prediction: 85-77, 1st NL Central

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