I remember a day, some years ago now, when the Brewers were the nemesis of the Twins, and a guy by the name of Dave Nilsson used to give us fits. The Brewers were part of the AL Central for 4 seasons between 1994 and 1997 and even though both teams sucked at the time, the Twins and Brewers had a healthy rivalry going. Then baseball decided to move the Brewers to the National League, a move I'm still convinced was motivated by personal reasons on the part of Bud Selig. In some ways I feel bad for the Brewers, they are often out of it come September, they have never won a World Series and over the last few years, despite a power hitting line-up, they have been unable to compliment that with a good pitching staff. This year...doesn't look much better.
2009 Record: 80-82, 11GB the St. Louis Cardinals, 3rd Place NL Central
The two big names to leave the Brewers this past off-season were Mike Cameron OF and J.J. Hardy SS, Cameron through free-agency to the Red Sox and Hardy via trade with the Twins. These two losses have the potential to throw off the Brewer lineup somewhat, but defensively their replacements are solid. Cameron's replacement will be Carlos Gomez and Hardy's replacement will be Alcides Escobar (most likely). Gomez has really struggled at the plate since breaking into the Majors and Escobar, despite his status as a 5-star prospect with the Brewers, has only played 38 big league games up to this point.
Randy Wolf (SP) - free agent from the Dodgers; Wolf had a nice season last year for the Dodgers starting 34 games with a 3.23ERA and 1.10WHIP but at 32, I don't see Wolf being able to repeat that too many more times, if any. In terms of his career, it was the first season in 8 that he pitched over 200 innings and both his ERA and WHIP were significantly under his career averages. He'll definitely be a nice 2-hole starter behind Gallardo, but don't expect big things.
Doug Davis (SP) - free agent from the Diamondbacks; here's what tells you that the Brewers pitching staff is going to struggle this year...Davis is projected to be the Brewers 3rd starter. Don't get me wrong, Davis is not terrible, but he's a 5th starter, not a 3rd. He eats up innings, but aside from Gallardo, the Brewers have 4 pitchers with underwhelming SO/9 numbers and low velocities. With a 1.49+ career WHIP, Davis is a guy who pitches to contact which is going to put a lot of pressure on the defense.
Carlos Gomez (CF) - Personally I thought the Twins gave up on Gomez a little too early. At 23 years old, Gomez has a lot of baseball left to play and given that he was pretty much the cornerstone of the Santana trade, I thought the Twins rid themselves of him before giving him a legitimate shot. That said, Gomez was REALLY struggling at the plate and the Twins had a big need at SS, so the Hardy trade was a good one. Gomez provides great defense and a lot of energy, but if he doesn't improve at the bat, he'll continue to be only marginally useful.
The rest of the Brewers additions are probably 'B' players. They lost Jason Kendall C in the off-season (free agent to the Royals) so they added Gregg Zaun from the Rays and George Kottaras from the Red Sox. The rest of their additions were the following: Joe Inglett UT, Luis Cruz SS, Marco Estrada RP, Jim Edmonds OF, Scott Schoeneweis RP, Chuck Lofgren Rule 5.
Talent En Route:
I talked about Alcides Escobar who looks like he will be the everyday SS for the Brewers this season barring something unforeseen. Escobar hit well in 38 games last year with a triple-slash of .304/.333/.368. There's an obvious lack of power there, which is one of the knocks against Escobar, but he certainly hits well enough to stay in a lineup and his defense is solid. There are two others who deserve mention in the Brewer farm-system.
Brett Lawrie 2B - drafted by the Brewers in the 1st round in 2008, Lawrie has made it as high as Double-A and he's still only 19 years old. Lawrie started out as a Catcher but requested a move to 2B, but according to Baseball Prospectus, his defense is lacking at 2B, so a move to the outfield might be next. Lawrie has a plus bat with some decent power, but the major leagues is probably another 2-3 years away for this kid.
Mat Gamel 3B - Gamel reminds me of Carols Gomez. Gamel came over in the C.C. Sabathia trade and was absolutely mashing in the minors, only to fizzle offensively in his first big league shot. The Brewers tried to trade him this off season but didn't receive any solid offers for him and it's likely Gamel will start this season back at Triple-A. I hope the Brewers hang onto this kid and give him another shot because I like his potential a lot. Dude's only 23 and look at those MiL stats!!
2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook:
The Brewers enter this season with the 17th highest payroll in baseball, which is another way of saying they have the 14th lowest payroll in baseball, which is yet another way of saying they are right in the middle in terms of salary with an $80M payroll. The most interesting player to watch next off season will be Prince Fielder because he will be entering his final year of arbitration and the Brewers, if they aren't competitive this year, might be tempted try to trade Fielder. I tend to think the Brewers will try to hang onto Fielder and build a team around him and Braun, but I've grown up with cheap-ness all my life, so a trade would not surprise me. Aside from Fielder, the Brewers are not set to have any big names come up for free agency over the next two years and to be honest, given that their payroll is hovering around $80M, they are in a good position to spend some money over the next few years.
The Future of the Brewers:
My crystal ball is in the repair shop today so I'm gonna have to take a wild guess about the Brewers. It's really hard to say about the Brewers long-term future. On the one hand, they have two outstanding players who they could build this team around in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. On the other hand, they have so many holes to fill it's hard to see them being able to build quickly around Braun and Fielder without spending a lot of money, something that this management may not be willing to do. Like I mentioned in the Salary Outlook section, this team is set up to be able to spend some money, but they also have to think about the cost of locking up Fielder long-term. This team's real shot was two years ago when they had C.C. Sabathia, but they ultimately didn't have enough pieces to do anything. I imagine they'll continue to tread water in a relatively deep division and unless their management gets bold, they'll have an occasional post-season appearance, but no sustained success.