General Manager Doug Melvin earned his salary prior to the 2012 season by making all the right moves while guiding the team to a club record 96 wins and NL Central title. They fell just two wins short of a World Series berth, losing to the eventual MLB Champion Cardinals in six games. This past offseason was much quieter, but likely more stressful for the Brewers as they seek to repeat as division champions while replacing one of their better offensive threats with Prince Fielder joining the Tigers through free agency. Melvin also had to make all of his personnel moves with the uncertainty of Ryan Braun's 50-game suspension hanging over the team. What they take into spring training has the potential to repeat, but will need to hold off the charging Reds and perennial contender Cardinals.
Signed third baseman Aramis Ramirez.
Ramirez was signed to replace Casey McGehee at third base, but it's his offense that the Brewers need the most. He has never been the most durable player and at 34 years old he's most likely going to miss some time this season. Ramirez finished last season very strong and the Brewers will need him to continue that trend if they want to contend.
Signed shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Gonzalez takes over for Yuniesky Betancourt as the starting shortstop. He doesn't provide much of an upgrade offensively over Betancourt, but should be quite a bit better with the glove. Gonzalez will be 35 years old before the season begins so there is a possibility that his defense is starting to decline. Still, it's hard to not see this as at least a slight upgrade over Betancourt.
Signed outfielder Norichika Aoki.
Aoki is a 30-year-old outfielder from Japan who has limited power and defensive ability. Even his stole- base numbers have fallen off over the past few years. Aoki's strengths are his ability to hit for contact and get on base. His most likely role will be a left-handed bat off of the bench. He could see additional time over the first few months of the season if Ryan Braun's suspension is upheld.
Traded for relief pitcher Jose Veras.
Veras will compete for a middle-relief role as a potential replacement for Takashi Saito (Arizona).
Lost Prince Fielder and Yuniesky Betancourt to free agency, traded Casey McGehee to Pittsburgh.
Losing Fielder is a tremendous blow to the offense. The Brewers will give Mat Gamel every chance to step in and may go to Taylor Green or even Corey Hart as backup plans. Betancourt and McGehee are coming off poor seasons and the Brewers should see an improvement at both positions.
1. Rickie Weeks 2B
2. Nyjer Morgan CF
3. Ryan Braun LF
4. Aramis Ramirez 3B
5. Corey Hart RF
6. Mat Gamel 1B
7. Alex Gonzalez SS
8. Jonathan Lucroy C
This is a very tentative lineup and a lot could change before spring training is over. It leans heavily to the right, with Gamel and Morgan being the only left-handed hitters in the lineup. Manager Ron Roenicke could consider hitting Weeks second or even fifth while moving Hart or Morgan to the top of the order. Any suspension to Ryan Braun could disrupt things even further.
1. Yovani Gallardo
2. Zack Greinke
3. Shaun Marcum
4. Randy Wolf
5. Chris Narveson/Wily Peralta/Michael Fiers
The rotation has very little turnover from last season. The only real competition will be for the fifth starter spot and even that may not be much of a real competition. Narveson didn't blow anyone away last year, but his 4.23 FIP and 7.0 K/9IP were above average for the fifth spot in the rotation. Peralta has more potential, but may not be ready while Fiers is an older rookie who gets by on deception and precision.
Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise
How many games will Ryan Braun miss?
The Brewers and Braun have been waiting all winter for this question to be answered. Braun was suspended 50 games for testing positive for irregularly high levels of testosterone in his system. He's since been through the appeal process and everyone is now waiting to find out if the appeal will be upheld or denied. A 50-game suspension would have dire consequences for the Brewers and potential take them out of contention. They would need to replace him with a combination of Aoki, Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer.
What happens at first base?
The Brewers are setting up a few different options for replacing Prince Fielder at first base. The first option, which is the one they really want to succeed, is for Mat Gamel to become the everyday first baseman and flourish. The problem is that while Gamel has crushed minor league pitching, he's hit just .222/.309/.374 in 171 major league at-bats. Gamel has also been known to struggle against left-handed pitching so a platoon may be in the cards. If Gamel can't get the job done then the Brewers will either turn to Taylor Green or possibly even move Corey Hart over to first while letting Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer play right field. Overall the entire position is in flux and there's a good chance that it will never get settled during the season.
The starting rotation is one of the stronger ones in the National League. They even have a number of options at the fifth starter spot who would likely be above average for that spot in the rotation.
The defense is still a weakness even after adding Alex Gonzalez and losing Prince Fielder. Aramis Ramirez has been in decline at third base for the last few years and Rickie Weeks is average on his best days.
Rising: Mat Gamel - It would be hard for Gamel to get any lower than his current major league numbers. This will be the first time that the Brewers are fully committing to him as an everyday player and that might be all he needs. He's done everything that he can at Triple-A so this will be a do or die season.
Falling: Randy Wolf - Wolf finished last season with 13 wins and a 3.69 ERA, but his 5.68 K/9IP was the worst of his career. He was able to make up for that by reducing the number of home runs allowed and walking fewer batters. Wolf may not completely blow up in 2012, but most signs point to him falling off of his 2011 fantasy numbers a bit.
Sleeper: Wily Peralta - Peralta is one of Milwaukee's top pitching prospects and finished last year at Triple-A Nashville where he had a 11.6 K/9IP rate in 31 IP. He's still just 22 years old and needs to work on his control so it's likely that he'll begin the season at Triple-A. They Brewers may call on him if there is an injury or two at the major league level, though.
Supersleeper: Caleb Gindl - Gindl has made a steady climb through the Milwaukee minor leagues, hitting .307/.390/.472 as a 22-year-old at Triple-A in 2011. The knock on him has always been that he's too short and may never hit for much power. He just keeps on hitting, though, and there is a scenario where the Brewers move Corey Hart to first base and give Gindl a shot in right field.
Wily Peralta - Peralta has moved swiftly up the Milwaukee minor league system the last two seasons. He struck out a combined 157 in 152.2 innings between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville in 2011. The Brewers will likely give him a long look during spring training to see if he can win a rotation spot or even a bullpen role. Scouts are very high on Peralta's potential as a future starter, though he may not get the opportunity out of the chute in 2012.
Tyler Thornburg - Thornburg was bumped up to High-A Brevard County and pitched well with a 10.03 K/9IP in 68 innings as a starter. The 4.37 BB/9IP is disconcerting and may cause him to be moved into a relief role, but the Brewers will continue to use him as a starter in the minors. He could get bumped up to Double-A in 2012 with an eye towards contributing at the major league level in 2013.
Taylor Jungman - Jungmann was selected with the 12th overall pick by Milwaukee in the 2011 draft. He signed too late to play any minor league baseball so he'll make his pro debut in 2012. Jungmann is advanced enough that he should start in the low minors and could move through the Brewers system after an impressive college career at the University of Texas.
Jed Bradley - Bradley was selected by the Brewers with the 15th pick in the first round of the 2011 draft. He signed late, but threw 8.1 innings during the Arizona Fall League as his professional debut. Milwaukee might start him out at Low-A Wisconsin for his full-season debut, but his combination of age and college experience could enable him to move quickly through the system if he exhibits the polish expected of a pitcher with his pedigree.
Logan Schafer - Schafer split 2011 between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville. He finished the season in Nashville where he hit .331/.401/.521 while playing above average defense in center. Nobody believes that he'll hit like that in the majors, but the Brewers believe that his defense is major league ready and would have no problems putting him in the major league lineup. Nyjer Morgan is currently holding down that spot in Milwaukee, but Schafer could make the team as a fifth outfielder.