Three Pieces: Milwaukee Brewers

At the end of nearly every season there are a number of up-and-coming ballclubs who believe that they need just one or two more key players in order to make the playoffs. The Brewers have been mocked from all corners of the baseball world in recent years. They were the team (well, one of the teams) nobody loved. Baseball fans in small markets outside Wisconsin resented them because they were Selig's team. Others have mocked Miller Park as a expensive boondoggle because of its neverending roof problems. However, in 2005 the Brewers proved that on the field, they would not be the subject to the same sort of ridicule they've seen for over a decade. The Brewers were suprisingly competitive last season, managing to avoid a losing season for the first time since 1992. But will they continue to move forward, or will they be more notable for plunging their mascot into a tub of beer than for baseball exellence?

1. Don’t Panic

The tendency of a lot of organizations with an emerging core of good, young players is to sign a big name guy or two to compliment them. This isn’t a horrible strategy; in fact I wish my hometown team had pursued it long ago. In the case of the Brewers, however, it would be a big mistake. The free agent market is too thin and the players in it too overvalued for the Brewers to take a chance on it. Anyway, the Brewers already added the big bat they needed in the Podsednik for Lee trade (one of those rare moves which seemed to help both clubs). This isn’t to say the Brewers don’t have needs; theirs are just less dire than the needs than most clubs, and will not be filled with an overpriced free agent.

2. A good bullpen arm

The Brewers have a young rotation, and I believe that their young arms like Jose Capellan and Chris Capuano will continue to develop under the pitching coach Mike Maddox (and yes, he’s Greg Maddox’s bother). Ben Sheets is an established force at the major league level, and Tomo Ohka is a solid number four guy, especially when you consider how cheap he came from Washington. However, I’m concerned about the relief pitching. Derrick Turnbow had a breakout year in 2005. Coming out of nowhere (reminiscent of Eric Gange in 2002), Turnbow saved 42 games with a ERA of 1.74 and became one of the great success stories of 2005. Considering his age (27) and his strong K/9 and BB/9 ratios I’m inclined to believe that he’s for real. However, the Brewers simply must add someone to set him up. Julio Santana certainly can strike em’ out, but his resemblance to Johan fades when you realize he’s a 30 year old journeyman with a career ERA of 5.27. Nor are the Ricky Battilco’s of the world (another journeyman in his mid 30’s) going to get it done. Scott Eyre who recently signed with the Cubs would have been a good fit, but the Brewers still have plenty of time to explore the market. I think the Brewers might be smart to take a look at what the pitching-rich Twins will offer for Lyle Overbay whom the Twins are rumored to be interested in.

3. Patience for the Prince

The 2005 major league season couldn’t have gone off to any sweeter of a start for super-prospect Prince Fielder, who hit a home run in his first day in the big leagues. Prince (or the player formally known as too fat even for Billy Beane) has proven all the skeptics wrong, tearing up triple A in 2005 at a .291/.388/.569 clip. He preformed well in the big leagues as well, hitting .288/.306/.458 in 39 games. There are a lot of concerns about his defense, but the reports I’ve read seem to indicate that while his range is still bad he is improving on whole. Prince has a good chance to be an even better player than his dad, if the Brewers don’t rush him too quickly. I would advise the Brewers to platoon him for a while with an experienced veteran (JT Snow perhaps?) and give him the job full time if he produces.

The Bottom Line:

The Brewers seem to have just the right mix of experienced talent (Carlos Lee, Geoff Jenkins) and young promise (Fielder, Trunbow). The task for the Brewers is to tweak the bullpen just a bit, without giving up players that would upset the chemistry of the team. Overbay looks expendable to me, as long as the Brewers add a veteran to help ease Prince Fielder along. With Carlos Lee continuing to put up excellent numbers, and the second half bounce-back for Geoff Jenkins, the Brewers have some breathing room. If they don’t panic and try to change things too much, the Brewers will challenge for the Wild Card and maybe even the division if the Cards stumble mightily.

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