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Sunday, March 23, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Milwaukee Brewers
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
Three years ago Milwaukee went all-in to acquire Zach Greinke and Shawn Marcum, and last year they find out how far you can fall when you run out of prospects and/or pitching. The Brewers go the whole year without a first basemen and the late signing of Kyle Lohse can’t mask a thin and uninspiring pitching corps. The Brewers thought they had something more, but almost all of their young back-end starter candidates hit the wall as AAAA batting practice fodder. Remember when Mike Fiers was a nice story?

Winter Grade: C 
Coming: Matt Garza, Mark Reynolds
Going: Norichika Aoki, Corey Hart
Milwaukee is sort of stuck in a holding pattern until they discover for good that this roster doesn’t have what it takes. Under those circumstances, signing Matt Garza was a pricey addition but all he cost was money, as under the new CBA rules no player traded midseason is subject to draft pick compensation. However, Milwaukee was better off trying to retain longtime Brewer Corey Hart; they spent the winter fruitlessly searching for a first basemen, from Ike Davis to James Loney. Their inability to find anything better than Mark Reynolds and (yuck!) Lyle Overbay is extremely uncreative but also speaks to their lack of prospect depth; Milwaukee could not afford to give up even a mid-range pitching prospect for any of the available hitters on the market (Ike Davis, Logan Morrison, et al). Trading Aoki for a relief pitcher (Will Smith) was also a head-scratcher; they will miss his presence atop the lineup.

Wild Card(s): 
A trio of hitters who made their debut in 2013—Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett and Caleb Gindl—could potentially serve full-time roles this year. Davis is the most likely to maintain some semblance of his 2013 production (.279/.353/.596 slash line in 56 games) based on his track record, but he’s also 26 and a poor defender. Gennett showed unexpected power last year (.479 slugging) but his minor league track record predicts more of a utility profile; ditto Gindl.

Pitcher Wily Peralta was a much better pitcher in the second half of last year, with a 3.99 ERA after the all-star break and a higher strikeout rate. He has a good fastball and some potential secondary pitches, so it would not be too unexpected for him to take another step forward in 2014.

Key Contract Years: 

Rickie Weeks and Yovani Gallardo both have options that are unlikely to be picked up. Aramis Ramirez, however, has an intriguing mutual option for $14 million, which is basically the equivalent of a qualifying offer. Considering his age and production last year, it’s about a 50/50 proposition that both sides agree to those terms.

Rookies: 
Nobody very interesting. Righty Jimmy Nelson had a so-so year in AAA last year, and made his debut last September. He struck out a bunch of guys (163 in 156 IP) but without better command, Nelson is more likely a no. 4 starter at best or a power arm out of the bullpen. First basemen Hunter Morris belted 24 Home Runs in AAA but hit just .247 without many walks, which is why someone like Mark Reynolds is the opening day starter in Milwaukee, not him. It’s possible Morris gets some playing time if/when things go back.

Key Questions:
What happens if the Brewers get off to a bad start?
How long does management wait?
Will the Brewers avoid being stuck in also-ran status the way the Astros were several years ago?
Who gets more playing time at second base, Scooter Gennett or Rickie Weeks?
Is Tyler Thornburg a starter or reliever?
What are the Brewers going to do with Ryan Braun?
If he hits again, will fans and management embrace him or will they use that to extract more in a trade and give him a ‘fresh start’ somewhere?

Farm System Overview: BLACK (one of the worst) 
The Brewers have traded away talent, drafted poorly, and given away picks by signing free agents. They also haven’t spent much on the international market. The result is a system with no depth and no impact prospects. Their best prospect is either a likely bullpen arm (Nelson) or 19-year-old outfielder Tyrone Taylor, who could be a league average player after hitting .274/.338/.400 in low-A ball last year. If the Brewers are lucky, there are a handful of role players in the system who can come up and have a career, like Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett did last year.

2014 Prognosis: Unlikely Contenders

The Brewers are not really a threat to make the playoffs; their roster as is cannot compete with the Cardinals or Reds and they don’t have any depth either. However, they can’t really be classified as ‘rebuilding’ with stars like Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez still on the roster. Ideally, management allows Doug Melvin to bite the bullet and restock the farm system a little by trading away some guys like Ramirez or pitcher Yovani Gallardo, but it will be a hard sell, especially if Milwaukee is hovering around .500 most of the year. That said, this is not really a young .500 team, and so every year they don’t recycle some younger talent they are going to slide further into irrelevance. This looks like a team staring down a precipice.

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