by Jason Martinez
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MILWAUKEE BREWERS OFFSEASON PREVIEW
It only took about 4 1/2 months, but the Brewers were a team clicking on all cylinders from mid-August through the end of the season. Even without Zack Greinke, who was dealt to the Angels in late July, the Brew Crew finished the season with 31 wins in their last 47 games. An 83-win season is pretty impressive, considering Prince Fielder left as a free agent last offseason, Mat Gamel, Alex Gonzalez, and Chris Narveson suffered season-ending injuries early on, Rickie Weeks was in a slump for half the season, and John Axford blew 8 of his first 26 save opportunities. The season was considered a disappointment but there were a lot of positives.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
Weeks finally got it together, posting an .800 OPS in the second half and Ryan Braun answered any questions about whether performance-enhancing drugs (drug suspension for positive PED test was overturned) or Fielder's presence in the lineup had anything to do with his past success by hitting a career-high 41 HR and stealing 30 bases. Aramis Ramirez had a terrific debut season with the Brewers, hitting .300 with 27 HR, 50 doubles, and 105 RBI. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who missed nearly two months of the season with a broken hand, had an .881 OPS in 96 games.
The injury to Gamel forced Corey Hart to first base, which opened up an opportunity for Norichika Aoki in right field. The free agent acquisition from Japan finished the season with a .288 BA, .355 OBP, 10 HR, and 30 SB from the leadoff spot. With the way that center fielder Carlos Gomez finished the season (.809 OPS, 26 SB in 2nd half), the outfield appears set, meaning that Hart will remain at first base.
Only one spot appears to be unsettled and that's the shortstop position. Jean Segura, acquired from the Angels in the Greinke deal, finished the season as the starter and wasn't terrible (.264 BA, 4 2B, 3 3B, 13 BB, 7 SB in 44 games) for a 22 year-old who was making the jump from Double-A. Ideally, he could spend a full season in Triple-A while a veteran holds down the job in 2013. That veteran could be Gonzalez, who signed a one-year deal with the team last offseason before blowing out his knee in his 24th game of the season. With limited options available on the free agent market, they'd be smart to try and re-sign the 35 year-old before free agency opens.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
Not only was Narveson lost early in the season, Shaun Marcum missed six weeks with elbow tightness and Randy Wolf pitched so poorly that he was released in August. The Brewers' starting pitching depth, however, proved to be much better than expected. Marco Estrada (3.64 ERA, 138.1 IP, 29 BB, 143 K) and Mike Fiers (3.74 ERA, 127.2 IP, 36 BB, 135 K) made 23 and 22 starts, respectively, with excellent results. Both have a good shot to open 2013 in the rotation.
Finding another top-of-the-rotation starter to team with Yovani Gallardo might be the #1 priority of the offseason, which would leave Narveson, Mark Rogers, Wily Peralta, and Tyler Thornburg battling it out for one spot. More help is on the way as 2011 1st Round draftees Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley will likely open the season in Double-A Huntsville while Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Peña, both acquired from the Angels in the Greinke deal, could start the year in Triple-A Nashville.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
Axford was a big part of the team's late-season success (17 saves in last 18 chances) but you can't help wonder how close the Brewers would've gotten if he hadn't struggled for the majority of the season. Of the eight saves blown through August 8th, the team went on to lose seven of those games.
With Francisco Rodriguez a free agent and Kameron Loe and Manny Parra non-tender candidates, it's important that they bring in a reliable setup man who can not only bridge the gap to Axford, but step in and close if Axford implodes once again. Career minor leaguer Jim Henderson was a nice find, making his big league debut at age 29 and finishing the year with a 3.52 ERA, 14 holds, 3 saves, 13 BB, and 45 K in 30.2 IP. Brandon Kintzler has potential to pitch in the late innings and Jose Veras likely saved his job for 2013 with a strong finish. Thornburg and Rogers could also be options for the bullpen if they're not in the rotation.
If Parra, who is the lone lefty in the bullpen mix, is non-tendered, the team will have to replace him. Jeremy Affeldt, Sean Burnett, and Mike Gonzalez are three of the top lefty relievers on the free agent market. Brandon League would be a nice fit as the 8th inning setup man who could close, if necessary.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
1 Starting Pitcher
3 Setup Man
4 Lefty Reliever
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS