Stakeholders - Milwaukee Brewers
From now through the beginning of the regular season, we will not be posting in-depth round-tables previewing each division like we have in years past. Instead we will feature brief back-and-forths with "stakeholders" from all 30 teams. A collection of bloggers, analysts, mainstream writers and senior front office personnel will join us to discuss a specific team's hopes for 2010. Some will be in-depth, some light, some analytical, some less so but they should all be fun to read and we are thrilled about the lineup of guests we have teed up. Today it's Larry Granillo on the Milwaukee Brewers.
Patrick Sullivan: Well let me just ask you right off the bat, Larry, what do you make of the 2010 Brewers in comparison to the 2009 club? Last year was fairly tumultuous from a personnel standpoint, most notably evidenced by J.J. Hardy's tenure as a Brewer coming to an end unceremoniously. How's this year's club looking?
Larry Granillo: I don't know exactly what happened with JJ Hardy last year, but it reeks of mismanagement. And, frankly, coming from the Doug Melvin regime, that's incredibly disappointing. Sure, JJ was hitting poorly, but his defense more than made up for it. To top it off, the demotion to Nashville, and the ensuing (blatant) service-time manipulation, wasn't even all that fruitful, as Melvin was only able to turn JJ into Carlos Gomez. I've heard that JJ isn't all that pleased with the Brewers organization these days, and I can't blame him one bit.
As for the rest of the 2010 Brewers, it's hard to say. The offense, despite the loss of Mike Cameron, should be pretty healthy still. When you have Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder hitting back to back for 150+ games a year, that's how things tend to be. But even a high-powered offense is helpless when you have the worst pitching staff in baseball, and the 80-win 2009 Brewers are pretty good proof of that. The 2010 staff isn't all that different - or, at least, isn't all that better talent-wise.
The biggest hope I have for the 2010 Brewers - and I think this is true for a lot of fans - is that the 2009 staff was *so* bad that it's not likely to happen again. So many pitchers had career-worst years - Parra, Bush, Looper, Suppan - that even a little regression to the mean will make the team better. If that does happen, and Braun and Fielder keep hitting the hide off the ball, then an 85-87 win season doesn't seem all that crazy. And, in this division, that might be all that they need.
PS: How good is Yovani Gallardo? How good do the Brewers need him to be in order to contend for post-season play?
LG: The one bright spot in the 2009 Brewers' rotation was the young ace, Yovani Gallardo. He pitched brilliantly in the first half, including being a major part of one of the best games I've ever seen live, but faded in the second-half. He tends to overthrow the ball at times, as young power pitchers are wont to do, and that takes its toll in the form of increased walks and high pitch counts. He'll have to learn to control that as he matures if he wants to be the superstar that we all know is in him. Luckily for us, he is only 24 years old.
How good is Yovani Gallardo? Let's just say that the Brewers aren't too far away from having two homegrown, legitimate MVP contenders and one homegrown, legitimate Cy Young contender playing together every year. I can't wait.
PS: What do you think Milwaukee's best shot at the playoffs is? Will it be easier to snag the Wild Card or to somehow catch St. Louis in a light-looking NL Central?
LG: Neither is much of a given, or even all that likely, but I'd have to say that catching the Cardinals is the Crew's best shot at the 2010 playoffs. The Cards took the division last year with 91 victories, and that was with Cy Young-caliber seasons from their top two pitchers and some memorable years by a few role players/rookies. And though I consider them (easily) the best team in the Central, I don't see them matching that total this year. It's entirely possible that an 86- or 88-win team could win this division. The Wild Card is bound to be more competitive than that.
PS: Try and put into perspective for Milwaukee fans and fans of other clubs just how good of a hitting pair Ryan Braun and Prince Fieder make. I mean, it's bordering on historic, wouldn't you say?
LG: I try to steer clear of words like "historic" just because I don't trust my own biases, but Prince and Braun are something, aren't they? The best thing about watching these two play everyday is just how consistent they are. You might see them pressing a bit in the occasional at-bat (those Miller Park fences look awfully close at times), but, for the most part, they keep true to the same approach day-in and day-out. There's no doubt in my mind that it helps the club win more games. I wouldn't say the Prince/Braun combo is on par with the likes of Griffey/A-Rod or Aaron/Matthews yet, but a duo like this comes along very rarely and we Brewers fans are lucky to see it. (Maybe they're a power-hitting version of the 1970s Yount/Molitor pair?)
PS: What are your expectations for Rickie Weeks?
LG: Sadly, this could be the 3rd year in a row you've asked that question, and I wouldn't realize it. There's a lot to like about Rickie Weeks, and his recent track-record seems to show an improving ballplayer. The optimism and loyalty the Brewers have shown him is definitely grounded in something.
He's also coming off his second wrist injury in the last three years (one on each wrist), and we all know how dangerous those can be. When it comes to Rickie Weeks, you have to remember this: an injury-plagued, 40-game season seems to be about as likely as an All-Star caliber campaign. Of course, with this being his age-27 season, the Brewers' loyalty to Rickie could be running out here in 2010. Maybe he can use that as a motivator.
PS: Talk a little more about some of the new regulars for the Brew Crew. I have four players in mind. How do you feel about Alcides Escobar, Carlos Gomez, Randy Wolf and Doug Davis? Comment on the Brewers' catching, too, if you would. Can't get worse than Jason Kendall, right?
LG: I'm pretty stoked about the Escobar era. The kid can flash some leather (though it should be noted that JJ wasn't exactly Adam Dunn out there). I'm not convinced that his bat will translate to the major league level all that well, but there is some potential there. The defense is the key, though. When you're pitching stinks, it's always nice to have someone who knows how to field the ball playing behind you.
Same goes for Gomez. His defense is great and will make the pitching staff better, but his bat has a long way to go. I will say this: I was disappointed when the Brewers traded JJ Hardy straight-up to the Twins for Gomez. I was disappointed when the club made it clear that they would not re-sign Mike Cameron. But I was never disappointed that Carlos Gomez is on the team. Now we just have to hope that he can improve that hitting a bit.
The biggest positive that the JJ-for-Gomez trade gave the Brewers was the $10 million the club saved by making Gomez the starting CF. Of course, they then went out and spent that money on the 33-yr old Randy Wolf who was coming off a career-year in Dodger Stadium. It's probably not the best signing, but, given the club's position and the lack of quality pitchers on the market, it was probably the best move they could make. He should help give the team some stability in the middle of the rotation.
As will Doug Davis. Davis is no one's idea of top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but he's a middle-of-the-pack innings eater. That'll make a difference with this staff. The biggest positive about the Wolf and Davis signings, though, is that they each mean fewer starts by the likes of Braden Looper (cut) and Jeff Suppan (on the "disabled" list and in danger of being cut). As I said before, that just may be enough for the 2010 Brewers.
PS: Thanks a lot, Larry!
Larry Granillo lives in Milwaukee and writes slightly-too-long posts about Charlie Brown, batting helmets, and Opening Day at the blog Wezen-Ball.com. He can be found on Twitter at @wezen_ball.