Can you feel it, folks? Just taking a walk outside and feeling that chilly, mid 20s weather can't help but make you feel like baseball season is right around the corner. Okay, so maybe we'll have to keep the roof closed on Miller Park for a few more weeks, but it's almost time for the boys of summer to take the diamond for the next six (seven?) months. As I feel every year, I have my hopes that the season will last well into October for my beloved Milwaukee Brewers, but this year I actually have a few reasons to back up my optimism. And that's what I'll be getting to in just a bit. For those of you who have been caught up with the Packers and basketball during the MLB off-season (which includes me), allow me to introduce you to some of the new acquisitions to the roster as well as some key reductions.
SP - Zack Greinke
Never mind the fact that Greinke fractured a rib playing basketball (ugh)...this guy will be good. Prove it, you say? Well, Greinke won the Cy-Young two years ago with the Kansas City Royals when he was finally able to put all of his focus into his day job after battling with psychological issues. Last year was a down year for Greinke, who received almost zero run support, but a move to the National League is an automatic boost to pitchers and their success. If Greinke can control his depression, he should be a force to be reckoned with after his stint on the disabled list is up.
SP - Shaun Marcum
Not much is known of Marcum, a guy who came over from a very underrated Toronto pitching staff. His numbers are almost remarkable when considering the division he came from (13-8, 3.64 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.84 K/BB ratio). Holy hell. That's impressive. Again, consider the move from the AL to the NL, especially because of the wretched AL East, and Marcum is set up to have a solid year by being the unsung guy behind Greinke and Yovani Gallardo. Oh yeah, and both Greinke and Marcum are signed through 2012! Only concern...a former Tommy John Surgery recipient.
Manager Ron Roenicke
The first Brewers hire I can remember being in support of since...umm...shoot...let me think. NEVER! Roenicke came from the Los Angeles Angels under manager Mike Scioscia, who is an MLB manager-breeding machine. See: Bud Black, Joe Maddon. Roenicke has made it clear that he wants to run...thank God...and he's got the personnel to do just that. The players have expressed their liking for Roenicke, who brings a lot of energy into the clubhouse, which is something you never saw with Macha. I like this guy, and that already gives him a one-up on any other manager I can remember during my lifetime.
SS - Yuniesky Betancourt
Below-average defense. Below-average hitter, but not for his position. Could provide some pop at the bottom of the order. Not really much else to be said about Betancourt other than he was necessary for the Greinke deal to go through because of what we had to give up. In other news, I named my fantasy baseball team after him, but let's just say it's not for good reasons.
CF - Nyjer Morgan
This guy gets me excited. He was solid in his first couple seasons in the bigs, but struggled last year. This was mainly due to some temper issues as well as just being in an overall bad situation in Washington. Still, he provides the Brewers with more speed, which is never a bad thing, and will certainly help with the dire center field situation that before the trade appeared would be Carlos Gomez. I would like to see this guy hit lead-off, but I don't know if Weeks will be relieved of that duty any time soon.
Other new guys that could play a role: RP Takashi Saito, 1B/OF Mark Kotsay, P Sergio Mitre
CF - Lorenzo Cain
This loss was the one that hurt the most, but it was a piece that the Brewers were going to have to part ways with if they wanted to obtain Greinke. He's a guy you would've liked to watch progress and get better with the Brewers, but it won't happen, and now we have to deal with watching Carlos Gomez swing for the fence every time he steps to the plate.
SS - Alcides Escobar
As Kyle texted me today, Escobar has unleashed five dingers in Spring Training to go with a .350+ average. A little frustrating to see, but it is exhibition play. Losing Escobar hurts the Brewers' defense, but probably not their offense. Can probably say the exact opposite of Cain. Tough loss, but I'm not terribly sad to see him go. He had his chance to make his mark in Milwaukee and couldn't do it.
Manager Ken Macha
P - Jeremy Jeffress
This was another tough one to swallow, although one more slip up for Jeffress and he's out of the league. Jeffress could absolutely BRING IT, and looked solid for the Crew late last year out of the pen when we were bringing up guys to see what they had. The silver lining is that if we hadn't called up Jeffress and watched him perform well, we may not have had the final piece that Kansas City was looking for in the Greinke deal.
RP - Carlos Villanueva
Call me ill-informed, but I still have no idea who the Brewers got in return for Villa when we shipped him off to Toronto. Nevertheless, what we got from Villanueva was a fast start and then deteriorating performance as the season went on year after year. Not too sad to watch him go. Sorry, Kyle.
C - Brett Lawrie (minor leaguer)
Yeah. The Brewers really emptied out the youth movement this off-season. Lawrie was shipped to Toronto for Marcum, so it's not a total loss. Still, this guy probably has a bright future and it's sad to see him go. Again, a necessary loss should the Brewers want to compete right away.
RP - Todd Coffey
IT'S COFFFFEEEEEEY TIMMMMMMEEE!!!!! Not anymore :( Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.
Other losses: P Jake Odirizzi (ML), OF Cutter Dykstra (ML), OF Chris Dickerson
So you're all caught up, right? Not quite, as the Brewers still have to make a few roster moves before Opening Day (Thursday!). But for the most part, we know who the key players are going to be for what we all hope to be a playoff push. Some story lines to keep an eye on will be how Prince Fielder performs in a contract year, how the new pitching additions will work out, if the Brewers will be able to overcome shotty defense and if John Axford can at least match his 2010 performance in the closer role. Now sit back while I make an ass out of myself and make 12 bold predictions about the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers...
1. Shaun Marcum will win 15 games.
2. Prince Fielder will either collapse under the pressure of a contract year or have a career year because of the motivation of a contract year...then walk after '11.
3. Nyjer Morgan will eventually become the main guy in center field after starting the year in a platoon with Carlos Gomez and the Crew once again realizing Go-Go sucks.
4. John Axford won't top his 2010 season in the closer role but do enough to stay in it. In addition, set-up man Zach Braddock will be an absolute beast.
5. The Brewers will rank in the bottom five in the MLB in defense.
6. Zack Greinke will not perform as well as expected, but Yovani Gallardo will succeed thanks to a lack of pressure.
7. The Brewers will acquire a key bench player mid-season.
8. Manager Ron Roenicke will win NL Manager of the Year.
9. Mark Rogers will be called up at some point during the season and make some key spot starts...maybe even earn the fifth spot at some point.
10. Sergio Mitre will make one start and then find his way to the bullpen, where he had some success last year with the Yanks.
11. Mat Gamel will not be touched in the minor leagues (barring injuries at the major league level), but will replace Prince Fielder in 2012 at first base.
12. Milwaukee Brewers 2011 record: 91-71, 1st place in NL Central
That's as far as I'll go. Come see me for a playoff prediction after they make it.
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Some news and notes from around Wisconsin...the Bucks lost back-to-back heart breakers to the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Bobcats and it might be time to give up on the Deer's playoff chances (or was I the only one who still had any hope?)...the Badgers and Warriors both reached the sweet 16 and then had disastrous efforts, getting knocked out of the dance as a result...I failed to follow some of my March Madness Manifesto rules, leaving me with an 11th place finish in my pool...that's all I can think of for now. Be prepared for Brewers, Brewers and more Brewers as we crawl towards summer. I love baseball. Did I mention it's my favorite sport? Yay baseball!!!