It's been a long, difficult and often perplexing offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fanbase. But if recent indications prove valid, things may take a turn for the worse.
Last month, we learned from a report leaked by ESPN that Brewers left fielder and recently named 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun had reportedly tested positive for either a performance enhancing drug and/or banned substance during Milwaukee's historic playoff run last October. Major League Baseball subsequently gave Braun a 50-game suspension for his actions, and he is currently in the appeal process.
Many Brewers fans remained optimistic regarding the future of their beloved left fielder, however, Braun's appeal to the league doesn't seem likely to be overturned, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently wrote.
Should Braun not be in Milwaukee's lineup on opening day against the St. Louis Cardinals, it would not only severely reshuffle manager Ron Roenicke's starting lineup, but it would prove detrimental to the Brewers' chances at repeating as NL Central champs in 2012.
That said, let's take a look at what Roenicke's opening day starting lineup should look like without Braun.
Carlos Gomez is still very much in the prime of his career, and with the opportunity to be the everyday starter in center field to start next season, I expect him to be at the top of Ron Roenicke's lineup to start things off this season.
Being one of the fastest center fielders in baseball as well as one of the best bag-stealers (he has a career 78 percent stolen base percentage), Gomez clearly should be Milwaukee's leadoff man to start next season.
Granted, he'll need to cut down on his strikeouts and work on getting on base, but I still believe he's the right man for the job.
Nyjer Morgan probably fits the bill to be the Brewers' leadoff hitter better than anyone on the roster. Based on what he did last year in the No. 2 hole, though, he'll probably stay put—at least for opening day.
In 429 total plate appearances, Morgan spent 352 of them batting second—exactly 82 percent. In that role, he batted .310 with two HR, 31 RBI, 46 runs and a .353 on-base percentage, one of the best OBP in the National League.
Without having to split time in center field with Carlos Gomez to start the season, GM Doug Melvin will be able to adequately judge whether or not Morgan is worth re-signing at season's end. If he can bat over .300 as he did in 2011, there's no question he's worth keeping around.
I have to admit—Rickie Weeks originally came to mind as the best option to take Ryan Braun's spot in the lineup, but after doing my research, I found Corey Hart is simply the better overall substitute.
Not only did Hart's numbers from a season ago (26 HR, 80 RBI, .510 SLG, .226 ISO) trump Weeks' (20 HR, 77 RBI, .468 SLG, .199 ISO) from a power standpoint, but their career statistics also marginally favor Hart.
Since entering the league in 2005, Hart has stockpiled 124 home runs, 425 RBI, a .487 slugging percentage and maintains a 19.6 strikeout percentage. Weeks, who also broke onto the scene in 2005, has 109 home runs, 314 RBI, a .435 slugging percentage and has struck out 22.6 percent of the time.
While the raw numbers don't substantially favor Hart over Weeks, the subtle contrast coupled with how strong he finished his 2011 campaign should give Hart the nod.
After agreeing to a three-year, $36 million contract with Milwaukee, Aramis Ramirez knew expectations would be high with Prince Fielder on his way out.
However, with Braun's suspension now likely to be upheld, expectations have risen considerably. The pressure on Ramirez to help carry the Brewers through the first 50 games next season is mounting quickly.
So, where does he best fit in Milwaukee's lineup?
Ramirez, 33, has a great deal of experience hitting third and fourth, and his bat seems to be the best possible protection for Corey Hart to start the season. He'll probably hit behind Braun once his suspension is up, moreover.
If Rickie Weeks can stay healthy for a full season for the first in his career, there's no doubt he'll reach 35 home runs, and there's an outside chance he could hit 40.
He has a tremendous amount of power that has concealed itself over the past few seasons, and I've gone on record saying that if not for injury last season, he would have been the best offensive second baseman in baseball.
I originally had him batting third but quickly found out Corey Hart would be better suited for the job. That consequently puts Weeks fifth in Roenicke's lineup as an inherent protector of Aramis Ramirez to start next season.
Mat Gamel has been an exceptional talent at the minor league level for a number of seasons, but there are some concerns over how well his game will translate as a full-time starter in the big leagues.
In 171 career at-bats, the 26-year-old holds true to a .222 BA, .309 on-base percentage and in 2009 (his only true taste of the majors) he struck out in 36.5 percent of his plate appearances. He has a lot of upside and potential, but he definitely has his work cut out for him at the start of next season.
That said, there isn't yet a discernible spot for him in Roenicke's opening-day lineup. He could potentially be placed in a number of spots to start the season. Given how evident his power was in Triple-A last season, though, I can't see him falling any lower than sixth in the order.
One of Melvin's preeminent goals of the offseason was to upgrade at shortstop. He accomplished just that in signing Alex Gonzalez to a one-year, $4.25 million deal with a $4 million 2013 option (via mlbtraderumors.com).
During his 12-year career, Gonzalez has become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, harboring a .981 fielding percentage and 5.938 zone rating last season at 33 years of age. His hustle in the field will manifest itself early next season.
Gonzalez's pop at the plate has diminished, but he will still be held accountable to at least a .250/.270/.390 line next season. He has experience batting just about anywhere in a lineup, which will make Ron Roenicke's job that much easier. For now, though, batting seventh seems to be the most logical spot for Gonzalez.
Jonathan Lucroy isn't a superstar, and he probably never will be. But that's OK—he's exactly what the Brewers need him to be: dependable.
After splitting time with Gregg Zaun in 2010, Lucroy inherited the starting role at the beginning of last season, and boy did he make the most of it. In 430 at-bats, he batted .265 with 12 home runs, 59 RBI and boasted a .391 slugging percentage.
In the field, though, he was a superstar. He committed just seven errors (.993 fielding percentage) despite having to deal with a staff that administered a league-high 70 wild pitches.
Lucroy spent 64 percent of his at-bats out of the eight-hole last season. Expect him to be in familiar scenery on opening day this season.
Yovani Gallardo is just 25 years old and will enter his third consecutive season as Milwaukee's No. 1 starter. When it's all said and done, he'll easily be the greatest pitcher in franchise history.
Last season, he went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA while striking out 207 in 207.1 innings (33 games started). He led all Brewers starters in wins, ERA and strikeouts, and finished with a better K/9IP (8.99) than AL MVP Justin Verlander (8.96). Each year Gallardo continues to better every facet of his game, and I suspect him to take the next step and lower his ERA to 3.20 or lower in 2012.
Without Braun, Milwaukee's lineup will have a completely different outlook for the first 50 games of next season.
Feel free to take a look at how this lineup stacks up against the one we visited last month.
|Lineup w/ Braun||Lineup w/o Braun|
|1||RF Corey Hart||CF Carlos Gomez|
|2||CF Nyjer Morgan||LF Nyjer Morgan|
|3||LF Ryan Braun||RF Corey Hart|
|4||3B Aramis Ramirez||3B Aramis Ramirez|
|5||2B Rickie Weeks||2B Rickie Weeks|
|6||1B Mat Gamel||1B Mat Gamel|
|7||SS Alex Gonzalez||SS Alex Gonzalez|
|8||C Jonathan Lucroy||C Jonathan Lucroy|
|9||P Yovani Gallardo||P Yovani Gallardo|