2008 MLB Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

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2008 MLB Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Manager: Ned Yost
Arrivals: OF Mike Cameron, RP Eric Gagne, C Jason Kendall, RP Guillermo Mota, RP David Riske, RP Salomon Torres
Departures: RP Francisco Cordero, IF Tony Graffanino, OF Geoff Jenkins, 3B Corey Koskie, RP Scott Linebrink, OF Kevin Mench, C Damian Miller, RP Matt Wise

Offseason grade: C

Starting rotation

If the Brewers hope to compete in the NL Central again in 2008, they will have to keep Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo healthy—no easy task considering Sheets has a long history of injuries and Gallardo already has found himself going under the knife this year to repair torn cartilage in his knee.

Why do the Brewers have to keep these two pitchers healthy? Because Sheets and Gallardo are really the only front-line starters the Brewers have.

Behind them are Jeff Suppan and then any combination of Carlos Villanueva, Dave Bush, Chris Capuano, Manny Parra, and Claudio Vargas, none of who are very attractive options as a No. two starter if either Sheets or Gallardo gets hurt.

If it's possible to be motivated to stay healthy, that's what Sheets will be in 2008. Sheets is in the final year of his contract and a healthy 2008 could lead to a fat contract in the 2008 offseason. 

Suppan is a good innings-eater in the middle of the rotation, but his best days may be behind him. He's still a guy I'd want in my rotation, but Milwaukee probably won't get anything more than 14 wins and an ERA in the mid-fours out of him this year—stats that suit a four or five starter better than a three.

If Vargas and Bush make the rotation, they'll probably put up similar stats to what they did in 2007—win double-digit games, but have their ERAs balloon above five. Having one of them as the fifth starter wouldn't be horrible, but if they both are in the rotation, they'll have to pick it up if Milwaukee hopes to contend.

The two wild-cards in all of this, for me, are Villanueva and Capuano.

As a reliever in 2007, Villanueva posted a 4.76 ERA—nothing to write home about. However, in six starts in September, when Milwaukee desperately needed wins, Villanueva put up a 2.06 ERA. It'll be interesting to see what he does if given a starting role—if he can keep his ERA below four, the powerful Brewers offense will give him a lot of wins.

Capuano is a mystery.

In 2005, Capuano was brilliant, going 18-12 with a 3.99 ERA. Even though he went just 11-12 in 2006, Capuano's ERA was still consistent, finishing at 4.03 over 221.1 innings.

Then, in 2007, the bottom fell out for Capuano as he went 5-12 and saw his ERA balloon to 5.10, the highest it's been in his career. A groin injury may have been a big reason for this miserable performance, so it'll be interesting to see if Capuano comes back healthy in 2008.

If he is healthy, there's no reason to think he can't return to his '05-'06 numbers.

There are a lot of question marks in this Brewers rotation. For the top starters, it's whether or not they can stay healthy. For the back-end starters, it's if they can improve off mediocre 2007s. Overall, the Brewers will need a few miracles if they want their starting rotation to be able to compete with the Cubs in 2008.

Starting rotation grade: C

Bullpen

The goal this offseason for general manager Doug Melvin was to improve a bullpen that failed the Brewers down the stretch in 2007 and was a huge reason why the Brew Crew folded in August and September.

Melvin went out and signed four relievers: Eric Gagne, David Riske, Salomon Torres, and Guillermo Mota.

However, the Brewers lost Scott Linebrink and, most importantly, Francisco Cordero. 

The loss of Cordero left a gaping hole at the closer spot for Ned Yost. Horrendous performances in Boston aside, Gagne was pretty good for Texas last year, but if he goes into the season as Milwaukee's closer, there are still three big questions about him.

First, will his horrible performance for Boston carry over into 2008? I personally don't think so, but then again, I can't get inside Gagne's head.

Secondly, Gagne was named in the Mitchell Report. While, in a recent press conference, Gagne expressed his want to put the Mitchell Report behind him, he never admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, and that non-admission could dog him throughout the 2008 season.

Thirdly, Gagne only threw 15.1 innings in 2005 and 2006 due to his much-documented arm troubles. Could those flare up again? If they do, that leaves the Brewers with Derrick Turnbow or Torres. Neither are attractive options for a team that hopes to be in a playoff race, as both sported ERAs over 4.50 in 2007. 

The addition of Riske gives the Brewers a good, consistent, late-inning option. Brian Shouse, a prototypical LOOGY, will compliment Riske nicely in the 8th inning.  

Even though Melvin went out and tried to revamp his bullpen in the offseason, he only signed one truly dependable reliever in Riske. Oh, the irony.

Bullpen grade: C+

Lineup

Finally, we reach a strength for the Brew Crew. Everybody knows what Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun can do.

It wouldn't surprise me if they both knocked out 40 home runs this year, and Corey Hart and JJ Hardy should hit around .280 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI. 

Bill Hall and Mike Cameron both provide some good speed and a bit of power (mainly from Hall) to the Brewers' lineup.

However, Cameron will miss the first 25 games of the season due to a suspension for taking a banned stimulant, so Tony Gwynn Jr. will likely start the season at the team's centerfielder.

Gwynn is a very good hitter like his father and would fit nicely into the Brewers lineup. Whether or not he's a full-season starter has yet to be established yet, but he's a very good option to fill in in case an outfielder gets injured.

Then there's Rickie Weeks.

Weeks has been touted as one of the best second base prospects of the last ten years but has yet to fulfill that potential at the MLB level. After earning the starting spot at second base last year, Weeks performed poorly, hitting .235 with 16 home runs and just 36 RBI for the season. 

The ceiling for Weeks' batting average may not be very high, but if he can get comfortable at the plate, he easily could hit 30+ home runs. It'll be interesting to follow his performance throughout 2008.  

Lineup grade: A-

Bench

Craig Counsell and Gwynn are both very, very good infield and outfield backups for the Brewers. Counsell, whose stance has entertained baseball fans for years, can play all four positions on the infield and swings a pretty decent bat.

The aforementioned Gwynn can fill in at all three outfield positions and has a good bat as well. Just ask Trevor Hoffman.  

However, behind Counsell and Gwynn, the Brewers' bench is not very deep. Joe Dillon is a decent bat off the bench and can play all over the field, but he's 32 and only has logged 112 career at-bats. Gabe Gross gives decent defense but not much of a bat as a fifth outfielder.

Bench grade: B

The Brewers' run last year was nothing short of magical—until it fell apart. The weaknesses that were exposed in August and September on this Brewers team seem to be evident on the 2008 team. It'll take a few surprise performances by Brewers pitchers for Milwaukee to contend in 2008. 

If that fails, Bernie Brewer or the Chorizo may be called in to pitch for Ned Yost.

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