It hasn't seemed too long of an absence, but any kind of absence from baseball is a sad thing.
The Brewers, coming off of a 90-72 campaign in 2008, have lost their top two starting pitchers (CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets). They've lost three key relief pitchers (Salomon Torres, Brian Shouse, and Guillermo Mota).
They've lost three key veterans (Gabe Kapler, Russell Branyan and Ray Durham). They've lost a great pitching coach.
What have they gained? The Brewers made a handful of signings in free agency, among those included are: Trevor Hoffman, Jorge Julio, Braden Looper, Trot Nixon, Mike Lamb (re-signed), veteran infielder Craig Counsell (re-signed), and Mike Cameron (re-signed).
Personally, I think we lost more than what we gained. I think that another 90-win season is possible, as long as everyone stays healthy, and contributes regularly.
Of course, there will always be injuries. It happens to every team, in every sport. However, the Brewers will need to rely on their younger stars to carry the team this year.
When you look at Hoffman's stats from last season, they aren't half bad. When you take into consideration the team he was playing for, you can't help but wonder how he did so well.
Julio, the Brewers' first signing of the off-season, can be a productive arm in the bullpen. He's even closed for teams, in the past. I feel pretty confident in the back-end of the bullpen knowing that Hoffman, Julio, and (possibly) Villanueva will be around.
Heck, you can even throw David Riske into the mix. (Doesn't anyone else remember that he still plays in Milwaukee?)
The front end of the bullpen will have a different look to it, though. There will almost certainly bet that a youngster will be on the Opening Day roster for the Crew. I predict Mitch Stetter will be the new Brian Shouse.
I like Stetter, and I think he can do just as good a job as Shouse did. Also, Todd Coffey will more than likely have a spot reserved for him. You might even see Tim Dillard and/or Mark DiFelice starting the season in Milwaukee.
So, overall, I think the Brewers' bullpen will look a little something like this, on Apr. 7:
- Closer - Trevor Hoffman
- Setup Man - Carlos Villanueva
- Short Relief - David Riske
- Short Relief - Jorge Julio
- Long Relief - Seth McClung
- Long Relief - Mark DiFelice
- Lefty Specialist - Mitch Stetter
As for the starting rotation...it might be a little brutal. The Brewers must make sure nothing happens to any of their starters, otherwise, it could be a long season.
While the rotation isn't necessarily horrible, it could be better. Some people say that Gallardo is the next Sheets, in that he'll always be injured. However, Gallardo's injuries can arguably be described as "freak" or "fluke."
Gallardo and Parra should be OK, Bush might be a surprise, Suppan needs a good year, and Looper should be solid. If anyone goes down, in comes Seth McClung to take their place—at least until Chris Capuano is 100 percent healthy.
When Capuano comes back, possibly some time in May, he could take over for someone struggling in the rotation, or he will be used in the bullpen. An early trade could also free up some space.
The offense is almost exactly the same as last season. The only players the Brewers lost were bench players, and the only players the Brewers gained were bench players. Therefore, I present you my projected bench for the 2009 season:
- Trot Nixon - OF/1B
- Mike Rivera - C
- Mike Lamb - 1B/3B
- Craig Counsell - IF
- Tony Gwynn Jr. - OF
I think you can expect a couple trades at some point during the season. GM Doug Melvin practically made it obvious when he explained that the reason not as much money was spent during free agency was so the team could leave money open for a move during the season.
I also think that pretty much everyone on the team, even Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, has something to prove this year.
Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra have the opportunity to prove themselves as some of the better young pitchers in the game. Jeff Suppan needs to have a somewhat decent year if he wants his job in Milwaukee any longer.
Rickie Weeks still needs to develop into the phenom that he's capable of being. J.J. Hardy has the opportunity to prove he's Gold Glove worthy. Bill Hall needs to stay consistent (hopefully he can put up numbers similar to his breakout year of '06).
Corey Hart can prove that he's an annual 20-20 threat. Braun and Fielder can prove to be one of the best, young duo's in the major leagues. Trevor Hoffman needs to prove there's still gas in the tank for another year or two. Carlos Villanueva can prove he's the future closer of the Brewers.
I could go on, and on.
The 2009 Milwaukee Brewers have a chance at being a very good, very dangerous team. This year will be all about opportunity. The team is good enough to top last season's Wild Card berth with, hopefully, a Division title and a deeper playoff run this season.
My projected record: 88-74, NL Central Champions, Loss in NLCS to New York Mets.