The Milwaukee Brewers have a full plate when it comes to their needs.
After a dominating 96-66 record and a trip to the National League Championship Series, Milwaukee has fallen back to their usual losing ways of the last 25 years.
The Brewers, whose pitching was one of the league's best a year ago, have dealt with injuries and weak performances. That has contributed to the fourth-worst ERA in the National League (4.27).
Letting relief pitchers LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito leave via free agency turned out to be a devastating mistake.
They have also let the lead slip away in the late-innings more frequently than any other team in baseball—23 blown saves entering August 27.
The team's offense as a whole has been good for the most part, even without the mighty Prince Fielder. They lead the league in home runs, as they do nearly every year. Yet their batting average and on-base percentage could still be improved.
Owner Mark Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin must make changes in order to improve their club. After 2011's postseason success, Brewers' fans will not take kindly to another losing season. Enhancements to the roster is a necessity, and I think Attanasio knows this.
Here are 10 needs the Brewers must address in the offseason.
Former Brewers bullpen coach Stan Kyles took the fall for his bullpen's demise, but it was hardly his fault.
The inconsistent and laughable bullpen has made ninth-innings look more like a M. Night Shyamalan movie—you just don't know what's going to happen.
Lee Tunnel was called upon to replace Kyles as the bullpen coach on an interim basis, but odds are he won't be there when 2013 commences.
Milwaukee would be smart to hire a veteran bullpen coach with pitching experience. A veteran guy will be the only one capable of turning around such a mess.
In 2011, the Brewers bench was one of their strong points. With Mark Kotsay, Jerry Hairston, and Carlos Gomez providing quality at-bats off the bench, manager Ron Roenicke had a plethora of hitters.
This season has been completely different.
Milwaukee has no major power threat on their bench—Cody Ransom has the most long balls with nine. The only solid hitter on the bench is Martin Maldonado, who is capable of being an every day catcher. But with Nyjer Morgan, Travis Ishikawa, Jeff Bianchi and Ransom, Milwaukee's reserves has been one of the worst.
Adding veteran reserves is essential to success. Craig Counsell had a tremendous impact in the clubhouse in 2011, although his stats were pitiful. His veteran presence and knowledge of the game helped the Brewers to a successful season. That veteran aid vanished with his and Kotsay's departure.
Ty Wigginton should interest the Brewers if the Philadelphia Phillies decide to not pick up his $4 million dollar option. He is a veteran utility infielder with pop and a valuable asset coming off the bench.
Odds are, the Brewers current bench players will all be gone after the season. Milwaukee has a lot of work to do.
Since the departure of Prince Fielder and Mark Kotsay, the Brewers have been without a left-handed power hitter—and no, Travis Ishikawa is not one.
Having a left-handed power hitter not only gives you the advantage in hitter vs. pitcher matchups, it's also nice to know you have a bench player who can produce clutch home runs.
Remember how valuable Russell Branyan was for the Brewers back in 2008? He had a number of late-inning home runs off the bench that produced wins. Milwaukee is in need of that again.
Milwaukee's left-handed hitters are weak. Norichika Aoki is by far the top dog, but his swing lacks power. The Brewers don't have that game-changer on their bench who with one swing can give them the lead.
Look for the Brewers to find a solid power-hitting lefty for their bench. A player like that is more valuable than some may think.
It's safe to say that the Brewers bullpen will look quite different in 2013.
Francisco Rodriguez will be gone, Livan Hernandez should retire and hopefully Milwaukee doesn't let Jose Veras into Miller Park ever again—except as an opposing pitcher.
The Brewers will need to retool their pathetic excuse of a bullpen if they envision success on the horizon. But they will look toward their prospects instead of searching for relief help through free agency.
Tyler Thornburg and Brandon Kintzler are two prospects that Milwaukee thinks highly of. They believe the duo have bright futures as relievers—even as a starter for Thornburg.
Thornburg has been dominant in his six starts in Triple-A. He has a 1-2 record with a 2.79 ERA. Kintzler, on the other hand, has overcome an elbow injury and has performed admirably in Double-A and Triple-A as a reliever.
If the Brewers do decide to venture into the free agent waters, Mike Adams would be a great pickup.
A veteran reliever would do wonders for their bullpen.
Corey Hart has made it clear he wants to remain in Milwaukee for the long haul.
After switching to first base so smoothly, the Brewers may have found their man to replace Prince Fielder. Mat Gamel was Fielder's heir apparent, but an ACL injury may have ended those plans.
At 6'6", Corey Hart is already a better defender than Fielder and an easier target to throw too.
Hart is the ideal five-hole hitter. He drives in runs, hits for power and has the ability to hit for a high average. Also, with the skills to play both right field and first base well, Hart becomes more valuable.
For the year, Hart is hitting .273 with 24 home runs and 69 RBI.
He wants to stay, and the city of Milwaukee would like him to stay. Signing him to a long-term deal would solidify their lineup for the future.
John Axford was so dominant in 2011 that teams were already putting on street clothes in the ninth inning. Now, teams are expecting to beat him.
The 29-year-old has a 5.26 ERA and has recorded 21 saves. He has also blown eight saves. Axford was removed from the closing role and replaced by Jim Henderson. But after asking Ron Roenicke for his spot back, he took over closing duties.
Milwaukee must decide if Axford's 2011 season was a fluke and if 2012 is just a bump in the road. If they determine Axford doesn't have what it takes to close games, they will look elsewhere.
Most likely Axford will remain as the closer for the Crew. Last season was just too powerful and dominating for the Brewers to give up on him.
But if his struggles continue, Axford may get the ax.
I can't remember the last time the Brewers had a true leadoff hitter. Maybe it was Junior Spivey back in the early 2000s.
The lack of a great leadoff hitter has haunted the Brewers for the last number of years. Rickie Weeks is not the answer. His strikeouts and on-base percentage are not qualities of a leadoff man.
Norichika Aoki has been the guy for Milwaukee this season, but even though his play has been excellent, his days as a Brewer are numbered. He is only signed for one more year with a club option for 2014—I doubt they pick it up.
A true leadoff hitter is extremely difficult to find. It may be more easy to find a needle in a haystack. But Milwaukee needs to try.
Though very unlikely, the Brewers could offer Michael Bourn a contract. It doesn't get any better than Bourn when discussing a leadoff hitter. Bourn was born for that spot. This move would cost the Brewers big bucks, but that's how teams improve.
Don't count on Bourn being a Brewer though.
The Brewers starting rotation is in a state of flux.
Milwaukee must decide if they believe in young hurlers like Mark Rogers, Tyler Thornburg and Marco Estrada.
Estrada most likely will return to the bullpen where he best belongs. Rogers and Thornburg are interesting cases. Envisioning Rogers in the back end of the rotation makes some sense. He needs a chance to prove himself and 2011 has been a nice stepping stone for him.
Thornburg will most likely be a reliever—and a good one at that.
Yovani Gallardo and Mike Fiers are the only starters that will remain in the starting rotation next season. Milwauikee has a lot of work to do.
Milwaukee will try to re-sign Zack Greinke, but will let Shaun Marcum go. If Greinke doesn't return to the Brew City, the free-agent pitching market is bare.
I bet the Brewers place their bets on their prospects and live or die with them in 2013.
What are the Brewers going to do with Mat Gamel?
After Prince Fielder's tenure in Milwaukee ended, Gamel was all set to take over the throne. That chance ended with an ACL tear and Corey Hart's move to first.
They could move Gamel back over to third base and wait for Aramis Ramirez's contract to end. But Gamel would be 28 by then.
Moving Gamel to the outfield is another option. He could play left field if Ryan Braun moves to right.
Milwaukee could trade Gamel but the return wouldn't be worth it.
When the Brewers acquired Jean Segura for Zack Greinke, Milwaukee sent him to Double-A Huntsville. Needless to say, he ripped apart opposing pitching and earned a promotion to the majors.
He has had a hard time adjusting to the big leagues.
As of August 29th, the 22-year-old is hitting .203 in 18 games with the Brewers. He's collected five RBI, but has yet to hit a home run.
Is Segura ready to be an every day shortstop?
Even if he's not, he should still be the starting shortstop next year for the Brewers. Milwaukee didn't give up Greinke for a prospect who still needs time in the minors.
However, if Segura's struggles continue for the last month of the season and to start 2013, Segura may be sent down to re-discover his swing. This is the worst case scenario.
Milwaukee can only hope that their young phenom finds his potential.