During 2011, this dynamic duo represented one of the most potent three-four combinations in Major League Baseball. With these two high-profile stars providing the combustion, the team powered toward its first NLCS appearance since 1982.
Fast forward nearly two years, and the team's fortunes have dropped like the stock market during the global financial crisis. The Brewers now make their home in the cellar of the otherwise hyper-competitive NL central division.
The previous punching bags in the NL central division haven't provided the usual win-column cushioning the Brewers had become accustomed to. The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a scorching start, and the Houston Astros are exploring for a new definition of futility, only now it’s in the American League.
Sliding listlessly into their home berth at the all-star break, the Brewers seem to have sprung more leaks than the Titanic. And the biggest fracture may be yet to come.
Gone is Prince Fielder, lured away to Detroit by a mega-contract. And while Ryan Braun remains on the roster, his near-term status as a contributor is in serious doubt.
Numerous media sources have speculated for some time that Braun could soon receive a lengthy suspension for his alleged connection with performance-enhancing drugs. A situation that would create a sudden and uncomfortable drop-off in the Brewers' supply of both offensive production and team leadership.
On top of these developments, the Brewers suffered several injuries to key personnel during the first half of the season. Aramis Ramirez, the team's starting third baseman, has missed significant time at the clean-up position due to a variety of injuries.
The team's expected starting first baseman for 2013, Corey Hart, has yet to appear in a single game—a situation that definitely won’t be changing in the near term. According to Todd Rosiak at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Late last month, it was announced that Hart would need the same microfracture surgery on his left knee, ending his 2013 season before it had even started and leaving his future with the organization in doubt.”
Heading into the season, Braun, Hart and Ramirez represented the top three salaries on the team according to an article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, with their combined payouts equating to approximately 37% of the team's total payroll.
Factoring in the team's second baseman, Rickie Weeks, paints an even bleaker picture for the fast-sinking Brewers. Weeks struggled mightily out of the gates again in 2013 and is currently batting a paltry .226 with only 21 RBI. And he's getting paid $10 million a year to do so.
The addition of Weeks' salary to Braun, Hart, and Ramirez brings their four-player total to $41 million, which represents a stratospheric 48% of the total payroll. That's almost half of the team's money invested in an aging veteran, a player with a history of knee injuries, an overpaid underperformer and an alleged cheater.
I may not be a front-office baseball executive, but something about that situation seems sub-optimal. Maybe Doug Melvin and his staff need a North Woods team-building retreat involving trust-falls, ziplining and a special screening of Moneyball to help turn the ship around.
On the flip side of the coin, the Brewers possess a few extremely strong positives to counter-balance their extensive laundry list of problems.
First, the team has a stupendous ownership group. Led by principal Mark Attanasio, the ownership group of the Milwaukee Brewers has successfully rebuilt the team's brand since taking over in 2005. They have grown the fanbase and revenue of the team, allowing for an associated increase in player payroll. Both of those factors played a large role in the team’s surge in 2011.
Given their strong track record, it's easy to believe that ownership will right the ship in the near future and the nice thing is they won't have to do it alone. Despite their atrocious record in 2013, the Milwaukee Brewers possess one of the strongest fanbases in the entire league.
According to ESPN.com, the team has drawn the 12th most fans of any team in the majors thus far in 2013. An impressive statistic when one considers the Brewers have the fourth worst record in the league.
An example that helps highlight the team's strong following is the fact that more fans have passed through the turnstiles in Milwaukee this year than in Atlanta, which boasts the first-place Braves. The Atlanta metropolitan population is also far larger than that of Milwaukee.
Although the staff, coaches, and players associated with the Milwaukee Brewers may all be facing an uncertain future, the strong ownership group, loyal fanbase and world-class stadium should provide a strong foundation on which the team can rebuild for the future.
Hopefully, it won't be long before it’s once again Miller Time at Miller Park.