I haven’t completely thrown in the towel on the Milwaukee Brewers 2009 season, but it would be putting it nicely to say things are not looking up. At 55-56, the Brewers are 6.5 games out of both the National League Central and wild card and would have to leapfrog multiple teams to claim either.
No, it seems as though the season is all but over, and anything accomplished from here on out will be an extra bonus. Looking forward to 2010, the Brewers will have a lot of flexibility due to expiring contracts and the development of farm system players.
Mike Cameron’s $10 million salary will be off the books in 2010, as well as Trevor Hoffman’s $6 million and Jason Kendall’s $5 million. This $21 million will surely help the Brewers come closer to locking up two cogs to their future in Prince Fielder and Yovani Gallardo, but it will also let them look at replacements for next season as well.
It’s hard to see the Brewers being in a situation to bring back Mike Cameron next season, leaving a void in center field. Some believe Rickie Weeks might make the transition to the middle outfield spot, but I believe his true position is at second base, despite his less-than-stellar defense there.
Jody Gerut has turned out to be nothing more than a below-average bat on the bench despite his good defensive play and Frank Catalanotto can not play every day in right field if Corey Hart was to make the move to center.
Tony Gwynn Jr. is looking good right about now, but the fact of the matter remains the Brewers must look elsewhere to fill the need. Prospect Lorenzo Cain has struggled over the last two years in Double-A Huntsville and is probably another good season away from being called up to take over the reigns.
Blessed with tons of speed and a cannon for an arm, the Brewers could sign a veteran to a one-year contract if they feel Cain will be ready for 2010. One option that the Brewers should look to is veteran center fielder Randy Winn, currently of the San Francisco Giants.
In 2006, Winn was given a three year extension that paid him $23 million over the course of the contract. With his contract expiring after this year, the Giants might be looking to go in a different direction depending on how they fare this season.
Eugenio Velez and Nate Schierholtz are the future of the Giants’ outfield and, at 25 and 27, are relatively young compared to Winn (35). While the Giants’ farm system does not boast many outfield prospects, the Giants have invested bigtime money in Aaron Rowand over the next three years and Fred Lewis will come very cheap over the next three years.
Winn has played 15 games in center field this year, but as said before Corey Hart is probably capable of making the transition to center if needed. He is a switch hitter that can bat anywhere in the Brewers lineup and would provide speed to a team ranked at the bottom of the league in stolen bases. Even at 35, Winn has stolen ten bases this season and has been caught just once.
He has seen a drop in his numbers this season, but a new team and an easier ballpark to hit in could do a lot for Winn, who I believe has a lot left in the tank. He would be cheaper than Mike Cameron and would give more offense to a team that has struggled to rally around Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder this season.
If the Brewers are looking for a longer-term solution and do not want to bank on Cain being the go-to guy any time soon, two names to look for are Rocco Baldelli and Marlon Byrd.
Baldelli, 27, has never caught a break in his major league career but has a ton of potential if he can stay healthy. Medical testing in the spring before the 2008 season showed that Baldelli had a disease that gave him muscle fatigue even after the smallest workouts.
Knee injuries and hamstring pulls have hurt Baldelli over the course of his six year career, but most of his issues seem to be behind him now. In the star-studded outfield in Boston, Baldelli has appeared in just 44 games, starting 27 of them. He is batting .261 on the year with five home runs and 17 RBI, and would come very cheap to the Brewers next year.
In Milwaukee, he could start in center field and see consistent playing time that would surely make his numbers increase. He would also come at a very cheap price and could have many games played-incentives in his contract.
The case for Byrd would be a more expensive option but would also give the Brewers a powerful threat in the outfield and a great glove in center field.
For the Rangers this season, Byrd is batting .285 with 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in. He also has 34 doubles, which ranks fifth in the American League. At just 31, Byrd still has some good years left in him and if given the right offer, might part with Texas.
The Rangers are pretty much set in center and right field with Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, and David Murphy is capable of playing left field but projects as a designated hitter. However, the future of Chris Davis might lie in the same position. The Rangers still have two very solid young prospects in Engel Beltre and Julio Borbon, who are both far from the majors but are interesting prospects.
Obviously Mike Cameron is still an option next year, but the Brewers will not pay him even close to the $10 million he is receiving this year. His best years are clearly behind him and it looks like all of his good years are behind him as well.
The farthest position from Cameron on the baseball field, catcher, is another position that the Brewers will need to address next year. Jason Kendall has done an outstanding job calling games for Brewers pitchers and the intangibles he has brought to the team were second to none, but his time in Milwaukee is done.
He will be a free agent next year and, at 35 years old for a catcher, he isn’t likely to see too many offers from teams. Unlike the outfield situation, the Brewers have a few options to fix the void behind the plate from within the organization.
Mike Rivera is the frontrunner for the position next year if the Brewers stay within, and would make a fine starter. He has seen his workload increase this season, already passing his games played total (24) from last year (21). As hard as it is for a player to make starts off the bench once every five or six games, it’s twice as hard at the catcher position.
If Rivera is given a full year behind the plate, he will see his offensive numbers increase as well as his decent play behind the plate. He isn’t going to make anyone forget about Yadier Molina, but he is a huge upgrade from Kendall.
Waiting in the shadows of Nashville is current Sounds catcher Angel Salome. Standing at just 5′7″, the 23-year-old power hitter is the best prospect the Brewers have behind the plate and could make a case for starting in 2010. He is still very raw in all aspects of the game, especially behind the plate, and there are question marks over whether he can handle a pitching staff for a whole year.
Jonathon Lucroy is still a couple of years away, but he could battle Salome for the future backstop position. He has shown more talent than expected and is more disciplined as a catcher.
If the Brewers feel their two prospects are not ready and do not think Rivera can handle the responsibilities all year, there are a few options for the Brewers in free agency.
Bengie Molina is the biggest name in free agency, but looking at what he has done with the Giants pitching staff and bullpen leads me to believe he will cash in on a huge payday from San Francisco.
Other options include Rod Barajas, Jason LaRue, Jose Molina, and Greg Zaun. Those four options would come cheap, but the reality of it is that they are all suited better as backups. It is not easy to come by a good catcher in the Majors these days, which is why the Brewers will be hoping Salome will be ready to go on Opening Day in 2010.
The Brewers will probably have to part ways with the two veterans in Kendall and Cameron but can make the team both cheaper and better by important signings this offseason. My pipe dream would be for Salome to come out of the gates firing and bringing in Byrd to play center field and bat sixth.