Expectations for the 2009 season were sky-high for the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite the departure of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, many felt the Brewers would still compete for a playoff spot after successfully making the playoffs in 2008.
Unfortunately, the starting rotation assembled my Brewers GM Doug Melvin didn't perform up to expectations. The team fell on hard times due to injury and ineffectiveness, and the team slipped to third in the division with an 80-82 record.
In retrospect, finishing 10 games worse in 2009 wasn't really a horrible drop-off after losing two ace-quality pitchers. Fans need to realize that success in baseball is fleeting. As bad as 2009 may have been, the Brewers still have enough quality pieces to compete in 2010, as long as Melvin realizes that now is the time for the Brewers to go for a championship.
While some may scoff at the idea, with a few strategic signings and a few gambles, the Brewers could enter 2010 as the favorites in the NL Central and a serious threat to the Phillies and Dodgers for the pennant.
Now Cardinal and Cub fans will roll their eyes at that thought, but each team has their own set of issues this winter which will greatly affect their chances at winning next year.
If Matt Holliday decides to leave St. Louis, they will be right back to an offense with Albert Pujols and not much else. Should Holliday stay, they will be the favorites in the division heading into spring training.
Does anyone really believe Mark McGwire will help the Cardinals as their new hitting coach? McGwire is a beloved figure in the city, but this appears more of a public relations move than it does a baseball move to help the team.
Cub fans can be a bit like Oakland Raiders fans in their thinking: myopia can take over and reality is disregarded. The team is saddled with aging stars and contracts that are next to impossible to trade. Derrek Lee had a great year, but he'll be 34 entering the year. Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez are also on the wrong side of 30. Many of their players will be a year older, not a year better.
Priority one this offseason for the Brewers will be to upgrade their rotation. Number two on that list will be to try and sign Prince Fielder to a long-term deal. That isn't likely to happen, which makes finding starting pitching all the more important.
Melvin has said he wants to acquire to starters this winter, but he should set is sights so low. There are so many pitchers on the market that could be had for a bargain price, that he should allow himself a limit. Instead, he should try to acquire as many arms as possible and let the abundance of arms sort themselves out in spring training.
In one of the worst kept secrets in baseball, even the most novice fan knows that JJ Hardy will get traded this winter. Although Buster Olney speculates that Hardy will be one of the many players non-tendered, don't believe it.
Hardy can still bring value pitching back to Milwaukee. Glen Perkins from the Twins and Brian Bannister of the Royals are a couple of the latest names being thrown out as possible pitchers coming to the Brewers for Hardy. Either would be a welcomed addition to the rotation.
Free agency will be where Melvin picks up any other pitcher he acquires. Ben Sheets , Erik Bedard , Mark Mulder , Doug Davis, Jarrod Washburn, Carl Pavano, Jon Garland, and Rich Harden have all been talked about as Milwaukee being a possible destination for their services.
Each pitcher has his own set of questions. Some must overcome injuries, others ineffectiveness or inconsistency.
With Prince Fielder likely to leave Milwaukee after the 2011 season, Melvin must take a unique and rogue approach to the available pitching this winter.
By spending $10-15 million specifically focused on the starting pitching, the Brewers could have a surplus of arms to choose from.
Noah Lowry, Mulder, and Rich Hill could all be had for as little as a Minor League contract.
Sheets, Bedard, Harden, and Brandon Webb are coming off of injury concerns and an incentive-laden deal could entice any of them to come to Milwaukee. A one-year deal to prove themselves for a bigger, more lucrative contract next winter will be what each seeks.
Davis, Washburn, Pavano, and Garland will all be seeking more expensive, long-term contracts that might be too much for the Brewers. Davis has pitched for the Brewers before and has hinted he would be open for a return.
Doug Melvin won't be alone in his pursuit of starting pitching this offseason. Several teams have the resources and opportunity to do the same thing as the Brewers. That's why he needs to be the most aggressive player this offseason and stockpile as many live arms as possible.
A team can never have too many pitchers, and the window to win a World Series title in Milwaukee is rapidly getting smaller. Those are two great reasons for the Brewers to be bold this offseason. It's a big risk that could blow up in Melvin's face and ultimately cost him his job. It could also result in a World Series title being raised in Milwaukee.
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