After a very disappointing 2009 season, fans of the Milwaukee Brewers are anticipating GM Doug Melvin to make several moves this winter involving the pitching staff to bring the team back to prominence in 2010. Regardless of the pitching acquisitions, the Brewers will need some luck as well as several players having career seasons to achieve the success they did in 2008.
The Brewers have the talent already on their roster to compete and win the NL Central. In addition to the pitchers acquired for the starting rotation, there are five keys in 2010 the Brewers must do in order to bring playoff baseball back to Milwaukee.
Make Mat Gamel a full-time starter
Mat Gamel has bounced back-and-forth between the Brewers and the Nashville Sounds over the past two seasons. The inconsistent playing time stunted his growth at the plate and in the field. He hit .246 in 128 at-bats and made seven errors at third base in only 191 innings of action.
He has a very inaccurate arm, but that could improve with a regular role in the starting lineup. Even if it doesn't, the Brewers are no strangers to having a below-average fielder at third. Ryan Braun committed 27 errors at third in his rookie year of 2007.
Gamel's bat isn't at advanced as Braun's was, but he would still be a boost in the lineup. Casey McGehee had a breakout season in 2009, but no one is expecting repeat success for him in 2010. Gamel has the ability to be a big run producer, and his left-handed bat will help balance out a predominately right-handed hitting team.
McGehee can come off the bench for both Gamel and Rickie Weeks when needed. He performed well as a pinch hitter last year and should be able to adjust to that role again quite well.
Youth will be served
If Mat Gamel is named a starter for 2010, it will only add to the youth movement started by the organization already. JJ Hardy, Mike Cameron, and Jason Kendall are all gone and will likely be replaced with Alcides Escobar, Carlos Gomez, and Jonathan Lucroy.
Escobar has been handed the shortstop role with the trade of Hardy. He performed well enough at the end of the year to convince management that trading Hardy was the right move. Defense will be improved as Escobar has more range and a stronger throwing arm than Hardy. He has also developed significantly at the plate at every level in the minor leagues.
Carlos Gomez came to the Brewers in the Hardy trade, signaling the end of the two-year Mike Cameron era. Gomez is praised by everyone for his defensive work, and many see him as a future Gold Glove winner. The Brewers will lose a lot of power with Cameron's departure, and Gomez will need to show better plate discipline in order to remain an every day player.
Jonathan Lucroy had a very good year in the minors and followed that up with a spectacular showing in the Arizona Fall League. His play led Melvin to comment that he would not be surprised to see Lucroy as a starter in 2010, taking over for Jason Kendall. Although Kendall could return, it's quite unlikely due to the lack of available monetary funds.
Three new, young players up the middle defensively is a big risk for any team to take. Each will be counted on to show improvement at the plate to go along with an already solid defensive foundation. Adding Gamel to the mix over McGehee will make the Brewers one of the youngest teams in the league.
Let them run
Manager Ken Macha was very hesitant to let any of his players run last season. With Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in the middle of the lineup, he felt anyone on base was already in scoring position.
The Brewers won't have as much power in their lineup in 2010, and they will need to incorporate a more aggressive, speedy approach on the bases.
Gomez, Braun, Escobar, Weeks, and Corey Hart are all capable of stealing at least 20 bases. Only Braun stole 20 bases last season and that number was low due to hitting in front of Fielder. As a team, the Brewers only stole 68 bases in 2009, ranking 14th out of the 16 National League teams.
While Braun may still not run as much as he would like, the other four should be putting as much pressure as they can on opposing pitching staffs. The Brewers should look to steal more bases and use the hit-and-run much more than in past seasons.
Manny be Manny
While Manny Parra will never be confused with Manny Ramirez, the former should start acting more like the latter in order to live up to his potential.
No one will argue the talents of Parra. He has the ability to be one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers in the league. His problems are as much mental as they are physical. He seems to pitch well until the first sight of trouble and then seems to be overwhelmed by the moment, looking for any excuse to get off the mound.
He is entering his third year as a full-time starter for the team, but has only pitched in 332 innings.
Parra faces the age-old question of which came first: the chicken or the egg? To become successful, he needs to pitch with confidence, but to become confident on the mound; he needs to experience some level of success. No matter how it happens, Manny Parra must fulfill his potential and become a top-notch compliment behind Yovani Gallardo in the rotation.
Make the Prince a King
Prince Fielder is already signed for the 2010 season and under team control until after the 2011 season. It has been widely speculated that Fielder will leave the Brewers once he becomes a free agent, but the Brewers need to do everything in their power to sign him to a long-term deal as soon as possible.
Although locking up Fielder would constrict the Brewers' budget, it wouldn't totally restrict them from competing in the future. They could sign him to an average of $20 million a year and still maintain a payroll between $85-90 million.
Not only will this give the team a show of confidence for the future, it will also serve as a show of good faith to the fan base that the Brewers are serious about being perennial contenders.
Fielder showed in 2009 that when he is taken care of financially, he produces on the field. Prior to the year, he signed a two-year, $18 million contract with the team. He proceeded to have his finest season as a pro, breaking the club record for walks and RBI.
As with any small market team, it will be difficult for the Brewers to compete for the playoffs every year. They are in a unique situation to already have established superstars while bringing in new, potential stars to the team. With such talent, no one should be surprised if Milwaukee once again asserts themselves as a playoff contender in 2010.
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