Free agents dominate pro sports, including Major League Baseball. Bolstering teams with big-name free-agents has become the "in" thing to do among GMs. But this method of attempting to improve the team can be very risky. Some big-name free agents have turned out to be huge busts: think Barry Zito (Giants), Richie Sexson (Mariners), and Andruw Jones (Dodgers). But there is one team who has taken a different approach: the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers have four everyday players in their lineup whom they drafted and raised in their own farm system: Prince Fielder, JJ Hardy, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart. And don't forget Ben Sheets, their ace starter. These guys are proof that sometimes developing your own talent can work better than signing big-name free-agents.
Fielder is hitting .280 with 88 doubles, 96 HR, and 252 RBI through the first three and a half seasons of his career. Last year, his best so far, he hit 50 homers and knocked in 119 runs.
While Hardy's offensive numbers aren't very good (a career batting average of .262 with 73 extra-base hits, 45 homers and 168 RBI in three and a half seasons), his defense is excellent. In 557.2 this season innings he's made only four errors on 283 chances. That's a .986 fielding percentage, roughly 99%.
Weeks has managed a .243 career average with 75 extra-base hits and 134 RBI since 2003. But in 2006 he carried a .279 average with 34 RBI. And in 2007 he achieved a season-high in stolen bases with 25. Hopefully he can pick up that old hitting form again. But at least he's strong in the field: he has a .986 fielding percentage, making good of 287 out of 291 chances.
While those other guys are good, the real stud of these hitters is second-year left-fielder Ryan Braun, whose .287 average this year is 21 points below his career average. Last season Braun hit 34 homers; this year he's already up to 20. And he is already only ten extra-base hits away from tying his total from last year. Braun, only in his first full big-league season (he was called up in late May 2007), is great and he's only going to continue to get much better.
Sheets is the beast of the rotation, going 9-1 with a 2.59 ERA and three complete games this year. In 104.1 innings this season Sheets has only walked 21 while striking out 84. If he can continue to follow up his 12-5 / 3.82 ERA year in 2007 with his torrid streak this season, look out.
With offensive contributions from the core of the starting lineup and Ben Sheets' dominant pitching, it's no wonder the Brewers (43-35) almost won the NL Central last year and have won four out of their last five games.
The Milwaukee Brewers' success just goes to show you that drafting and developing your own talent can be a better option than signing big-name free agents to gargantuan contracts and hoping they don't turn to major-league size busts.