All anyone wanted to talk about all winter for the Milwaukee Brewers were the pitching woes the team suffered in 2009.
The Brewers finished up as one of the worst staffs in all of baseball, thanks in large part to several injuries and ineffectiveness.
Many forget that as late as June 19, the Brewers were sitting atop the NL Central. If not for the breakdown of the rotation, the Brewers very easily could have been in playoff contention at the end of September.
GM Doug Melvin bolstered both the starting rotation and bullpen in an effort to solidify the biggest weakness of the team.
Lefties Randy Wolf and Doug Davis were added to the staff. They will slot behind Yovani Gallardo and ahead of Dave Bush to give the team four good starters.
The fifth starter has been the biggest question all spring. Jeff Suppan will start the season on the disabled list. Chris Narveson and Manny Parra, both lefties, will start the season in the bullpen, as the Brewers have no need for a fifth starter until the middle of April. Narveson has had the better spring, but Parra has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Trevor Hoffman was re-signed after an All-Star 2009 season. LaTroy Hawkins was added via free agency, and along with Todd Coffey, they will give the Brewers one of the best back-end bullpens in all of baseball.
The Brewers traded J.J. Hardy to Minnesota and let Jason Kendall and Mike Cameron leave in free agency. Their offense and clubhouse leadership will be sorely missed by a still very young team.
Carlos Gomez was sent to Milwaukee in the Hardy trade, and he'll replace Cameron in center. His defense will be superior to Cameron's, but he needs to get on base at a much higher rate in order to remain an everyday starter.
Alcides Escobar will take over for Hardy at shortstop. He is a future Gold Glove winner.
Like Gomez, his offense will be the key to his game this year. He won't put up the home run totals that Hardy did in 2007 and 2008, but his speed is far superior to anyone on the team since Scott Podsednik stole 70 bases in 2004.
Gregg Zaun is the new catcher for the Brewers, replacing Kendall. Zaun won't play as many games as Kendall, but his defense and better approach at the plate will make everyone forget just how bad Kendall was at the dish.
The offense will go as far as Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder can carry it. They are as good of a one-two punch as any in the game. They will pace the team all season long, and no one should be surprised to see the tandem in the top five for MVP voting at the end of the season.
Manager Ken Macha is in his second year with the team, and he appears more comfortable in his role this season. He limited the running of his team last year, but with so much speed this year, he needs to let them run as much as possible. Escobar, Gomez, Braun, Corey Hart, and Rickie Weeks are all capable of stealing at least 20 bases.
Although the Cardinals are the clear favorite to win the division for most critics, they are just an injury away to Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, or Chris Carpenter from falling back to the rest of the division.
The Brewers are picked anywhere from second to fourth, depending on which publication one reads. No one seems to be a believer in the moves Melvin made this winter.
There are now seven legitimate options Macha can use for his starting staff. That depth will serve the team very well over the 162-game season. Add to that an offense that is undervalued thanks to the departures of Cameron and Hardy, and Milwaukee will once again surprise everyone in baseball this year.
If the Brewers are in the playoff hunt at the end of July, owner Mark Attanasio will make a trade to bolster the team's chances to play in October.
If they happen to fall out of contention, talk will begin to grow about whether or not Fielder will get traded.
Expect the Brewers to finish second place behind the Cardinals in 2010. A wild-card berth isn't out of the question, but it will be hard to win competing against the Braves, Marlins, Giants, and Dodgers.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here.