After a largely successful 2011 season, the Milwaukee Brewers and GM Doug Melvin must now turn their attention to the offseason, where there are sure to be a flurry of transactions.
Although Prince Fielder will command most of the free-agent attention surrounding the ballclub, there are more than enough noteworthy players with question marks heading into next season.
Will Casey McGehee be back in 2012? How will management use the extra payroll to shore up the team's battered bullpen?
These are just a couple of questions concerning Milwaukee moving forward. Let's take a look at the latest rumors and speculation beginning to surface.
Milwaukee's bullpen will have a whole new look in 2011.
Unfortunately, the Brewers likely won't be able to retain set-up man Francisco Rodriguez into next season. They were lucky enough to restructure his burdensome contract during the season, but they won't be so lucky this offseason.
LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito are the two most prominent names from Milwaukee's bullpen headed to free agency this winter.
Hawkins, 38, made $4.2 million in 2011, and the 41-year-old Saito pocketed roughly $1.75 million. While Saito could very well make it back to the Crew in 2012, Hawkins likely won't.
Additionally, the status of free-agent relievers Mitch Stetter and Zach Braddock remain in limbo, and it's almost certain that at least one of the two will not return to the club next season.
That being said, who will Milwaukee target to refresh its bullpen?
Frank Francisco, RHP
The 32-year-old "power" righty made $4 million in 2011, notching 17 saves, 10 holds, a 3.55 ERA and striking out 60 in 50.2 innings pitched. There'll be money set aside for acquiring multiple relievers this winter, and Francisco looks to be a great candidate to become Milwaukee's next set-up man.
Javier Lopez, LHP
The lack of diversity in Milwaukee's bullpen is staggering. Adding Lopez's lefty arm would be extremely beneficial moving forward. He made $2.375 million in 2011, administering 20 holds with a 2.72 ERA while striking out 40 in 53.0 innings pitched.
George Sherrill, LHP
One of baseball's best left-handed relievers, Sherrill's $1.21 million salary in 2011 was a bargain for the Braves. This offseason, it will be imperative for Milwaukee to add another left-hander to their 'pen, and Sherrill is a classic setup man worth the extra cash.
There's no mistaking how blatantly awful Yuniesky Betancourt was for the Brewers in 2011.
His atrocious .965 fielding percentage was enough to rank fourth worst among all MLB shortstops, and his 21 errors didn't make matters any better.
Granted, he was a bit of a spark for Milwaukee in its historic postseason run, batting .310 with a home run and six RBI. But, make no mistake about it: GM Doug Melvin will be hurriedly rummaging the free-agent market for an upgrade.
Who could he be targeting? Just look at the next slide...
There aren't a whole of free-agent shortstops out there, which makes Barmes one of the most likely targets. The 32-year-old boasted a .978 FPCT—ninth best among all MLB shortstops—in 2011, along with committing just 12 errors in 122 games played.
What's most attractive about him, though, is his affordability. Barmes made a shade under $4 million in 2011, comparable to that of Betancourt's exactly $4 million, but will likely command much less money compared to Betancourt's $6 million 2012 club option.
Of course, you can't discount owner Mark Attanasio's optimistic train of thought, so you can almost expect a few Jose Reyes stirrings to come forth.
However, in reality, Barmes really is the best option moving forward.
Other candidates: Jamey Carroll, Rafael Furcal, Orlando Cabrera
According to multiple reports, the Brewers inquired to the Kansas City Royals about a potential deal that would send third baseman Wilson Betemit to Milwaukee back at the trade deadline.
Obviously, a deal never came to fruition, but the intent was unmistakably there. And, with good reason.
Casey McGehee simply wasn't performing up to expectations (he would finish 2011 with a .223 BA, 13 HR and 67 RBI), and fortunately for the organization, they were able to acquire Jerry Hairston from the Nationals just hours before the official trade deadline.
With both McGehee and Hairston set to become free agents this winter, there will be no shortage of speculation and rumors surrounding who will play the hot corner for Milwaukee in 2012.
Let's see who the Brewers might target...
Surely enough, Betemit tops our list for a number of reasons.
For starters, the 29-year-old is one of the most cost-effective free-agent infielders on the market. Making a staggering $1 million in 2011, Betemit made for a great fill-in before Brandon Inge rediscovered his swing prior to the postseason.
His glove may be nothing to write home about (holding true to a .947 FPCT in 2011), but his presence in Ron Roenicke's clubhouse would be markedly valuable with veteran Craig Counsell likely to retire.
Other candidates: Jorge Cantu, Andy LaRoche, Greg Dobbs