The following is a list of the Milwaukee Brewers' 12 free agents for the upcoming season, with a "c" denoting a club option for 2009.
Russell Branyan (3b), c-Mike Cameron (of), c-Craig Counsell (if), Ray Durham (2b), Eric Gagne (rhp), Gabe Kapler (of), Mike Lamb (3b), Guillermo Mota (rhp), CC Sabathia (lhp), Ben Sheets (rhp), Brian Shouse (lhp), c-Salomon Torres (rhp).
I wouldn't want to be in owner Mark Attanasio or GM Doug Melvin's shoes, as some of the above guys could qualify as that "missing piece". This offseason should be filled with several moves by the Brewers, but here's my take on how to at least handle the free agent situation.
Mike Cameron - It was said that he was a .250 hitter who would give you 20+ HR and 80 RBI. What did he do? .243 with 25 HR and 70 RBI. Pretty close to as advertised, I'd say. The Brewers should pick up that option for '09 and realize that Cameron's numbers will be better with the extra month he'll get, and he'll still provide his quiet leadership role.
Craig Counsell - Had only 248 at-bats but drew 46 walks compared to 42 strikeouts, with a .355 OBP. He's the guy you want at the plate who will provide the clutch hit. He won't be pricey, plus he'll love the idea of staying in his home state.
Ray Durham - Another veteran player who will provide leadership both on and off the field. If Rickie Weeks continues to struggle, someone needs to play second base.
Mike Lamb - Rarely played the final month of the season, but every time I saw him, he was getting on base. Hey, anybody is a better fit at third base than Bill Hall right now. Plus, he can play outfield, too.
Guillermo Mota - He had a so-so April/May and a horrible June/July, but really broke out of is shell in August and September. If they can have the "final two month" Mota for the entire '09 season, then I say keep him.
Salomon Torres - Only had 28 saves in a 90-win season for the Crew. May not be the future closer (I say Carlos Villanueva is the closer in '09), but it's always good to have a pitcher in the 'pen with a rubber-arm like Torres.
Eric Gagne - I really hope that Milwaukee doesn't make another $10 million mistake in 2009. Gagne just wasn't the Gagne that Melvin expected...Or even close for that matter.
Russell Branyan - Started the year in AAA, and when called up, he tore up opposing pitchers; then he fell off the wagon. The Brewers didn't need the free-swinger four years ago, and they don't need him now either.
CC Sabathia - If they can re-sign, it would be an MLB miracle and the entire state of Wisconsin would be singing in the streets. But I just don't think they shell out $25 million per year on him. I hear L.A. (Dodgers or Angels) calling him back home.
Ben Sheets - His injuries keep piling up, and I think it's time to cut the cord with this guy. Dumping CC and Sheets guarantees the Brewers six draft picks in the first two rounds for the second consecutive year. Not "rebuilding," but rather "keeping stock."
Gabe Kapler - Started the season as one of the better pinch-hitters in the league, but quickly his numbers fell and then got injured. A good guy to have in the clubhouse, but the Brewers can also get by without him.
Brian Shouse - A lefty who is good to play the "matchup game" in late innings, but he's getting old. Mitch Stetter is the exact same pitcher, but younger and possibly cheaper.
The Brewers should free up a lot of money by letting CC and Sheets walk, so they should be able to sign some of the free agents from other teams.
WHO POSSIBLY COMES IN
Brian Fuentes - Another lefty to join Stetter in the 'pen. Also could fill the possibly vacant closer role if Villanueva or Torres doesn't get the nod.
Orlando Hudson - Another second baseman with a bad wrist? I don't think so. At least the "O-Dog" can hit and the defense won't drop off from Rickie's either.
Joe Crede - Something needs to be done about the situation at third base next year. Find out what's wrong with Billy, or find a new one. Crede is just as good as an option as anybody else.
Juan Rincon - Every team needs a lights-out reliever in the bullpen. Seems to have success wherever he pitches.
Jon Garland, John Lackey, Jason Jennings, A.J. Burnett - They'll have to replace Sabathia and Sheets somehow. Gallardo and Parra are the young studs, Suppan is always in question, and Bush needs to pitch like he did in Game One of the NLDS all year next year. Milwaukee will need a veteran in the rotation that is a proven winner on the mound.
Of course, I expect the Brewers to entertain several trade offers this offseason and maybe even agree on a few of them. Now through late January will be a busy time for the Brewers' executives, filled with late-night phone calls, text messaging, and absolutely no sleep.
The Brewers won 90 games in '08, with 27 of those wins in their last at-bats, and could have easily had a 100-win season. Milwaukee came across several bumps in the road in 2008; so for 2009, they are looking to smooth out that road a little bit and build off the success that had them making their first postseason since 1982.