Projected 2010 NL Central Finish: 3rd
- Gomez cf
- Hart rf
- Braun lf
- Fielder 1b
- Weeks 2b
- McGehee 3b
- Zaun c
- Escobar ss
- Wolf (LH)
- Davis (LH)
- Parra (LH)
- Kottaras c
- Counsell if
- Inglett ut
- Edmonds of
- Gerut of
- Stetter (LH)
- Hoffman (closer)
Catcher: Greg Zaun’s addition will give the Brewers an upgrade at the plate over light-hitting departure, Jason Kendall. It was believed that Kendall did a good job of handling the pitching staff, but they finished 2009 with the worst starting pitching ERA in the league. Basically, the level of play from Brewers’ catchers has nowhere to go but up. George Kottaras is the early favorite to win the backup job but Angel Salome will get a look. Jonathan Lucroy is in camp but won’t make the opening day roster.
Infield: Prince is Prince, and he will be the same masher that we have come to expect. Rickie Weeks got off to a hot start that carried the team through April, only to get injured and miss the majority of the season. If he can display that same power (9 homeruns in 37 games), the Brewers will have a bat that could potentially protect Fielder from so many intentional walks. Alcides Escobar had a great showing in winter ball and he hopes to convert that into big league success. He won’t be a power hitter but will eventually hit for consistent average. Casey McGehee and Craig Counsell will split at-bats at third base, but a lack of production could open the door for Mat Gamel to take over.
Outfield: Corey Hart won his arbitration case and the Brewers may still entertain trade offers for the lanky right fielder (‘lanky’ was the only word that came to mind). Carlos Gomez was acquired in the J.J. Hardy trade and he will bring excitement to the top of the order. His speed is an important asset to have in front of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. If his OBP struggles continue, Weeks or even Escobar could be tried in the leadoff spot. Jim Edmonds proved he wasn’t done two years ago with the Cubs and he will be the primary pinch hitter for the Crew. If he does as well as he did in ’08, a Corey Hart trade could throw Edmonds into the five spot of the lineup.
Rotation: This is by far the weakest spot on the team but a healthy year from Gallardo would take a lot of pressure off the rest of the bunch. Yovani has quality stuff and Wolf has been dependable in recent years. Davis will make his 30 starts, but the question with him is: “Will he hit 80 mph on the radar gun?” Doubtful. Jeff Suppan could honestly be on the way out even though he has such an expensive contract. Would you rather pay $13M to have his ERA continue to rise for you, or for another team? The options for the 5th starter spot don’t get much better. Manny Parra has the early advantage because he is a lefty who is out of options but he had a 6.36 ERA. Others include Dave Bush (6.38 ERA), Kameron Loe (didn’t pitch in the Majors last year), Chris Capuano (hasn’t pitched in the Bigs since 2007), and John Halama (hasn’t pitched in the Show since 2006 when his ERA was 6.14)…
Bullpen: The back-end of the bullpen should be pretty solid this year. Trevor Hoffman is still steady in the closer role and LaTroy Hawkins had a 2.13 ERA and 11 saves over 65 games last year. Todd Coffey was an extremely valuable pickup for Milwaukee and just plain looks like a Brewer (can’t hurt). Mitch Stetter and his sweeping delivery set a club record with 15 consecutive outs by the strikeout. David Riske is rehabbing from an injury that cost him all but one inning of 2009. Others battling for spots in the pen include Carlos Villanueva and Claudio Vargas. The Chris’s (Smith and Narveson) each have legimate shots at making the team after productive 2009 seasons. Scott Schoeneweis could make the team as another lefty but isn’t there at least a moral obligation to field a team that won’t let up 16 runs a game? Schoeneweis’ 7.13 ERA might be where Ken Macha draws the line.
2010: This is an important year for the organization as the team is in the middle of a division that isn’t too far out of reach. The offense will be solid and the pitching can’t be as poor as it was last year, right? The Brewers have a knack for keeping the games close and the Prince Fielder/Ryan Braun combination is special. Randy Wolf and Doug Davis are improvements but Manny Parra and Jeff Suppan really need to step it up for the Brewers to contend in 2010. It will be an interesting year in Milwaukee but the team will ultimately miss out on the playoffs.
Rosters are starting to take shape as we inch closer to spring training. The trade market has been relatively quiet this off-season and the free agent market is dwindling. Some teams are rather comfortable with their rosters as they currently stand but many spots are still in question. Let’s take a look at the most important position battles for each National League team this spring:
Diamondbacks- 2B: Kelly Johnson was brought in to play second base but the starting job will not be given to him. After playing 150 solid games for the Braves in 2008, Johnson struggled mightiliy in 2009 and lost the job to Martin Prado. Ryan Roberts played second base down the stretch for Arizona and hit to a .279/.367/.416 line. Johnson is a lefty while Roberts is a righty so a platoon may be in their future. Tony Abreu is a younger option in case both struggle.
Braves- LF/RF: Nate McClouth will be the team’s center fielder but the corners are far from set. Melky Cabrera was acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade and will probably start at one of the corners after playing 154 games for the Yankees last year. He is a winner, a switch hitter, and capable of playing all three outfield spots. Matt Diaz is a quiet .310 career hitter but has never had 400 at-bats during his 7 years in the pros. Diaz is best suited for left field. The wild card in all of this is Jason Heyward, the number one prospect in baseball. He will be a franchise player soon, but how soon? Heyward is only 20 years old but could very well be ready for The Show.
Cubs- 2B: Mike Fontenot disappointed after beating out Aaron Miles for the second base job last year. His struggles, along with the injury to Aramis Ramirez, prompted a Jeff Baker acquisition. In 69 games with the Cubbies, Baker hit .305 and took over the second base job. Similar to Arizona’s situation, the Cubs have a left handed option with Fontenot and a right handed option with Baker. A straight platoon situation seems unlikely after Baker’s solid showing last September.
Reds- LF: Chris Dickerson will be the early favorite to start in left field due to a career .383 OBP in 128 games the last two years. He is a lefty with some speed and the potential for 15 homers a year. He will be challenged by Wladimir Balentien who has under-performed after being tabbed as a great prospect earlier in his career. Laynce Nix hit 15 home runs but the Reds would rather use him as a reserve. The Reds could still look to the free agent market for a guy like Jonny Gomes or even Johnny Damon.
Rockies- PH: Colorado’s starting lineup is basically set and they have a great bench. Ian Stewart will split time at third with Melvin Mora while Chris Iannetta and Miguel Olivo each get time behind the plate. Ryan Spilborghs will get plenty of playing time with lefties Carlos Gonzalez and Brad Hawpe starting in the outfield corners. The bench will also have Seth Smith and Jason Giambi to pinch hit late in the game. Even with their strong depth, the Rockies’ most interesting question entering the 2010 season may be if they carry six bench players. It is unlikely that they would carry another bench bat, but the front office has brought in some notable veterans including catcher Paul LoDuca, first baseman Josh Phelps, and outfielder Jay Payton, who will all be considered.
Florida- 1B: Mid-season acquisition Nick Johnson has moved on and Jorge Cantu may move to first base. If Cantu stays at third, the Marlins will have competition between Gaby Sanchez and prospect Logan Morrison. Sanchez has not developed as fast as the Marlins had hoped and Morrison may not be ready. Wes Helms will get some at-bats at first base but the free agent market still has a couple of possibilities. Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, and Hank Blalock are hoping for starting jobs.
Astros- C: This battle points to a potentially tough road ahead for the Houston Astros. Humberto Quintero will be the veteran in camp but has never played well. J.R. Towles was supposed to be the team’s catcher a few years ago but has hit .188 in 234 career at-bats. The bright spot at catcher is a great prospect by the name of Jason Castro. Castro is the top prospect in the organization but is only 22 and may need another year in the minors. Will the team get a guy like Rod Barajas to be a stopgap until Castro arrives in Houston?
Dodgers- 2B: Ronnie Belliard worked hard and stole the job from Orlando Hudson last season during the playoff push and was re-signed. He’s going to have to work just as hard to get the majority of starts at second this year. Along with Belliard, the Dodgers have plenty of other veteran options at second base: Nick Green, Alfredo Amezaga, Jamey Carroll, Angel Berroa. There are some younger guys who are looking for a chance this spring as well: Blake Dewitt, Chin-Lung Hu, Ivan DeJesus. Belliard is definitely the favorite but he will have to earn it.
Brewers- 3B: One of Milwaukee’s top prospects has been third baseman, Mat Gamel. He got some playing time last season and did OK. Meanwhile, Casey McGehee got a chance to play and did very well. McGehee provided a spark with his bat and posted a .859 OPS in 116 games. A huge spring from Gamel may be earn him a platoon role at third base but everyday at-bats in the minors would be helpful at this point in his career.
Mets- C: The Mets will have plenty of options at catcher and each comes from a very different background. Henry Blanco’s abilities to mentor a pitching staff and his great defensive attributes make him the backup catcher. Chris Coste was a long-time minor leaguer who finally broke into the Majors with the Phillies a few years ago. He struggled last year but has been useful as a pinch hitter. Omir Santos took over for Brian Schneider last year with the Mets to drive in 40 runs with only 281 at-bats. Josh Thole is the catcher of the future and may be ready after finding success in the big leagues last season. Even with all of this depth, the Mets have been linked to many other veteran catchers this off-season.
Phillies- OF: No, I’m not talking about a starting outfield spot. Those should be held down by Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth. I’m not even talking about the opening day bench for that matter of fact. Ben Francisco and Ross Gload will be the backups. I’m talking about September. The Phillies have positioned themselves to make a playoff run again this year and having a speedy pinch runner when the rosters expands never hurts. The Phillies have brought in Dewayne Wise, Freddy Guzman, and Chris Duffy to compete in the minors for that opportunity. Freddy Guzman held that role with the Yankees in the playoffs last year.
Pirates- SS: Ronny Cedeno was the Pirates’ late-season shortstop after being acquired from Seattle. With Pittsburgh he hit .258 with 5 home runs. That performance was enough to make him the early favorite for this season but the team brought in veteran infielder, Bobby Crosby, to compete. Crosby has hit over .239 only once since 2004. Either way, the Pirates don’t project to get a lot of production from their shortstop this season.
Padres- C: The team is about to sign veteran Yorvit Torrealba to a Major League deal. He will battle incumbent Nick Hundley for innings at catcher. Torrealba had a similar situation in Colorado and the starting job went back and forth between himself and Chris Iannetta. Torrealba hit .291 last year but had only 2 home runs in 213 at-bats. In similar playing time last year, Hundley hit .238 with 8 homers.
Giants- LF/RF: Mark DeRosa moves to the outfield with the signing of Aubrey Huff who will play first base and keep Pablo Sandoval at third. It is still to be seen if DeRosa will play left or right but who will play in the other spot? They have a pair of lefties in Fred Lewis and Nate Schierholtz who have not gotten to their potential yet. Lewis is better suited for left field and offers more tools with his speed. Schierholtz is better suited for right field and is younger. Andres Torres and Eugenio Velez will fight for playing time in the outfield too. Could the Giants still sign Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, or Jonny Gomes?
Cardinals- OF: The Cardinals don’t have an obvious option as their fourth outfielder. The starters are set from left to right for a while and that puts the Cardinals in an interesting position. The team doesn’t have to worry about grooming an outfielder and giving him everyday at-bats in the minors as much as most other teams do. So while other teams sign veterans to pinch hit, the Cardinals may just promote their next-best outfield prospects to get those at-bats and innings. They have plenty of minor league outfielders who are good but not great such as Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Daryl Jones, Joe Mather, Shane Robinson, and Nick Stavinoha.
Nationals- PH: The Nationals have a lineup that is basically set. The bench, however, has a couple open spots. Jesus Flores will be the backup catcher unless he encounters a setback while rehabbing from an injury-plagued season. Willie Harris has become a fan favorite with versatility, speed, and some pop. Besides those two, there are no guarantees. Eric Bruntlett could make the team as a backup infielder after holding that role with the Phillies for a couple season. Chris Duncan is looking for a pinch hitting role. Justin Maxwell is a big outfielder who can play all three outfield spots and has had success in limited time with the Nationals. Others who will get a look are catcher Wil Nieves, infielder Alberto Gonzalez, utility men Pete Orr and Mike Morse, and outfielders Jerry Owens, Roger Bernadina, and Kevin Mench.
A recent post on mlbtraderumors.com by Tim Dierkes posed a challenge to the readers: Create the best possible lineup, rotation, and bullpen of this off-season’s trade candidates. So this evening I’ll take my crack at it, again only using players who have a good chance of getting traded this winter.
1. Granderson cf– Detroit seems to be cost cutting, could bring in a haul.
2. Pierre lf– Dodger’s OF is full and getting expensive through arbitration.
3. Bradley rf– You know the story. Will he rebound after another ‘fresh start?’
4. Uggla 2b– Another Marlins cost cutting off-season is very probable.
5. Cust dh– Billy Beane isn’t a huge fan of giving out raises via arbitration.
6. Atkins 1b– Ian Stewart’s emergence has made Atkins expendable.
7. Gamel 3b– The Brewers will try to make a big splash after failing to retain C.C. last year. That splash starts with prospects.
8. Doumit c– Had a rough season and doesn’t seem to fit in with the coaches/management.
9. (Macier, not Cesar) Izturis ss– Erik Aybar’s earned the full-time role at short.
1. Halladay– The new GM knows the Jays won’t compete before his Doc’s deal runs out.
2. Jackson- See ‘Granderson’ above.
3. Kawakami– The Braves don’t have a spot for him in their solid rotation and he’s affordable.
4. Arroyo- Great second half but the Reds are cutting costs and they’ll start with this $13MM.
5. Silva- Will be swapped for another bad contract.
- Tallet LH– May not fit Toronto’s plans and will be getting a slight raise.
- Pinto LH– Talented lefty struggled for the Marlins but is very talented. Will draw interest.
- Casilla RH– Similar to Pinto, though a righty.
- Farnsworth RH- His deal seemed bad from the start. He’s due $5MM.
- Corpas RH- Shedding the $6.5MM he’s due will redirect money towards resigning Betancourt.
- Wheeler RH- Has closed but is better as a setup man. Rays will go cheaper.
- Lindstrom CL- Leo Nunez stole his closer job in-season. Brings intimidation with heater.
As you can see, I don’t think some of the more intriguing picks (Adrian Gonzalez, Felix Hernandez, Carl Crawford, etc.) will get traded this off-season. These types of players are both integral to their team’s success and are rather affordable, not to mention how close each of those teams are to contending in their division. I expect this off-season’s trade market to consist of more cost-adjusting moves and less blockbusters than the headlines would like to suggest.
But they don’t call it the Hot Stove League for nothing as I’m sure there will be some surprising and exciting deals pulled off as the owners’ holiday wishlists grow larger.