The Prince of Detroit

By Kevin Kimmes

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been putting this article off for the last few days as I’ve let the reality set in that Prince Fielder has probably taken his last at bat as a Milwaukee Brewer (at the very least until 2021). Now that the news is official, let’s take a look at what it took to bring Prince back to a city that he spent a lot of time in as a child.

The Injury

2 weeks ago, Detroit’s Victor Martinez sustained a season ending ACL injury which sent the Tigers on a quest to find a replacement in the middle of their batting order. As the team made it clear that they expected to have Martinez back for their 2013 campaign, talk turned to finding a short-term replacement. Based on these criteria, Fielder seemed to be a longshot based on the contract requirements that he was seeking.

The Deal

Despite the initial talk coming out of the Tigers organization, they shocked the baseball world by making the offer that most had begun to write off as potentially not happening. As the interest in Fielder had begun to dwindle over the last several weeks, with many of the potential suitors deciding to spend their money elsewhere (most recently the Rangers acquisition of Yu Darvish), the likely landing pad for Fielder had begun to look like Washington. This of course would not have been surprising as Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, represents a large portion of their roster. But, it was Detroit who dug deep and pulled the strings necessary to get the deal done.

The deal will make Fielder a Tiger for the next 9 years (through the 2020 season) and carries a price tag of $214 million. Not bad when you consider that Fielder, now 27, will be 36 when the deal expires.

Like Father, Like Son?

It is no secret that relations between Prince and his father, former Tiger’s slugger Cecil Fielder, are icy to say the least. This is why I, and many others in the baseball community, were shocked that Prince was planning on joining one of his dad’s former clubs. And, apparently, his father can be counted amongst those numbers.

According to USA Today, the elder Fielder was quoted as saying:

“I didn’t even see Detroit in the picture. I didn’t even see that happening with all the talk about the Nationals and Texas Rangers and Seattle. … I never saw Detroit making a move like this.”

The Role of Prince

So what will Fielder’s role be now that he has moved over to an American League squad with a star first baseman? Well, first base of course! It seems that Miguel Cabrera was more than happy to shift back to 3rd base, a position that he has previous experience at, in order to accommodate the acquisition of Fielder. Cabrera, it seems, is  even looking  forward to the opportunity to play next to Fielder.

The 2012 Season

So, will the acquisition of Fielder be the difference maker in terms of Detroit making it to the World Series in 2012? Well, it certainly won’t hurt. One thing that Fielder and his new team need to keep in mind this season is the effect that the power alleys in Comerica Park may have on Prince’s numbers. As they are deeper than those found in his former home, Miller Park, this may lead to a reduction in the sluggers extra bases.

Overall, the deal should be a win-win for both sides, as it provides Fielder with the numbers that he was looking for in a long-term deal, while addressing Detroit’s needs in the heart of their order. Watch out AL Central, the Motor City Kitties are on the prowl again!

Position Review & Preview: Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher

By Nathan Petrashek

Jonathan Lucroy came into spring training last year with a giant question mark attached.  After tearing up the minor leagues offensively to the tune of .298/.379/.459, Lucroy was called up in May 2010 for an injured Gregg Zaun and slashed only .253/.300/.329.  Lucroy, as a prospect touted for his incredible plate discipline and patience, seemingly failed to transition those skills to the majors, striking out more than twice as often as he walked.  It was a somewhat disappointing season offensively, but allowed Lucroy to work on his defense and familiarize himself with the Brewers’ pitching staff.

Lucroy, as always, came into spring training last year ready to make improvements to all aspects of his game.  The Brewers hedged their bets, though, bringing five other catchers into camp, only two of whom would survive to 2012 (George Kottaras and Martin Maldanado).  The Brewers’ move proved fortuitous; Lucroy broke a finger early in spring training, but returned to the Brewers in mid-April and went on one of the hottest streaks I’ve ever seen from a Brewers catcher (though such offensive juggernauts as Johnny Estrada, Damian Miller, and Chad Moeller aren’t exactly stiff competition).

Through May 31, Lucroy was hitting .310 with a .353 OBP.  His plate patience hadn’t necessarily improved (he walked only 7 times versus 30 strikeouts), but showed pop that had been somewhat of a surprise after hitting only 4 HRs in 2010.  After he managed 6 HRs through may en route to a .496 slugging percentage, though, Lucroy’s power, along with his average, plummeted.  He was a .250 hitter in June, and though his average recovered slightly in July, he had only 1 HR in the two months, contributing to a rather pedestrian .329 slugging.  Lucroy’s power returned slightly in August and September (5 HR, .363 SLG), but his average and plate discipline suffered.  Lucroy would finish the year a .265 hitter with a disappointing .313 OBP and a nearly 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  However, defensively he would throw out a respectable 30% of would-be base-stealers, though at times Lucroy appeared to have problems blocking pitches.

Remember, Lucroy’s 2011 decline – which mirrors that of 2010 – probably isn’t a result of overwork.  Lucroy received every fifth day off because Randy Wolf refused to let Lucroy catch.  I suspect that the two could not get on the same page because Wolf and Lucroy are both very protective of their ability to call the game, and the pitcher (who has the ability to control what he throws) will usually win that battle.

There has been no indication that the situation between Wolf and Lucroy will change in 2012.  I expect George Kottaras to again be Wolf’s personal catcher, meaning Lucroy should accumulate about 500 plate attempts.  This split doesn’t do the Brewers any kind of service; Lucroy performed very well against left-handed pitching last year, whereas George Kottaras hit only .174.  Lucroy should always be in the lineup when facing southpaws, regardless of whether Randy Wolf is going for the Crew.

However, I expect Lucroy he will make  further adjustments to major league pitching and improve his bottom-line performance.  Between 2010 and 2011, Lucroy significantly cut down on his swings at pitches outside of the zone, and his aggressiveness at the plate in general, though the percentage of times he swung on the first pitch was essentially unchanged.  If Lucroy can further refine this aspect of his approach, we could see Lucroy on base more frequently, though sitting back and waiting for his pitch could cause his power numbers to dip a bit.

2012 Projection: 133 G, 522 PA, 131 H, 52 R, 16 2B, 10 HR, 63 RBI, 42 BB, 85 K, 2 SB, .274/.328/.382

Wheel of Fielder

By Nathan Petrashek

It’s game show time here at Cream City Cables, and here’s today’s contestant, Prince Fielder.  Step right up, Prince, spin the wheel, and let’s see where your baseball destiny lies!

Texas Rangers.  I’m sorry, Prince, today just isn’t your day.  You see, while the Rangers could certainly use a power-hitting 1B or DH (Mitch Moreland and Michael Young, respectively, will probably fill those roles), today the Rangers announced that they had signed young Japanese righty Yu Darvish for $112MM ($52MM for negotiating rights plus a 6-year, $60MM contract).  Rangers GM Josh Daniels was reportedly “cornered” after the press conference, whereupon he announced that a Fielder deal was “unlikely,” adding, “I don’t expect we’ll do anything really big the rest of the winter.”

Seattle Mariners.  If you wish, you can reunite here with Jack Zduriencik, the man responsible for your drafting way back in 2002.  Unfortunately, those memories of past greatness are probably all you’ll accumulate in Seattle, as the team doesn’t look poised for competition for quite some time with the powerhouse Rangers and Angels in their division.  And not only that, the Mariners are said to have money limits (that’s code for “We can’t afford you”), so you’ll have to take less dough to not win.  Doesn’t sound like Charlie Sheen would be a fan of this arrangement.

Chicago Cubs.  I’m sure you weren’t thrilled to see Theo Epstein’s blockbuster trade involving future 1B Anthony Rizzo.  After all, teams don’t usually trade for an major-league ready first baseman prospect just so they can go out and sign a monster deal with a slugger at the same position.  Sure, the Cubs might be interested at the right price.  But then again, you’d have a lot of suitors if you lowered your demands.

Washington Nationals.  Would you like to buy a “W?”  Washington seems like a good fit:  they’re interested, their close to contending in the NL East, and they’re probably the only team that loves your agent (and by throwing oodles of cash at his clients, I’m sure the feeling is mutual). But word is they only want to go six years, possibly seven, a few shy of what you were looking for.  And what would Washington be without a little political intrigue?  The Nationals were closely watching the Darvish deal; now that another suitor has dropped out, the Nats know they hold all the cards.  Prepare for a tough negotiation here, Prince.

***

Well, Prince, the wheel is just about done spinning and the big black tile is headed your way.  You could have solved the puzzle; the Brewers dangled that 6-year, $120 million contract in front of you a few years ago, but you didn’t want any part of that.  And who could blame you; that $200 million space seemed so big, just tempting you to spin again.  But now that the  megadeal contract you’ve not-so-subtly yearned for (Remember when you changed your at-bat music to Pink Floyd’s “Money?”) doesn’t seem to be materializing, if you could do it all over again, would you trade the comfort the Brewers offered for this agonizing waiting game?

A Look Into The Crystal Baseball: The Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup

By Kevin Kimmes

The offseason always brings its fair share of speculation. Sometimes this is caused by offseason moves that  create an air of hope, potentially transforming an also ran into a contender. Then there’s the agony when a top producer packs up their locker with no hope of returning dealing a crushing blow to their former team and the fans that had cheered them on for years. And of course, there is even the ever optimistic mantra of the Cubs fan who says “Maybe next year”.

This offseason, Milwaukee’s fans have had to deal with both of the first two scenarios as the additions of Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez to the infield should reap immediate benefits, while the loss of Prince Fielder’s bat in the lineup creates some issues in the run production department.

Today, I will look at each position and speculate on who will be there on opening day and consider what Bill James is predicting they will do from an offensive stand point. Additionally, I will try to project an opening day batting order for the season opener against the Cardinals on April 6th at Miller Park.

**All stats provided courtesy of Fangraphs**

The Battery

The Starting Pitchers:

This season sees the return of all 5 starters from Milwaukee’s 2011 NL  Central Champion squad (Gallardo, Marcum, Greinke, Wolf, and Narveson). Below are projections for each of the starters for 2012  :

Player W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
Gallardo, Yovani 14 9 0 30 30 203 9.53 3.06 0.89 0.312 3.46 3.31
Greinke, Zack 13 9 0 31 31 202 8.33 2.27 0.8 0.319 3.52 3.23
Marcum, Shaun 13 10 0 32 32 207 7.3 2.35 1.17 0.284 3.52 4.01
Narveson, Chris 7 8 0 26 22 133 7.31 3.45 1.08 0.303 4.13 4.24
Wolf, Randy 12 12 0 32 32 217 6.43 3.03 1.08 0.289 3.94 4.36

Based on these projections, Gallardo should be the opening day starter. His projected 9.53 strikeouts per 9 innings coupled with an ERA of 3.46 give him a slight advantage over Greinke (8.33/9, 3.52) and Marcum (7.3/9, 3.52). Additionally, both stats are improvements over Gallardo’s 2011 number (8.99/9, 3.52) meaning that the best may be still to come from Milwaukee’s ace.

At Catcher:

Also returning from the 2011 squad is catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Based on the numbers (136 projected games, the same as last year) it appears that speculation is leaning on Lucroy being the everyday catcher with the exception of days when Randy Wolf is pitching. Last season, Wolf used backup catcher George Kottaras as his personal battery mate, giving Lucroy a break every few days.

In regards to offensive output, the projection leans on Lucroy having a very similar season to last year (.264/.328/.393 compared to last seasons .265/.313/.391).  Additionally, he is projected for 12 homeruns, 53 runs, and 64 RBIs which is a slight improvement over last seasons 12 homeruns, 45 runs, and 59 RBIs.

The Infield

At 1st Base:

As much as I’d like to tell you that by some divine miracle an 11th hour deal was made to keep Prince Fielder in Milwaukee, we all know by this point that this will not be the case. Instead, the Brewers will be looking to 3rd base convert Mat Gamel to fill the hole at 1st. As Adam McCalvy reported last week, Gamel is working hard this offseason to be ready for spring training and to assume a spot in the starting lineup on opening day, something that Gamel has missed out on the past three years due to Spring Training injuries.

While it would be unrealistic to expect Gamel (who has a .222 batting average in 194 plate appearances over 4 seasons) to bring in the same kind of power hitting production that Fielder had, he should improve his career stats in an everyday role.  While Bill James only has him projected for 118 games (potentially factoring in his history of injuries),  Gamel should  hit around .282/.342/.476 with 19 home runs this season.

At 2nd Base:

As a returning All-Star, Rickie Weeks will be looking to build on his injury shortened 2011 campaign by again manning the bag at 2nd. Weeks, who hit for 20 home runs last season will again be called on to hit the long ball in order to help ease the offensive depletion caused by Fielders departure.

According to James,  Weeks should have another All-Star worthy performance this year as he is projected for .262/.355/.453 with 22 homeruns, 62 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases in 136 games.

At 3rd Base:

Welcome to Milwaukee Aramis Ramirez! After an extremely disappointing 2011 by regular 3rd baseman Casey McGehee, the prospect of what Ramirez brings to the table, both as both a defender and as a batter, are exciting to say the least. In 149 games last season for the Chicago Cubs, Ramirez hit .306/.361/.510 while crushing 26 hits for homeruns, numbers that the Brewers hope he repeats for them in 2012.

Ramirez represents the best chance that the Brewers have for closing the run production gap created by Fielder’s departure as he is projected to hit for .285/.350/.500 with 26 homeruns and 94 RBIs in 140 games.

At Shortstop:

As I have reported previously, the addition of Alex Gonzalez at short, while providing an upgrade defensively, leaves the Brewers in roughly the same spot offensively at short.

Gonzalez is projected to hit .237/.278/.381 with 14 homeruns and 60 RBIs in 145 games.

The Outfield:

With the official signing of Norichika Aoki, the Brewers seem to have taken the first step into the realm of possibility that they may be without reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first 50 games of the season. The signing makes for some interesting scenarios in the outfield as Milwaukee will be able to choose amongst several righty and lefty hitters to fill out these three spots.

Left Field:

Assuming that Braun is suspended (historically the odds are not in his favor), I would not be surprised to see Aoki in his spot in left field come opening day. In Japan, Aoki is a career .329 hitter with 84 home runs, 385 RBIs and 164 stolen bases in 985 games over 8 seasons.

Center Field:

Center field will again be the home to the platoon of Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan. Having a righty/lefty platoon definitely gives Milwaukee versatility in center field allowing them to not only play to whomever has the hottest bat at the time, but to also play for advantage when it comes to pitching matchups. While Gomez is the better pure fielder at the position, Morgan brings speed and charisma.

While it is hard to say at this juncture who will win the opening day start (a lot will be determined in spring training), I’m going to go with my gut feeling and place Morgan in my line up due to the intangibles that he brings to the team and his ability to whip the crowd into a frenzy to start off the year. Morgan is projected to hit .288/.345/.362 with 2 homeruns, 36 RBIs and 25 stolen bases in 130 games, while Gomez is projected to hit .242/.297/.375 with 5 homeruns, 24 RBIs and 16 stolen Bases.

Right Field:

Despite some speculation (including talk from Brewers GM Doug Melvin) about Corey Hart being used at first base, it seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that right field will continue to be his primary position. Hart is projected to hit .274/.338/.488 with 25 homeruns and 80 RBIs.

The Opening Day Lineup

Based on the information above, here is what I believe the Brewers may field on April 6th. Keep in mind that injuries and play during spring training could play a role in drastically changing this:

1) Corey Hart RF

2) Nyjer Morgan CF

3) Norichika Aoki LF

4) Aramis Ramirez 3B

5) Rickie Weeks 2B

6) Mat Gamel 1B

7) Alex Gonzalez SS

8) Jonathan Lucroy C

9) Yovani Gallardo P

So, there you have it the potential opening day lineup and starters by position. Go Crew!

Hello Goodbye, Craig Counsell

By Nathan Petrashek

It’s goodbye to our favorite utility infielder, Craig Counsell, and hello to Craig Counsell, Special Assistant to the General Manager.  I’m not sure which one is pictured in this photo from 2007, but either one certainly seems happy to be there.

For those of you that don’t know, Counsell is (was) my favorite player in the game.  I always admired his study habits and plate discipline, even through his awful hitless stretch last season.  He was a hometown guy, a community guy, a player the Brewers could claim as their own (Counsell resides with his family in Whitefish Bay, a Milwaukee suburb).  Oh, yeah, and it turns out he was the best legit hitter of the steroid era.  But my favorite memory:  Counsell’s bases-loaded walk on the final day of the regular season in 2008 to tie the game at 1.  Braun would hit a home run the next inning and catapult the Brewers to their first playoff berth since 1982.

I loved Counsell for his play as a Brewer, but his most significant accomplishments came as a member of the 1997 World Series Champion Florida Marlins and the 2001 World Series Champion Arizona Diamondbacks.  Counsell scored the game-winning run in the ’97 Series and was named the 2001 NLCS MVP. At his presser today, Counsell reminisced about both teams.  “You play in game sevens of World Series, tell me what’s above that.  Those are without a doubt the two things that stand out.”  Wish you could have seen a third, Craig, but at least you came close.

Many consider Counsell a GM in the making, and it sounds like he’ll have plenty of exposure to baseball operations in his new role to make that a reality someday. Counsell will get his feet wet with player evaluations and the draft, and will also help on field during spring training.

One thing is for sure; Counsell will retain his sense of humor in his new role.  “I’m excited that I don’t have to get any hits anymore. That was a challenge at the end,” said Counsell.  “It’s easy [to retire] when you’ve got more softball teams calling you than baseball teams, and those softball teams want to DH for you.”

Thanks for the memories, Craig, and best of luck in your new role.  Look forward to seeing you around the Keg.

2012 NL Central Division Preview: Houston Astros

By: Ryan Smith

The 1962 Mets are pretty excited that someone may be joining them this year.

120. That’s how many losses the 1962 Mets finished with. The only other team to finish with more losses in one season was the Cleveland Spiders in 1899 (that team folded the following year), so we’ll say the modern-day record for most losses in one season belongs to that infamous Mets squad.

I point this out only because 2012 could be a record-breaking year for the Houston Astros. Since that historic ’62 season, few teams have come close to that mark of ineptitude. The 2003 Detroit Tigers finished with 119, missing out on their place in the record books by one game. The 2012 Astros could be the next challenger to this dubious mark.

The thing is, the 1962 Mets were an expansion team. The Houston Astros were a respectable franchise as recently as 2006, when they were eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the season. Since then, each season seems to have gotten worse than the previous year, a trend which looks to continue this season.

Let’s start off by looking at the team slogan for the 2011 Houston Astros: “We Are Your Astros.” That’s it. Couldn’t even muster up an exclamation point. You see, a team slogan is typically centered around a marketing campaign for that season; a way to drum up excitement and support for the upcoming year. Before last season, the marketing team for the Astros couldn’t in good conscience create a marketing campaign that created false hope for the fans. And that was before they traded Hunter Pence and Michael Bourne for 40 cents on the dollar.

What will the 2012 team slogan be? “We Promise We Won’t Trade Any More Stars For Less Than Equal Value…Because We Don’t Have Any More Stars To Trade.”

(If you want to submit your own team slogan for the 2012 Houston Astros, feel free to use the comment box at the end of this column)

Okay, enough Astros-bashing for the moment. Let’s shift to actual analysis of the state of the Houston Astros.

(Thanks again to fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com for the following stats)

2012 Projected Opening Day Lineup

Infield – 1B Brett Wallace, 2B Jose Altuve, SS Jed Lowrie, 3B Jimmy Paredes

Moving a closer for an everyday play like Lowrie is a step in the right direction.

Analysis –
Once upon a time, Brett Wallace was viewed as a potential star. He was a major trade chip in the deal that sent Matt Holliday to St. Louis. After bouncing around with a few teams, it seemed that he would finally get his chance to shine in Houston. Last year, Wallace played 115 games at first base for the Astros and produced a pretty underwhelming performance. 1B is supposed to be a position that provides offense, but Wallace just couldn’t seem to put it together at the plate. His line of .259/.334/.369 just doesn’t get it done from that spot on the field. And it’s not like he’s adding a ton of defensive value either; his UZR/150 of -6.9 isn’t going to help anyone forget about his struggles at the plate…Altuve gets his first chance at a full season of ball in the majors. I was somewhat impressed with what I saw from him in 2011, albeit a rather small-sample to judge. He’s going to need to raise his OBP of .297 if he wants to be productive batting at the top of the order, though…I still don’t know what I think about Houston’s acquisition of Lowrie. On one hand, they used RP Mark Melancon’s decent 2011 season (20/25 in Save opportunities, 2.78 ERA) and flipped it for a switch-hitting premium position player in Lowrie. Anytime you can acquire value for a relief pitcher (a position that fluctuates more than any other from one year to the next), you should do it. The problem is, Lowrie is somewhat average at the plate (.252/.303/.382) and he has never really played one position consistently enough to have an accurate gauge of his defensive abilities (he’s never played more than 49 games at one position in a season). He also has struggled to stay healthy over the course of a full season. One the bright side, he was a man without a position in Boston, while Houston should at least provide him with the full-time shortstop position…Paredes is similar to Altuve – he showed promise in his debut with the Astros last year, but the jury is still out on what he can do. His UZR/150 of -8.3 looks like it might be a defensive liability, but I like to make my judgments based on sample-sizes larger than 46 games.

Outfield – LF Carlos Lee, CF Jordan Schafer, RF J.D. Martinez

Analysis – Remember when Carlos Lee was one of the more feared hitters in baseball? Those days are long gone now. Lee’s .171 ISO and .339 wOBA suggest that we shouldn’t be putting El Caballo out to pasture just yet, but he is no longer the type of cleanup hitter that you need to gameplan around…In about a half-season in the majors last year (in Atlanta and Houston), Schafer failed to impress with his bat, producing a .245/.314/.311 line. Defensively, his UZR/150 of -4.3 also suggests that he needs to work on his defense as well. Once again, this is a very small sample. The bigger concern with Schafer is his off-the-field issues. In October, Schafer was arrested for possession of marijuana. If he’s going to get a chance to fulfill his potential, he’s going to have to make better decisions away from the field first. Martinez is the real wild-card of this group…In 53 games last year, Martinez produced a line of .274/.319/.423. He played a majority of his time in left field and had an impressive UZR/150 of 27.9. He did strikeout on roughly 25 percent of his at-bats, but overall he had a favorable first impression. If the Astros are going to have a breakout player this year, it’s going to be Martinez.

Rotation – LHP Wandy Rodriguez, RHP Bud Norris, RHP Brett Myers, LHP J.A. Happ, RHP Jordan Lyles

Analysis – Rodriguez is easily the ace of this staff. In 2011, he produced yet another impressive season, considering how the team around him performed. His 7.82 K/9 was down slightly from his career norm, but I’m more concerned with the fact that his BB/9 (3.25 in 2011) continues to rise each year. Still, his xFIP (3.72) suggests that, despite the increase in walks issued, Rodriquez is performing above the league average level…Norris had an impressive 8.52 K/9 and lowered his BB/9 from 2010 to 2011, going from 4.51 to 3.39. Norris has a solid upper-90’s fastball that he commands pretty well and a changeup that he’s still learning to use (it’s pretty effective against lefties). His big “out” pitch is his slider; he throws it hard and gets good late movement, causing some batters to look foolish at the plate. Along with Martinez, Norris is the other Astro most likely to take the next step this season…Myers is the veteran of this staff; a groundball pitcher with average stuff. At this point in his career, you know what you’re going to get with Myers in the rotation. He can eat up some innings (200+ innings each of the last two years) and he’ll pitch to contact. He’s not going to carry the team and he’ll have some pretty rough outings. The young, questionable defense behind him won’t help things much…Happ was a big part of the Roy Oswalt heist from a few seasons ago. By all accounts, he had a pretty miserable 2011 season. I could throw some advanced stats out at you, but I think his 6-15 record and his 5.35 ERA are pretty accurate in describing his season last year. His BB/9 of 4.78 is brutal, and his xFIP (4.59) shows that he performed quite a bit below the league average last year…Lyles is a bit of an unknown. Opinions on Lyles have sifted over the years, with some calling him an innings-eater who will throw strikes and others saying he is a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. He has a fastball that sits in the low 90’s and he throws strikes with some consistency, though he does seem to be learning that throwing near the strikezone is also a valuable tool, as his K% has dropped in the last few years. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles his first full season in the big leagues. Of course, he has to make the rotation first.

Catcher – Jason Castro

Analysis – Castro tore his ACL in spring training last year, causing him to miss most of the 2011 season (he played in a handful of minor league games at the end of the year). But the former first-round pick in expected to be healthy and ready to take over the catching duties in 2012. Castro struggled in his debut with the big league team in 2010, producing a .205/.286/.287 line. Expect some growing pains this season, but the job is his to lose.

Bench/Bullpen Analysis – Juan Abreu looks to be in line for the closer role…Brandon Lyon provides a veteran presence to a young group out in the bullpen. Basically, if anyone impresses during the first half of the season out of the ‘pen, you can expect them to be wearing another uniform by season’s end…Humberto Quintero has your typical backup catcher qualities: serviceable behind the plate, not a ton of power, strikes out a lot…OF Jason Bourgeois provides speed and defense off the bench. I expect a lot of guys to get chances on the Astros bench; with a team this bad, you might as well give someone a shot and see how they respond.

Jeff Luhnow might be the best acquisition Houston made this offseason.

Overall Analysis – It’s going to be a long year for Astros fans. I just don’t see a lot of upside on this club, outside of a few of the young guys. If Wandy Rodriguez continues to put up decent numbers, I wouldn’t expect him to be in Houston after July. Frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t get moved last season. On the bright side, Houston is moving in the right direction as a franchise. With new owner Jim Crane and new GM (and former St. Louis Cardinals VP) Jeff Luhnow in charge, I think we won’t see any more trades that make us wonder what kind of blackmail Ruben Amaro has on the Houston front office personnel. It may take a while, but these guys will help turn this team around.

But that doesn’t change what’s in store for the 2012 Houston Astros. It’s going to be a long season. Triple-digit losses seem almost like a guarantee, though I don’t think they’ll surpass the level of ineptitude that the ’62 Mets reached.

It’s really a shame that the Houston Astros’ last year as a member of the National League is going to be this pitiful. But, as a Brewers fan, I’ll take it. Let Crane and Luhnow turn them around when they’re in the AL West.

Prediction: 49-113, 6th Place in the NL Central

Next Up: 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview

Your Questions, Answered: January 2012

By Nathan Petrashek

WordPress allows us to see what search terms are being used to locate articles on our blog.  Some searches have been downright hilarious, while others are serious questions we perhaps haven’t covered.  I thought it might be fun to answer a few questions each month that we run across that we might not have otherwise discussed.

In our first installment, I’m including search terms from January and December.  Read on for the answers to all your questions!

“Will Braun be suspended?”  This seems to be the $400,000 question of the Brewers’ offseason.  The short answer is that a suspension looks likely, as Brian Anderson noted today.  The silver lining, I suppose, is that if the “medical issue” rumors are true, Braun’s legacy will likely remain intact (i.e. the suspension would not have Hall of Fame implications).

“Ryan Braun doesn’t just want to be a baseball player; he wants to be good at everything.”  Not a question, but I agree.

“When will Prince Fielder make his decision on where he will play next year?”  We got this answer yesterday; Prince will have a new home by the start of spring training.  Yes, I said “new” home, as in not returning to the Brewers.  Though there was some speculation this week about a one-year deal for the slugger, the Francisco Rodriguez arbitration decision and the signing of Aramis Ramirez put the Brewers over budget.  No room for the big man.  Word is the Nationals are frontrunners in the Fielder sweepstakes, but the Rangers met with him yesterday.  That, I’m sure, led to another search term I stumbled across: “smiling Prince Fielder.”

“2011 NLDS results?”  I’m happy to report the Brewers took the series, 3-2, on a walk-off hit by Nyjer Morgan in Game 5.  Don’t ask me anything about the NLCS though.

“Was Roenicke wrong in his game six pitcher?”  I said don’t ask me anything about the NLCS.  You’re referring to Shaun Marcum, who was amazing in the regular season but fell apart in the final month and in the postseason.  As I laid out here, Roenicke did the right thing.

“Twitter bird with beer?”  No clue what you were looking for here.  But as long as we’re on the topic of Twitter, follow each Cream City Cables writer:  Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek), Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2), and Kevin Kimmes (@kevinkimmes).

“Are the Cubs going all the way this year?”  No.

“How many Ryan Braun bobbleheads were made for May 3rd, 2009?”  Ah, stadium giveaways, my favorite subject.  I think something like 44,000 bobbleheads are made for each all-fan giveaway.  Usually 5,000 of those are painted in a retro uniform.

“Who is Yuniesky Betancourt going to sign with in 2012?”  The Kansas City Royals were the unlucky winners of that rather uncompetitive race.

“Betancourt cream?”  Sorry, my friend.  I don’t know what you were searching for, but I can assure you I don’t know anything about any Betancourt cream.  Try the Miller Park Drunk.

That concludes our little adventure into the blog’s search box.  Keep those questions coming!