How Cole Hamels will decide Zack Greinke’s future

Detroit Free Press

By Nathan Petrashek

With the loss last night, the Brewers more or less became sellers at the trade deadline.  We should see Francisco Rodriguez, George Kottaras, Shaun Marcum (if healthy), and even Randy Wolf heading for other teams by July 31.

But the big question: Will Zack Greinke be among them?

Greinke has a 5-year, $100M+ (reports are that the offer falls somewhere around $110M) offer on the table from the Brewers.  That’s no doubt a lot of money to walk away from, but players on the cusp of free agency have frequently turned down such offers before.  Prince Fielder and C.C. Sabathia, for example, were both offered similar contracts and opted instead to test free agency, where they earned monster deals.  C.C. Sabathia went on to sign a record contract with the Yankees at 7 years and $161M.  The deal included an opt-out clause that went unexercised, adding another year and $30M to his deal.  Prince Fielder, of course, moved on to the Detroit Tigers this offseason, somehow working them for a 10-year, $214M contract.  In case you were wondering, that’s enough dough to buy 107 million Krispy Kreme Donuts.

There’s the rub.  As it stands right now, the market for Greinke is not going to be similar to that of Sabathia or Fielder.  Most had Greinke pegged as a 5-year, $85M+ guy heading into the season, at least until Matt Cain’s astonishing extension this April reshaped the pitching market.  Cain received the third-biggest contract for a pitcher at 6-years and $127M, although only 5 years and $112M of that was new money.  That certainly upped the ante for Greinke, though.  Most now expect him to sign something close to the Brewers’ offer.  Some writers think Greinke may be worth a Matt Cain deal, but there is a good chance that some GMs see him as worth less because of his performance history and anxiety issues.  I would tend to agree that there is more risk to signing Greinke than there would to signing Matt Cain, but, as Fielder showed, it only takes one owner that thinks differently.

“As it stands right now” is a pretty big caveat, though.  The wild card is Cole Hamels, who would almost certainly be more coveted than Greinke as a free agent.  The Phillies are pushing hard to resign the left-handed ace, and have reportedly offered a 6-year deal in the low $140M range.  While that really shouldn’t shock anyone (that’s probably close to what Hamels would pull down in free agency), it doesn’t bode well for the Brewers chances of signing Greinke to an extension.  If Hamels signs, Greinke becomes the top free agent pitcher, and that label might very well get him to 6 years and $130M.

The ball is really in Greinke’s court, though I doubt he’ll sign an extension.  It appears likely that Hamels will sign with the Phillies, meaning Greinke is in a good position to achieve a 6-year deal worth more than $125M on the free agent market, well in excess of what the Brewers are offering.  Perhaps the Brewers can get creative and include an opt-out and some vesting options, but even that may not be enough to entice the righty Cy Young winner.  And the Brewers still have to think about having enough money to remain competitive in one of baseball’s smallest markets.

Addressing Milwaukee’s Dependence on the Bandwagon Fan

By: Ryan Smith

The term “bandwagon fan” is one that carries a negative connotation. The bandwagon fan only starts to support a team when that team is having some level of success. If the team is a historically bad team or is a team that is experiencing tough times, the bandwagon fan is nowhere to be found. To be labeled a bandwagon fan is often meant as an insult. The “true fans” have a sort of animosity towards the bandwagon fans because, well, they’re bandwagon fans.

I grew up a fan of two teams: the Milwaukee Brewers and the Boston Red Sox. I was a fan of the Brewers because I grew up in Wisconsin and was lucky enough to attend a game or two every year at County Stadium. I was a Red Sox fan because I actually got to see them play of television occasionally. I also wanted to be a pitcher when I was young, and Roger Clemens became my favorite pitcher for quite some time. When he bolted to Toronto, I stayed with Boston. To this day, I cheer for Milwaukee and Boston. It’s what I’ve always done, and while I may be more of a die-hard for Milwaukee as I attend more and more games each year, I assume I’ll always root for both teams.

Boston and Milwaukee. I’m not sure if there could be two more opposite markets outside of New York than those two. Red Sox Nation spreads far across the globe, with many lifers and bandwagon fans sporting Boston gear on a daily basis. Even when Boston struggles from time to time, they still sell out every game and do very well when it comes to merchandise sales. Frankly, Boston is such a large market naturally that the bandwagon fan does not make much of an impact to the day-to-day and season-to-season operations of the Red Sox front office.

I’m pointing all of this out because the Milwaukee Brewers are getting very close to the point where the bandwagon fans are going to disappear. And I have one message for Brewer Nation:

The Brewers need the bandwagon fans.

Without bandwagon fans, Miller Park might start looking like it did back in 2003.

It’s no secret that Milwaukee is the smallest of the small-market teams in Major League Baseball. From 2002-2006, the Brewers ranked no higher than 17th in total attendance in any of those seasons. In 2007, when Milwaukee finished above .500 for the first time since the ’92 season, Milwaukee’s attendance jumped to 12th in all of baseball. After that, the Crew finished 9th (2008), 9th (2009), 11th (2010), and 7th (2011). In 2012, the Brewers are currently sitting in 11th place once again.

It should be no surprise that as the Brewers started to find more success on the field, they also found more success at the ticket office. That’s how this whole system works. If the team is winning, the bandwagon fans will find their way to the ballpark. And when the team starts to struggle, the bandwagon fans will scatter.

Without the bandwagon fans, the front office might not spend the way they have in recent years.

But as those attendance numbers so clearly point out, those bandwagon fans are immensely important when it comes to stimulating the Milwaukee Brewers economy. And when the Brewers are selling more tickets, more jerseys, more concessions, more everything, the front office is going to be more inclined to spend some of that money they are making. When those attendance numbers drop, so will the payroll of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Here’s my point: the self-proclaimed “true fans” of the Milwaukee Brewers should not be so quick to vilify the bandwagoners when they jump ship because, unlike Boston, we need them.

The cold, hard truth is that the next few years could be very lean ones in Miller Park. Zack Greinke could (and should) be traded in the next few weeks. Shaun Marcum’s recent trip to the DL should be seen as a blessing to Doug Melvin, because Marcum was quickly pitching himself out of Milwaukee’s comfort zone as far as his next contract is concerned. Rickie Weeks hasn’t been Rickie Weeks ever since he legged out an infield single last July against the Cubs, spraining his ankle in the process. The farm system has some decent pieces, but there’s not a lot that’s ready to be harvested for a while yet. Outside of Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, and The Jonathon Lucroy, Milwaukee doesn’t have a lot of long-term promise on the current roster.

And if the bandwagon fans don’t find their way to Miller Park every now and then, things might not get much better any time soon.

So, to the bandwagon fans out there, I would just like to remind you about the fun times we’ve had these last few years. Remember the Sabathia craze? Prince’s monster shots? Braun’s MVP? T-Plush and Beast Mode? The NLCS? The tailgating? Even though times are rough right now, that can’t erase all of those memories, can it?

And to the “true fans” out there, I just want to remind you to invite those bandwagon fans out when you go to catch the game at a local sports bar. And when you are planning a weekend trip to Miller Park, remember to include those same bandwagon fans in your evite or your Facebook event. Above all else, do whatever you can to keep those bandwagon fans from straying too far.

Bandwagon fans, don’t be strangers to Miller Park. On behalf of Brew Crew Nation, this die-hard member wants to let you know that you are always welcome here.

2012 NL Central Division Preview: St Louis Cardinals

By: Ryan Smith

2012 is going to look very different for Cardinals fans without Pujols and LaRussa.

On the night of August 24th, 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals were barely breathing.

They had just been swept by the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers, dropping to 67-63 while the first-place Milwaukee Brewers were sitting at 78-54 after a scorching month.

Then something clicked.

Suddenly, the Cardinals became the hot team, clawing and scratching their way back into contention, eventually stealing the Wild Card from Atlanta on the final day of the regular season.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Cardinals, led by Chris Carpenter’s brilliance, ousted the heavy National League favorite Philadelphia Phillies. Then they took down the NL Central champion Brewers in six games, and finally made a miraculous comeback against the Rangers to become World Series Champions.

Believe it or not, 2012 might present even more daunting odds than the ones the Cardinals faced in late August of last year.

Milwaukee fans have all become familiar with the idea of replacing a franchise player in 2012, with Prince Fielder heading off to Detroit last month. But Prince Fielder isn’t Albert Pujols.

Somehow, the Cardinals must find a way to replace what many experts and fans consider to be the best right-handed hitter in the history of baseball.

And on top of that, they also have to replace Tony LaRussa. Like him or not (and, like most Brewer fans, I do not like him), LaRussa knew how to win games. Not many managers get to retire at the top of their game. LaRussa did, and now St. Louis must adjust to life without Pujols and LaRussa.

Now, before you write them off, you should know that the Cardinals did go out and sign Carlos Beltran, who is coming off a pretty nice 2011. They also will be getting ace Adam Wainwright back from Tommy John surgery. And Matt Holliday is still hitting in the heart of the order. So while they will most certainly look different than the St. Louis Cardinals of the last decade or so, they aren’t ready to just roll over and die. Last August should have taught us that.

Well, let’s get down to the 2012 preview for St. Louis.

(All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com)

2012 Projected Opening Day Lineup

Infield – 1B Lance Berkman, 2B Daniel Descalso, SS Rafael Furcal, 3B David Freese

Analysis – Other than maybe his mother, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the season that Berkman produced last season. Coming off of a disappointing 2010 and being asked to play full-time in the outfield, failure seemed like a safe bet for Fat Elvis. Instead, he posted a .301/.412/.547 line and a 5.0 WAR while helping St. Louis survive an early-season “slump” for Pujols. This year, Berkman returns to first base, where he is a much better fit than he was in the outfield. Still, I don’t see the 36-year-old replicating last season’s numbers, mainly because I think every hitter for the Cardinals is going to realize how much Pujols affected an opponent’s game plan every single night…Descalso probably has the lowest expectations of any player in this starting lineup. Even after playing in 148 games last year, he still remains a relative unknown when compared to the guys around him. Perhaps his biggest challenge will be adjusting to playing second base after logging most of his 2011 innings at the hot corner…Furcal came over in a mid-season trade last year, and I think most Cardinals fans would happily make that trade again. The problem with Furcal is that, when he actually can stay healthy, he just can’t play up to the expectations that the casual fan places on him. For every 2006 (.300/.369/.445) he produces, he also comes up with a 2011 (.231/.298/.348). On top of that, Furcal has only played more than 100 games in a season at the major league level twice since 2006, so he’s just not reliable enough to pencil in the lineup every night. It’s not so much “if” he gets hurts, but “when”…Freese started to gain a little notoriety during the regular season last year, producing a 2.7 WAR in just 97 games, as well as a respectable 3.9 UZR/150 while manning third base. However, any chance he had of quietly becoming a big-time player went out the window when he decided to play hero in that little thing called the World Series. And, for the record, I don’t think his postseason was a fluke; I think Freese is going to be a player who relishes the opportunity to play a bigger role on this team.

Outfield – LF Matt Holliday, CF Jon Jay, RF Carlos Beltran

If '12 Beltran is anything like '11 Beltran, St. Louis fans will be thrilled with their new outfield addition.

Analysis –
With Pujols wearing an Angels uniform for the next decade, it’s up to Holliday to lead the St. Louis offense. Last season, Holliday had yet another impressive season at the plate, accounting for a 5.0 WAR with a line of .296/.388/.525. While there may be some people who would suggest that Holliday will miss the protection that Pujols provided in the lineup, I don’t think that’ll be an issue. A good baseball player is a good baseball player, no matter who hits before or after him. Holliday hasn’t produced a SLG% below .500 since 2004. Frankly, the guy just knows how to produce at the plate, and that’s not going to change in ’12…In his first full season in the majors, Jay proved to be a pretty decent option for the Cardinals in the outfield (so much so that they traded away top prospect Colby Rasmus last summer). His 3.2 UZR/150 and 2.8 WAR from last season should make St. Louis fans feel comfortable with him in center, though he could find himself splitting time with Beltran when Allen Craig gets back into the lineup…Beltran was the big free agent acquisition that St. Louis made this offseason, and he’s coming off of a very successful 2011 in which he put up a .300/.385/.525 line. Normally, adding a player of Beltran’s caliber would make fans ecstatic, but I feel this signing went under the radar within the division because all of the attention has been focused on the departures of Pujols and Fielder and the arrival of Theo Epstein in Chicago. Still, a lineup with Beltran and Holliday in the middle will certainly give St. Louis an offense that makes the opposing pitcher work to get through six innings.

Rotation – RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP Adam Wainwright, LHP Jaime Garcia, RHP Kyle Lohse, RHP Jake Westbrook

Everyone's wondering how long it's going to take Adam Wainwright to find his pre-2011 form.

Analysis –
If there were any questions about Carpenter’s ability on the mound after his 11-9 regular season last year, his dominating postseason performance answered them. Carpenter produced a 3.31 xFIP and a 5.0 WAR while logging 237.1 innings pitched. He was really a victim of bad luck when you look at his win-loss record. When you look closer, you see that he produced one of his best seasons in recent memory, striking out more batters per nine innings (7.24) while walking fewer batters (2.09) and giving up fewer long balls (0.61) than he did the previous season…Wainwright is the wild card this season. And frankly, he’s also the reason that I’m skeptical on how well the Cardinals will perform in 2012. Before 2011, Wainwright had established himself as the true ace in St. Louis. But the season after Tommy John surgery? Now, I think Wainwright could be very dangerous in 2013, and he’ll certainly have his moments in 2012. But he’ll also have times where he struggles with his control and command. I also think the Cardinals will closely monitor his innings, so I just can’t get behind the idea that the Cardinals basically signed a Cy Young-caliber pitcher by getting a healthy Wainwright back. He’s going to have to work to get back to his former self…When I look at Jaime Garcia’s numbers from last year, the one that worries me the most as a Brewers fan is his BB/9 of 2.31, which was way down from the 3.53 he posted in 2010. Ever since he broke on to the scene two seasons ago, Garcia has shown signs that he could be a very dangerous starter every fifth game. If he continues to show the control he displayed in 2011, NL Central foes could have their hands full. And if he takes yet another step forward in ’12, Wainwright won’t need to regain his 2010 form right away…Sorry, Cardinals fans, but I don’t feel like talking about Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse all that much. To me, they are basically guys that you plug in the last two spots of this rotation because you don’t have anything better. Not until you sign Roy Oswalt’s corpse in July, that is.

Catchers – Yadier Molina

Analysis – Let me just get this off my chest: I strongly dislike Yadier Molina. Technically, I strongly dislike all St. Louis players, except for Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook, because they suck. All of that being said, Molina is a pretty good catcher. He swings a good bat (.305/.349/.465) and is also a pretty good defensive catcher, though he threw out a career-low 29% of the steal attempts against him. The Cardinals know that he’s one of the best in the game at his position too, considering they just signed him to a 5-year, $75 million contract in February. Do I think he’s worth $15 million per year? No. Do I blame them for overpaying for Molina? No. He’s damn good, quite popular in St. Louis, and he’s only 28. I just hope T-Plush gets under his skin this year. I hear he has some anger issues.

RHP Shelby Miller could prove to be a valuable mid-season addition to the St. Louis rotation.

Bench/Bullpen Analysis – Jason Motte will start the season as the closer in St. Louis, and while I predict that he’ll have a rough patch or two, I don’t see the Cardinals having to deal with the closer issues they faced in recent years…Lance Lynn, Mark Rzepczynski, and Kyle McClellan all provide solid options out of the St. Louis bullpen, and McClellan proved last year that he can also provide spot starts if needed…I already mentioned Allen Craig as someone who will see some regular time once he’s healthy…Skip Schumaker and Tyler Greene will both get plenty of time in the lineup if Descalso struggles and Furcal makes his annual trip to the DL.

Overall Analysis – Much like Cincinnati, St. Louis is a team that seems to draw a variety of predictions for the upcoming year. I’ve read previews that have them winning the division and I’ve also seen them picked to finish third. Let’s be honest – the NL Central is a three-team race this year.

When I look at those three teams at the top, I just don’t see St. Louis matching up to Milwaukee’s rotation or Cincinnati’s bats and bullpen. At least not in their current form. They could make moves during the season to shore up some areas of weakness, either by signing free agents (Oswalt) or by promoting from within (stub prospect RHP Shelby Miller). Still, they strike me as a third-place team in the NL Central for 2012.

Then again, everyone pretty much counted them out last August too. Look how that turned out.

Prediction: 85-77, 3rd Place in the NL Central

(By the way, I know it may seem weird to save my third-place prediction for the last of my non-Brewers preview columns. But when you win the ‘ship, you get the curtain call.)

2012 NL Central Division Preview: Cincinnati Reds

By: Ryan Smith

Every team in the NL Central experienced various changes after the 2011 season. The Cardinals said goodbye to Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa. The Cubs welcomed Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to their front office. Our beloved Brewers saw Prince Fielder head to Detroit. But the team that experienced the most positive change during this offseason would have to be the Cincinnati Reds.

Think about it. The Reds were coming off of a division title in 2010, and expectations were high for 2011. But a few players coming back to earth, coupled with various injuries and questionable moves by Manager Dusty Baker, led to a rather disappointing 79-83 record and a third-place finish in the division.

When you think about it, the Reds went into this offseason with a similar sense of urgency that the Brewers felt last season. The prize of the Reds’ lineup, first baseman Joey Votto, is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season, meaning the proverbial “window” wasn’t going to stay open much longer. They had to go for it.

After a disappointing 2011, GM Walt Jocketty had a busy offseason.

And go for it they did. GM Walt Jocketty recognized that the rotation was a major area of weakness, so he took a big leap, sacrificing top prospects Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal as well as pitcher Edison Volquez in order to obtain San Diego right-hander Mat Latos.

Jocketty wasn’t done. Needing to replace closer Francisco Cordero, the Reds GM played the waiting game and was able to acquire free agent closer Ryan Madson, one of the top relievers on the open market. Jocketty, however, was able to avoid shelling out the big, long-term contract that the Phillies ended up giving to Jonathon Papelbon, and instead signed Madson to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2013. Throw in the acquisition of Sean Marshall from the Cubs, and the Reds had now greatly improved their rotation and bullpen.

Well, now the offseason is pretty much over. And while the Reds have been hailed as winners of the last few months from numerous outlets, it’s time to see the results from all these moves. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the 2012 Cincinnati Reds.

(All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com)

2012 Projected Opening Day Lineup

Infield – 1B Joey Votto, 2B Brandon Phillips, SS Zack Cozart, 3B Scott Rolen

Analysis – There’s not much that needs to be said about Votto’s importance to the Reds’ hopes in 2012. It doesn’t matter which stats you look at. The traditional stats show that he’s a superb player (career .313/.405/.550), and the advanced stats (6.9 WAR and 6.8 UZR/150 in 2011) suggest that he’s as important to his team as any player in baseball. Votto’s simply one of the top players in baseball right now, and I don’t think he’s going to veer away from his career numbers too much in ’12…Phillips is another player on Cincinnati’s roster that can claim to be one of the top players in baseball at his position. He had a pretty impressive 2011 season, accumulating a 6.0 WAR and a very impressive 12.5 UZR/150. He also produced a .300/.353/.457 line, which suggests that 2011 was his best season at the plate since he came into the league in ’02. However, Phillips will be turning 31 in June, so it could be expected that he may start to lose a step in the field, but I wouldn’t expect much of a drop-off this year…Cozart is easily the wild card of the Cincinnati infield. He got his first taste of life in the majors last year, appearing in 11 games. Before being called up, Cozart was enjoying his best season in the minors, posting a .310/.357/.467 line while in AAA. While it should be assumed that he might have some struggles in his first real go-around with the big league club, he should add to an already talented infield defense. While coming up through the minors, the big question with Cozart was always his bat. He displays solid range and a good arm while making few mistakes at a premium defensive position. He is coming off of Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, so there should be some concern there, but I think Latos and the other Cincinnati pitchers will grow to love Cozart soon enough…Rolen is on the tail-end of a pretty successful career, but he’s going to need to have a little more luck than he did in 2011 if he wants to play a major role on this team. Rolen just couldn’t seem to shake a shoulder injury last season, appearing in only 65 games and posting a disappointing .242/.279/.397 line. If he can stay healthy – which is a big “if” considering he’ll be 37 for most of the ’12 season – he should be able to make up for his decreasing abilities at the plate with his glove, which has always been a strength.

Outfield – LF Ryan Ludwick, CF Drew Stubbs, RF Jay Bruce

Analysis –With all of my talk about shrewd moves made by GM Walt Jocketty, I forgot to mention the one-year contract that he doled out in January to the 33-year-old Ludwick. After sending Yonder Alonso to San Diego, the Reds really didn’t have a solid plan for left field this season. Ludwick brings a veteran presence to Cincinnati’s outfield, and while I don’t expect him to blow anyone away with his bat or his glove, he should prove to be relatively consistent. If you don’t hear much about Ludwick during the season, then he’s doing exactly what they need him to do. If he does have issues, then Chris Heisey is waiting on the bench for his turn…Stubbs provides the Reds with a quality baserunner that knows when to take off (40 steals in ’11). In 2011 – his second season as a regular in the Reds’ outfield – Stubbs produced a 2.6 WAR, but Cincinnati will be hoping that year number three sees Stubbs improve on his .243/.321/.364 line from ’11. If he can find a way to get on base at a higher clip, he’ll find himself firmly entrenched at the top of the order, setting the tale for the likes of Votto and Bruce…Speaking of Bruce, many experts predicted that 2011 would be his real breakout year, a nice follow-up to his eye-opening 2010. Bruce, however, saw his numbers drop a bit from the previous campaign, going from a .281/.353/.493 line and a 5.4 WAR in ’10 to a line of .256/.341/.474 with a 3.3 WAR in ’11. Part of this drop in production could be explained by some bad luck, seeing as how his BABIP dropped from a whopping .334 to a more pedestrian .297. If Bruce can bring that number back up a bit, he should be in line for a monster season. Of course, he could simply follow up 2011 with a similar year where he displays his reputation as a streaky hitter and fails to live up to the lofty expectations that have been laid out for him.

Rotation – RHP Mat Latos, RHP Johnny Cueto, RHP Mike Leake, RHP Bronson Arroyo, RHP Homer Bailey

Latos provides a huge upgrade to the Cincinnati rotation.

Analysis –Latos is one of the primary reasons why many experts have praised the Reds’ offseason. By adding Latos, the Reds instantly added an ace-in-the-making to their rotation, and you all know how important I think an ace is to any pitching staff. Skeptics of the trade initially said that the Reds gave up too much for a pitcher who called Petco Park home, but when you look at his home/road splits, you’ll see his xFIP of 3.34 at home wasn’t much better than his road xFIP of 3.68. Latos is the real deal, and Cincinnati will have control of him until 2015, which could be bad news for NL Central foes…Cueto watched his K/9 rate drop in ’11 to a career-low 6.00, but he also maintained his 2.71 BB/9 while posting a 3.90 xFIP. Perhaps the biggest obstacle between Cueto’s rise to superstardom is his limited ability to handle a larger workload. In four full seasons as a big-league starter, Cueto’s never topped 186 innings pitched, and last year he only logged 156.0 innings. He’s going to need to handle more innings if he wants to push Latos for the top spot in the rotation…Latos experienced his breakout year during the same season that we met Leake, which means Cincinnati might have a pretty impressive duo in their rotation for the next few years if Leake can continue to improve on his 2011 season. Last year, he had a higher K/9 rate (6.33) and a lower BB/9 rate(2.04) than he did in 2010, all while logging almost 30 more innings pitched…Arroyo provides some much-needed veteran leadership to this otherwise young rotation, as he’s be pitching in the major for 12 seasons. Arroyo is an innings-eater, but if he doesn’t improve on his 2011 numbers (5.07 ERA, 4.54 WAR), Reds fans might not want him on the mound that much. Still, it’s nice to have a guy who can give you right around 200 innings every year…Bailey has become an enigma. It seems as though this is the third year in a row in which a handful of experts select Bailey as one of their “sleepers” for the season. I’ll admit, I was surprised when I looked at Bailey’s ’11 numbers (3.77 xFIP, career-low 2.25 BB/9) because I just don’t see what those experts do. Still, as far as back-end starters, Bailey is a pretty viable option for a contending club.

Catchers – Devin Mesoraco

Analysis –I could have gone with Ryan Hanigan in this spot, but my gut tells me that the Reds are going to give Mesoraco every chance to win the spot. Mesoraco struggled in his limited stint in Cincinnati last year, but he was absolutely crushing the ball in AAA before that (.289/.371/.484). If Mesoraco struggles behind the plate, the Reds know they have one of the better backups in the majors. If he is able to handle the revamped pitching staff, Mesoraco could be a real gem in the lineup. I could see him producing at a “Geovany Soto in 2008” level if given the opportunity.

Bench/Bullpen Analysis – Madson is definitely a step up from Cordero in the closer’s role…Sean Marshall gives the Reds a solid lefty out of the bullpen who can go situational or strictly as the setup man…Aroldis Chapman is a dangerous weapon out of the ‘pen, but he could also be a guy the Reds look to if they need to strengthen the rotation, though that’d be a difficult change to make mid-season…Jeff Francis could also be the guy who bolsters the rotation if Arroyo or Bailey need to relieved of their duties…I already discussed Hanigan’s abilities as a more-than-competent backup catcher…Miguel Olivo and Juan Francisco could be called into action if Rolen struggles during the season.

Overall Analysis – Predictions about the 2012 Reds seem to be all over the place. Some say that Latos and a few relievers aren’t enough to rescue a team that overachieved in 2010. Others think that Latos is exactly what the Reds needed; an arm at the top of the rotation.

I tend to side with the latter argument. While I think the Reds still have a few holes in their lineup, the fact of the matter is they got better for 2012 while the Brewers and the Cardinals watched franchise players walk away, and the Cubs and Astros hired new front office personnel that should help them in a few years. The Reds should find themselves back in the postseason on 2012.

Unless their manager screws the pooch. And with Dusty Baker, that’s quite possible.

Prediction: 92-70, 1st Place in the NL Central

(A Quick Note: I’ve done this preview under the assumption that Braun will have to sit out the first 50 games. If he somehow avoids this punishment, then I may have to revisit my predictions.)

Next Up: 2012 St. Louis Cardinals Preview

Just how bad was the Brewers’ offseason?

by Nathan Petrashek

Doug Melvin has taken a lot of heat for some terrible past signings.  Jeff Suppan, David Riske, Braden Looper, Eric Gagne, Bill Hall; you could write a book on his bad transactions.  But you have to give the guy credit where it’s due, too.  C.C. Sabathia, Francisco Rodriguez, Nyjer Morgan, and the Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo extensions are among his greatest hits.

You might have picked up a theme for this post based on that first paragraph.  It’s judging fairly.

Over at the Sporting News, former Journal-Sentinel writer Anthony Witrado grades each MLB team’s offseason.  I honestly expected a B- for the Brewers.  Prince slipped away, but that was inevitable.  In his place, Melvin acquired one of the best free-agent sluggers, Aramis Ramirez.  Sure, his defense will drive us mad next year, but having his bat firmly cemented in the cleanup spot is worth the risk.  The addition of Alex Gonzalez at short should make Ramirez all the more palatable at third, and Melvin obtained some much-needed bullpen help in exchange for the embattled Casey McGehee.  Offering K-Rod arbitration was the right move, and his decision to accept a reduced rate contract ($8MM) means the Brewers eighth and ninth innings will once again be cost-effective.  In short, I think Melvin did what he had to do to preserve the Brewers’ chances of winning a pennant in 2012.

I skimmed, first through the As.  Then Bs.  No sign of the Brewers.  Down past the Cs.  Nothing.  Nothing until I hit number 25: The Milwaukee Brewers.  D-.

Let that sink in for a minute.  Of all the clubs, the Brewers ranked sixth from the bottom.  Witrado gave the Red Sox a B+, and they didn’t do much of anything besides fire a successful manager and trade all of their shortstops.  The Cardinals got a C, and they lost their best hitter.  And the San Francisco Giants, whose offense only got worse thanks to the loss of Carlos Beltran to the Cardinals, even managed to generate a C-.  How in the world to the Brewers garner a full letter grade below that?

Witrado notes the Brewers lost Fielder.  Fair enough.  He also notes the Ramirez, Gonzalez, and Norichika Aoki signings, which you have to believe goes a long way toward restoring the value lost with Fielder.  So if you’ve made up for the loss of an elite first baseman by improving your club in other areas, you’d think that’s a win, right?  But Witrado’s focus is on something completely out of the club’s control: Ryan Braun’s potential 50-game suspension.  And though he recognizes that this is no fault of the organization, Witrado still calls the offseason a total loss.

It’s not, though.  Even if Braun sits out the first 50 games, Melvin’s moves have made it possible for the team to tread water until his return.  And once he does come back, the team could certainly do worse than a 1-2 punch of Braun and Ramirez.  Gonzalez at short should improve the starting rotation’s collective fate, and once you get to the late innings, it’s once again lockdown mode thanks to the K-Rod deal.  This was not a D- offseason, even considering Braun’s looming suspension.  And if you remove his positive drug test from the equation – something that the front office has no control over – the organization deserves no worse than a B.

My Cardboard Habit: Looking at What’s Brewing in Topps 2012 Series I Baseball

by Kevin Kimmes

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always viewed the launch of the Topps Baseball set as one of the earliest signs of spring. Prior to spring training, or even the groundhog seeing (or not seeing) his shadow, the set marks the first sign of hope that another season is on its way despite it’s release in the middle of winter’s icy cold grip.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve made collecting the entire 660 card set a yearly tradition. This year, I thought I would use the blog to share my love for these cardboard keepsakes and to specifically focus on what Brewers fans can expect to find in the first half (Series I is composed of cards 1-330) of this years set .

We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1!

For the second consecutive year, Brewers slugger and 2011 NL MVP, Ryan Braun finds himself on the first card of the set. While this honor is a great one (former Brewers 1st baseman Prince Fielder had graced this spot in 2010 with a photo of his infamous September 2009 walkoff celebration), this year is “doubly” special for Braun.

Why you ask? Well, this year Topps decided to change up their “chase” variants (short printed versions of some cards with alternate photos and lower print runs) which for the last several years had been reserved for the retired greats of seasons past. This year, the focus is on celebrations and off field hijinks, leading to Braun’s card having 2 separate versions. Shown above, is the standard version of Braun’s card depicting him doing what he does best, knocking the crap out of the ball. His alternate card (pictured to the left), features Braun doing his signature “boxing” home run celebration with Fielder.

For those looking for the short print, your best chance is to check with your local hobby shop or eBay as the estimated average of finding a short printed card (of which there are 22) is only 2 per hobby case.

So, Who Else Made The Cut?

Below is a list of the other players who can be found in the main set donning a Brewers uniform. For convenience sake, I’ve broken this down into 2 groups: those currently with the team and those no longer with the team.

Currently With The Team:

# 29 Active NL Wins Leaders (Wolf)
# 66 Nyjer Morgan
#143 George Kottaras
#146 Carlos Gomez
#181 2011 NL Batting Average Leaders (Braun)
#210 Zack Greinke
#262 Shaun Marcum
#272 2011 NLDS Brewers Game 5 (Morgan)
#294 John Axford

No Longer With The Team:

# 57 Yuniesky Betancourt
# 77 2011 NL Home Run Leaders (Fielder)
#136 Casey McGehee
#224 2011 NL Runs Batted In Leaders (Fielder)
#327 Mark Kotsay

Of all of the cards listed above, the two that I love the most are the Nyjer Morgan cards. First, his standard card (#66) is the same photo of him, Braun, and Fielder that graced the cover of the August 29, 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated (shown on the left). Due to the national exposure that this photo got, this has become one of those instant classics and was a real surprise to me when I pulled it out of a pack.

The other card to feature Morgan is the 2011 NLDS Brewers Game 5 card (#272). Here we find Morgan in full “Beast Mode” as he celebrates his walk off single that sent the Crew to the NLCS for the first time in franchise history. I love this photo choice so much simply due to the fact that it just sums up the energy and the enthusiasm of the 2011 campaign so perfectly. It’s Brewers baseball, in the post season, and “T-Plush” is supplying the charge. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Digging for Gold: The Inserts

Topps decided to go with a gold motif for this years inserts. This means everything from gold ring toppers, pins, coins and just plain old gold foil can be found in abundance in these subsets. Let’s look at which Brewers, and Brewers alum can be found here.

**Note – I have not included former Brewers below if the card they appear on shows them in another team’s uniform (sorry Minnesota Twins Paul Molitor), with the exception of cards featuring players on the Milwaukee Braves.**

Golden Moments

Golden moments is a 50 card set composed of cards celebrating historic moments in MLB history which were accomplished by not only those that have come before, but from today’s stars as well. Here we find two cards of interest: GM-10 which celebrates Prince Fielders “Wake Up, Walk Off” from this past season, as well as GM-15 which celebrates Ryan Braun’s passing of Robin Yount for the longest consecutive game on base streak in franchise history. An autographed version, relic version, an auto/relic variant, as well as a “24k gold infused” version numbered out of 5 pieces are also available for the Braun card.

Additionally, the following players each have relic cards in this subset:

GMR-CH Corey Hart
GMR-CM Casey McGehee
GMR-JA John Axford
GMR-JLU Jonathan Lucroy
GMR-PF Prince Fielder
GMR-PM Paul Molitor
GMR-SM Shaun Marcum
GMR-YG Yovani Gallardo

Golden Greats

This 75 card set celebrates the career highlights of 15 legends of the game (5 cards each). Brewers fans, or more specifically Milwaukee baseball fans, may be interested in checking out cards GG51-55 which feature none other than “Hammerin” Hank Aaron as a Milwaukee Brave. As with the Braun card found in Golden Moments, the Hank Aaron cards found in this set also have autographed (numbered out of 10), relic (numbered out of 10), and auto/relic parallels (numbered out of just 5). Additionally, there is a Gold Coin variation which has a production number based on the player’s jersey number (in this case 44) and contains an actual gold coin with the players likeness on it.

Timeless Talents

These 25 dual-player cards statistically compare a hero of yesteryear to a modern day player. As with the main set, this subset again finds Ryan Braun in the lead-off spot teamed up with none other than “The Ignitor”, Paul Molitor. A dual autographed parallel of this card also exists.

1987 Topps Minis

Topps classic wood grain design from their 1987 set gets the mini treatment in celebration of the sets 25th anniversary. Braun (TM-1) again leads off this 50 card subset and is joined by Brewers ace Zack Greinke (TM-35).

In The Name Relics

You want something no one else has? How about the actual letters off of this past years All-Star warmup jerseys? That is what Topps is offering in this subset where each piece is numbered 1/1. Fielder (shown at left), Weeks, and Braun all appear here meaning that Brewers Nation will need to figure out how to sort out the 17 total pieces available between these three players.

Topps Silk Collection

100 of the base sets cards were  also printed as mini version on gold silk and numbered out of only 50 pieces each. Included in this subset are Ryan Braun (SC-1), Zack Greinke (SC-47), Shaun Marcum (SC-62), and John Axford (SC-81).

Base Set Paralells

Each of the 330 card in the base set features two different parallels: Platinum and Wood. The platinum cards are numbered out of 61 pieces in honor of this being Topps 61st set. These are identical to the base cards with the exception that they sport a platinum colored border. Like the platinum parallels, the wood parallels are also identical to their base cards except that these cards are a tribute to the 1962 set and are all numbered 1/1.

So there you have it, a thorough look at the Brewers cards in this years set so far. I’ll be back with a look at Series II after it is released in June. In the mean time, if you have any questions regarding this set, or card collecting in general feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @kevinkimmes. Happy collecting!

Down on the Farm…

By: Ryan Smith

Prince Fielder. Ryan Braun. Rickie Weeks. Yovani Gallardo.

These four guys all played major roles in turning the Brewers from a cellar-dweller to a playoff contender over the last few seasons.

These four are also prime examples of the importance of a strong farm system. Thanks to good drafts and impressive player development, the Brewers were able to outgrow the role of laughingstock and now have two playoff appearances in the last four years.

GM Doug Melvin gambled last year by gutting the farm system, but his gamble paid off in the form of a National League Central Division Title.

Of course, the strength of a farm system can help elevate a team to new heights in other ways. For example, going into last season, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Prince Fielder would be calling some other city “home” in 2012. With that in mind, and with some desirable prospects within our organization, GM Doug Melvin decided to gut the farm system in order to add the pitching that we would need to make one last push with the big slugger manning first base.

Out went Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jeremy Jeffress.

In came Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.

The rest is history. Melvin’s gamble worked, as the Brewers were able to claim their first-ever National League Central Division Championship, as well as making it to the NLCS.

Those deals, while immensely successful on the field, left the Brewers with the worst farm system in the majors according to Keith Law, ESPN’s lead baseball analyst for Scout’s Inc.

Fast-forward one year and the recovery process has begun. This past week, Law released his Organizational Rankings as well as his Top 100, ranking the best prospects in all of baseball. In 2011, on top of being ranked as the worst system, the Brewers became the first organization to not have a player make it in the top 100.

This season, the Brewers check in at #23 on the Org Rankings. They also have two guys who crack the prestigious Top 100. Today, I’m going to introduce you to those two players: Wily Peralta and Taylor Jungmann.

Wily Peralta, RHP, 6’2”, 240 lbs – Ranked #39 on Law’s Top 100

After acquiring Greinke and Marcum, Peralta quickly rose to the top of the Brewers’ system. Up until 2011, there was some patience within the organization with Peralta, considering he lost all of his 2007 season to Tommy John surgery. Since then, he had steadily improved his numbers every year until 2010, when his K/9 dropped to 6.17 and his BB/9 rose to 5.10.

Even with those less than impressive numbers, people within the Brewers organization continued to have faith in the young pitcher. He seemed to have the work ethic, build, and stuff to become a strikeout pitcher.

Peralta started to really put it all together in 2011, raising his K/9 to over 9.00 and lowering his BB/9 to the mid-3.00’s.

In all honesty, Peralta could quite possibly challenge for the fifth spot in the Brewers’ rotation, though he’ll probably start the year in AAA Nashville.

Peralta is definitely a guy to keep an eye on this year. Without Prince Fielder’s bat in the lineup and with the possibility of the first 50 games with Braun, Milwaukee is going to have to change its reputation as a bat-first team. Milwaukee is going to have to rely on its pitchers now more than ever, and that means that Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada will both be on relatively short leashes, especially since both pitchers have experience coming out of the bullpen.

If either of those guys stumbles out of the blocks, Peralta could get called up to the show. Law views Peralta as a No. 2 or No. 3 in a good rotation (which I think we have with Gallardo, Greinke, and Marcum), but his fastball, which sits consistently in the mid-90’s, will allow him to have a positive impact right away. Peralta also has an above-average slider that sits in the low-80’s and drives hard to the plate. His changeup has a little sink, but he maintains the same arm action as with his fastball, which allows the pitch to work when he’s able to locate it.

Perhaps the biggest reason that Peralta could help the Brewers this year is not just his stuff, but his understanding of the game. While his secondary pitches lack the command that one would like to see, he recognizes the importance of using them to set up his fastball. Also, while he has the ability to rack up strikeouts, he doesn’t feel the need to rely solely on the strikeout. He’s shown the know-how in the past to lure the batter into making weak contact, thus saving his arm and allowing him to pitch deeper into games, a skill that Gallardo still struggles with at times.

Overall, I expect Peralta to have another dominant season in AAA. Don’t be surprised if his numbers drop a little from last year; his understanding of the game leads me to believe he might spend part of this season trying to improve his secondary pitches. Whether it’s in September when rosters expand or earlier than that if Narveson and Estrada struggle, Peralta will get a chance to take the mound at Miller Park some time this season. With Randy Wolf, Zack Greinke, and Shaun Marcum all becoming free agents after this season, there’s bound to be a spot in the rotation opening up for Peralta in 2013.

Predicted Miller Park Arrival – September ’12 (at the latest)

Taylor Jungmann, RHP, 6’6”. 220 lbs – Ranked #58 on Law’s Top 100

Jungmann is one of the main reasons that the Brewers’ farm system jumped in Law’s overall org rankings. The Brewers made the Texas righty the 12th overall pick in last June’s draft.

During his final year at Texas, Jungmann didn’t fail to impress the scouts, posting a 1.60 ERA while recording 126 strikeouts in 141 innings, becoming a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award which is given annually to the nation’s best amateur baseball player.

Jungmann has a tall, lean frame and he shows great control of his long arms, allowing him to have more command on his pitches than one would expect. Most scouting reports also rave about his surprising athletic ability considering his frame. His fastball sits consistently in the low-90’s, and he has shown the ability to ramp it up to 95 if needed. If he fills out his frame a little bit more, that pitch could become a pretty dangerous weapon. To go along with that fastball, Jungmann has a hammer curveball that rests in the upper-70’s. His third pitch is a hard changeup, though he didn’t use it much in college because, well, he didn’t have to.

Jungmann impressed scouts with his ability to get batters out without having to rely on the strikeout. His 8.51 K/9 was down from previous years, yet he posted better numbers all across the board. Last season, Jungmann posted a career-low 1.98 BB/9, which is further evidence of his impressive control on the mound.

It sounds like Jungmann will start out this season in High-A, but considering he was viewed as one of the most polished and major league-ready arms in last season’s draft, I could see him making his way to AA-ball pretty quickly. A few reports claim that Jungmann could help out the big league club in 2012, but with the depth in our rotation, I just don’t see that. Unless the Brewers face a rash of injuries like never before, I don’t see any point in rushing one of our top prospects through the system. Let’s just let things progress naturally. I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long to see Jungmann in Milwaukee.

Predicted Miller Park Arrival – September ‘13

Well, that does it for now. I plan on introducing you all to different players within our system throughout the upcoming season, so stay tuned. After all, these could be the guys who we’re cheering for in Milwaukee before we know it.