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The NL Central Offseason Revue Pt. 4: Algonquin for The Good Land

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Morning, all. I'm pressed for time today (hell, I've been nothing but pressed for what seems like months now. ever feel like life is just beating you down by sheer force of will?), so I'll keep this one short and sweet.

Before I get to the Milwaukee Brewers' edition of my offseason review/preview/whatever the hell, I would like to say a quick word. Larry Weir, who was one of the chief architects of KDHX, the community radio station here in St. Louis, passed away last Wednesday. Unfortunately, I had already posted that day before I heard the news, so this is a bit behind the times, but better late than never, I suppose.

Larry was a friend of a friend of the family, a man I knew just well enough to wish I knew him far better. He was tireless in promoting community media and the community in general, bugging me to come in and volunteer on the phones every time the station held a pledge drive. I usually caved in, too; the man's enthusiasm was impossibly infectious. He loved music, he loved baseball, and he loved St. Louis. He was, quite simply, the man.

You all know by now I'm passionate about a few things in life, and independent media is most definitely one of them. We lost one of our great champions this past week, and the void will be painfully hard to fill. Larry was an amazing man, and I'd like to invite you to check out all the tributes and such over at the KDHX website. They do an incredible job over there (even if I do wish they would stop changing the schedule, since I now have to relearn the whole damned thing), and they need our support more than ever.

Alright. Enough of that. On to the topic at hand.

Milwaukee Brewers 2009 Record: 80-82, 11 games out of first

Pythagorean Record: 78-84 (785 runs scored, 818 allowed)

The Brewers were a disappointing bunch in 2009, as they headed into the season with high hopes stoked by their first postseason appearance in many, many years. Unfortunately, porous pitching ultimately led to their demise, as they followed up their 90-72 2008 campaign with a below .500 showing.

Offense: This is what the Brewers do best. Say what you want about the other stuff, but there's no denying the Brew Crew can hit. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun make the offense go, and both will return in 2010. Both are run producers of the highest calibre, and they form the NL Central's second best 1-2 punch behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday.

One of the most intriguing stories around the Brewers in 2010 will be how well they fill the hole left by everybody's favourite Plan B, Mike Cameron. Cameron had provided Milwaukee with outstanding defense and solidly above-average offense for the past two seasons, but he has now departed for Boston. The void left by his departure is going to be tougher to fill than many realise. Carlos Gomez will likely get the lion's share of time in center, and I'm actually a big Gomez fan. Love the speed, his defense is right up there with some of the best, and his arm is unreal. Still, he hasn't shown the ability to put up consistent offensive numbers in his career to this point, so there could be some fall off from Cameron.

The rest of the outfield is likely set, with Ryan Braun manning left field the way only Ryan Braun can, and Corey Hart wearing sunglasses at all times in right. After a 2007 campaign that had him looking like a rising star in the league, Hart has seemingly settled in to being an almost exactly league-average bat in right field, albeit one with a nice glove. Nothing wrong with that, of course; after all, the 2009 version of Ryan Ludwick doesn't exactly grow on trees.

In the infield, the shortstop position is likely the most interesting. JJ Hardy had been a mainstay for the Brewers since before anyone paid attention to them, but he was dealt in the Carlos Gomez deal to make room for Milwaukee's hot prospect Alcides Escobar. Escobar's glove is everything they say it is, but his bat still has plenty of question marks attached. Still, in an offense like Milwaukee's, they can afford to punt a bit on offense for a guy with the defense of Escobar. (see also Ryan, Brendan) Third base should provide some drama as well, as incumbent Casey McGehee (spelling?), and young slugger Mat Gamel duking it out for playing time. McGehee was a lifesaver for the Brewers in '09, and should probably have the inside track on the job. Gamel, on the other hand, has been the Next Ryan Braun for a few years now, and what Milwaukee ultimately does with him should prove fascinating. They've moved him around to get him plate appearances, but left field is taken and it's not at all certain he can actually play third base. He may have more value on the trade market than he does to the Brewers.

All in all, the Brewers should once again score runs in bunches. They'll probably lose a little in center and second base without Cameron and Felipe Lopez manning those positions, respectively, but there are still plenty of bats in this lineup to make life tough for Central Division pitchers.

Starting Rotation

Ah, now here's where it get interesting. The Brewers' starters in 2009 were just flat-out awful. Braden Looper was awful. (He did manage to go 14-7 with an ERA north of 5.00, though, so he must have some sort of magical powers.) Jeff Suppan was awful. Manny Parra was awful. Dave Bush was awful. The only pitcher who wasn't awful was Yovani Gallardo, who was in fact borderline brilliant.

Looper is gone, so that's a plus. Suppan, unfortunately, is still hanging around, eating up over $12 million of an $80 million payroll. Seriously, how sad a day is it going to be here in Cardinal country when the Brewers no longer have to pay Jeff Suppan?

Gallardo will once again head the rotation, and he'll be joined by the Brewers' newest free agent solution, Randy Wolf. Wolf is actually a hell of a pitcher, a fact which never fails to surprise me. No idea why, really, but every time someone points out to me just how good Wolf has been the past couple years I'm always shocked. Still, the injury history is long and varied, so that will bear watching.

Regardless of what happens with the Brewers' rotation, it literally couldn't get any worse, and it has the potential to be much, much better. They have a new pitching coach in Rick Peterson (though I seem to recall when Mike Maddux was touted as an up-and-coming genius of pitching, so I fail to see why I should be particularly excited about his replacement), and addition by subtraction on their side. There are still an awful lot of innings to be accounted for in that rotation, though, and I think it will continue to be their Achilles' Heel. Oh, and I would still take Manny Parra off their hands if they want to get rid of him.

Bullpen

Here the story is much better. The Brewers' bullpen wasn't elite in 2009, but it was plenty solid. Trevor Hoffman gives you a known quantity at the back end (though committing 10% of your payroll to him seems a bit sketchy to me), and Todd Coffey has actually been pretty good as a setup man. The Brewers did go out and give LaTroy Hawkins a two year deal, which I find frankly baffling. I assume they're hoping to shorten games to seven innings to avoid having their starters go more than five consistently, but I'm just not sure spending $7 million over two seasons for LaTroy Hawkins is the best use of that money.

Beyond the top three, there are a couple other interesting arms, but nothing outstanding. Carlos Villanueva will be back, and I can only hope we see a whole lot of him.

Offseason Priorities

See, this is why I really should have started this series a lot earlier in the offseason than I did, but I didn't think of it in time. By now, most of what the Brewers are going to do is done. That said, the priority for the Brew Crew this offseason was pitching pitching pitching and pitching, and they've done fairly well I believe in addressing the issue. Garllardo and Wolf should give them a solid foundation anchoring the rotation, hopefully preventing a disaster on the scale of 2009. The rest of the rotation still fails to inspire confidence (remember, they were the first team to express interest in Muldoo), but a reinforced bullpen should help absorb some of the strain there as well.

 The Bottom Line

The Brewers are going to have to win games in 2010 the same way they won games in 2009: by bludgeoning their opponents to death.The defense up the middle should be a big time strength, which should certainly help the pitching, but run prevention just isn't going to be this team's bag.

Overall, I think Milwaukee will improve this coming season, probably into the mid-80s in wins. They and the Cubs should duke it out all season for second place, and if the Cardinals falter, either one could surprise. That said, I think the Brewers overall are just a hair short of Chicago's talent level, and the most likely outcome, in my ever so humble opinion, is a third place finish just a game or two shy of the Baby Bears.

The Baron's Playlist for the 20th of January, 2009

"Pie Jesu, from Faure's Requiem, Op. 48" - Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus

"Iz-Us" - Aphex Twin

"That Certain Female" - Charlie Feathers

"Morning Light" - Gliss

"Starry Eyes" - Roky Erikson and Bleib Alien