Al's Ramblings

Monday, October 22, 2007

(10/22/2007 12:01:00 AM) - Al

All right, we have the largest group ever, Ramblings' contributors Robert and Jason, as well as former roundtable participants Ben, Greg, and JR, along with Carl, who is making his debut as a panelist. As I always say somewhat jokingly, however true, that this is always a very popular feature here at Ramblings because I usually say less than the others; therefore, let's get started.


AL: All right fellas, the 25 and 40 man rosters only, how good is this team and their potential?

CARL: The sky is the limit. Raw talent is there. Now with good health, discipline, and a little luck for good measure, this team is on the verge of greatness.

GREG: The offensive potential of this team is pretty much off the charts.

Prince and Braun are historic talents, and Weeks has the potential to join them at that level. Hart and Hardy would be cornerstones of another team's homegrown talent. Most of the Brewers' regulars have defensive holes, but they're likely to improve with experience, and the tradeoff, while not cost-free, is worthwhile.

Pitching is the critical variable. I thought the 2007 rotation would be better than it was. The defense had something to do with the letdown, but Capuano's and Bush's struggles weren't all about bad defense. Once again, however, I'm optimistic about next year's rotation. Capuano and Parra figure to compete for the #5 spot behind Sheets, Gallardo, Suppan, and Villanueva, with Bush probably still around behind them. Any of those projected #5 -#7 guys looks like a much better bet to succeed than Vargas. In fact, any of them could pitch like a #3.

So, no surprise, the biggest variable is the bullpen. I think a lot of people sometimes fail to appreciate what an inexact science bullpen construction is. Getting near-guarantees of quality relief work is very difficult and expensive, Scott Linebrink is probably a 90th percentile sure thing, and Scott Linebrink comes with question marks. Does our present roster have a championship-caliber bullpen in it? Probably not; it's the one area where I don't see a whole lot of obviously untapped potential. Could we win with the bullpen arms we have on the roster? Conceivably, if we either resign or luck into a closer candidate and if the other elements of the team perform at very high levels (no serious rotation injuries, defensive shortcomings cauterized, offense up to potential).

ROBERT: I think the final record was pretty indicative of the 25 man roster's talent. Right now, about an 85 win team, give or take. Lots of power, but kind of erratic plate discipline. Some promising starting pitching and a thin bullpen. Fixing the bullpen and infield defense are the major issues facing the team and the former looks more manageable at the moment.

After the many graduations from the farm system to the 25 man roster plus a couple of trades, the 40 man roster is looking a little thin at the moment. Especially in regards to upper level pitching depth. The injury histories of Mike Jones and Mark Rogers contribute greatly to that problem. And the Brewers really haven't developed many relief candidates. I expect Melvin is going to be busy seeking minor league free agents to fill that void.

JASON: I think the 25 man is extremely solid. The tweaks that will be needed in the bullpen can hopefully be fixed without a lot of trouble. While I'm not happy with the pitching depth in the minors, there should be enough talented position players that will draw interest from other teams for a possible trade. I would expect payroll to increase as well (thanks to the record-breaking attendance--nice job everyone!), so solidifying via free agency is certainly possible as well.

I want to see Pena, Bray, Dillard, and probably Palmisano added to the 40 man. The Linebrink trade (combined with the injuries and graduations Robert mentioned) have left the Brewers seriously shallow in minor league pitching depth. Granted, the starting rotation on the big club could be one of the deepest in the league. You just can't have too much pitching, though, and I think Pena, Bray, and Dillard are all risks to be lost in Rule 5. Palmisano was exposed to it last year but I think the decent year he put together this year might make a developing team take a flyer on him.

BEN: As a comparison, the Brewers remind me a bit of the Indians from the mid-90s. Offensively, they have an outstanding nucleus of young position players. Throw in a couple of young pitchers who they hope can develop (and stay healthy), and there's a lot to be optimistic about. There should be playoff games played in Milwaukee over the next 4-6 years. Once you're in the playoffs, anything can happen.

JR: Al said it best when he mentioned that the team is only six wins behind Colorado -- one win per month -- and seven wins behind the best record in the National League. And that's after a season I think everyone feels could have been a lot better, especially because the starting pitching struggled in spots. You can call the 2006 team snakebitten by injuries, but that's still a 12-win improvement thanks largely to the acclimation of "the kids" and breakout seasons from Fielder, Hardy and Braun. The pitching depth remains intact, the team has identified areas in which it can improve, and I'm not sure there are indications that a bevy of other National League teams are dramatically better than where the Brewers are now. It's a lofty prospect, but assuming only minimal dropoff (or improvement) from Fielder, Hardy and Braun plus a full strength Rickie Weeks and a revived Bill Hall, this team's lineup is as dangerous as any in the league.

AL: I have little doubt this is the most talented roster since at least 1992, and given the overall youth and potential many on the roster have, I think you can compare them favorably to 1982, as that was a team past their peak with no ceiling at all. This is a group that probably overachieved a bit, given many of their best players are 23-25.

Ok then, let me hear your overall feelings about 2007, and your goals and expectations for 2008.

BEN: They did about what everyone expected. Going in, I think most fans hoped for between 80-85 wins. That's exactly where they ended up. Some of the players outperformed expectations (Fielder, Hardy, Braun, etc.), and some of the players underachieved (Hall, Estrada, Capuano, etc). I am glad they jumped the 82-win hurdle for the first time since Molitor was let go.

I think the 24-10 mark is deceptive, and raised expectations artificially. Of the first 34 games, only 9 games were against winning teams. The Brewers went 2-1 against the Dodgers, and split 3-3 with the Cubs. Considering that 9 of the 16 teams in the NL finished over .500, in was a bit of an aberration to play that many bad teams to start the season. Of course, when the year started, the fans didn't know which opponents were going to be good.

"World Series or Bust" starts in 2008. That doesn't mean that anything less is automatically a disappointment, so much as it is a recognition that the proverbial "window of opportunity" for the Milwaukee Brewers just opened up.

JR: I'm disappointed if only because the team could not have asked more offensively from Fielder and Braun (I mean, can we really expect THAT every year moving forward?) and still fell short in a division that was ripe for the taking. Then again, if the Brewers are in any other division in baseball, this season does not come down to the wire and the winning season becomes the focal point much earlier in September. I feel like this is a team that can push 90 wins in 2008, but there's no doubt in my mind that Capuano, Hall and infield defense will need to be better than they were this time around for that to happen.

CARL: I was thrilled like most fans were with the fast start. Although they cooled off, you still had to feel good later as the lead in the division became 8-1/2 games. Then came August, and the frustration level became almost suicidal as my brother in-law's team, the Cubs, closed in eventually took over the lead. As we closed in on the faltering Cubs, the Padres put an end to it, but then we helped do the same, helping the Rockies get in over the Padres. So I'm proud to root for Colorado in the post season, as a consolation prize.

In 2008 if we finish ahead of the Cubs; the division should be ours. Last year at this time we wouldn't have picked the Cubs for 2007, so I guess that is what $300 million will do for you! Still, I feel confident in 2008, the Brew Crew will seal the division.

ROBERT: This is kind of a half full or half empty situation. They won more games than they had in 15 years and almost made the playoffs. They also squandered a big lead and had a disappointing second half. Baseball Prospectus had the Brewers projected at 85 wins before the season, so they either met expectations or were slightly disappointing.

2008 should be playoffs or bust.

GREG: Everyone feels mixed about 2007. On balance, a lot more things went right than wrong. The team played itself into serious contention, something that hadn't happened in years, and then lost a tough pennant race. On balance, that's what usually happens to a pretty good team. Pitching and defensive shortcomings, some individual disappointments, unfortunate, but hard to get worked up about.

However, all of the blown three, four, and five run leads are hard not to get worked up about. That doesn't happen. I still don't know exactly what to make of it. I put some blame on Yost, but that's an easy direction in which to get carried away. It's just hard to explain. But if the team's negatives had stayed within the normal range...if we hadn't coughed up so many big leads...we would have won the division.

For 2008, I expect a division title. I can't see, at this point, how anything less than that could be considered more than a disappointment.

The Cubs are a good team, but they have big holes. Nobody else (pending offseason changes) should worry us.

JASON: I'm very pleased with the 2007 season as a whole. It was admittedly easy to get caught up in the thoughts of playoffs based on the early season play. It was just as easy to be crushed later on. When you step back and look at the big picture, though, you can see this is probably right where they should be. This is a baby step, for sure, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.

I agree with everyone else as far as 2008 goes--even another baby step should be enough to get the Brewers to the playoffs in the weak NL Central.

AL: It's well noted I considered the 24-10 start a fluke, or a small sample, whichever you prefer. Odd things happen in 6 weeks that balance out in six months. Still, the consensus is one I'll hang my hat on as well...we continued to see growth from many young players, and the team won just about as many games as we expected them to. Nothing wrong with that.

So, what is your feelings on Ned Yost?

CARL: Nobody gets a team as prepared to open the season as Yost. He is also great for developing youth, getting kids to "play the game right". However, his strategy, or lack of it, during the 25 man roster months especially, drives me crazy. In September he does use his bench. The rest of the year, his biggest concern is to have players on the bench should the game go 28 innings! His handling of Jenkins in 2006, playing him every day, then benching him entirely, ruined my confidence in him!

This year tension boiled over in the dugout and Yost seems to have caused it. In August, as the team floundered, and tension grew thick; I couldn't help but think that Ned was adding to it instead of diffusing it. He did redeem himself somewhat though, when Braun stood at home plate, after drilling a HR. I hope his ability to reign in young players does not change.

GREG: Here's my bottom line on the Yost debate: I just don't see a compelling argument for keeping him around.

I think Yost's stoutest supporters and harshest critics both tend to overplay their hands. He does some important things well. His players seem to respect him; he doesn't wreck his starting pitchers; he has gotten better at getting young players to flourish. At the same time, he has some serious problems. His in-game strategic errors have been well documented, and they're serious, but I'm not ready to say they're decisive. More problematic is his pronounced tendency to wear down his
relievers early in the year, which sets up a lot of the strategic problems he encounters.

The overall record is mixed, but the thing is, I don't see evidence that he has gotten better at his job. He's been around for a while, and he is what he is. I haven't heard a serious argument that he elevated the team's play. This is an up-and-coming contending team. We can compete for good managerial candidates. Yost's years of steady but not improving performance, his somewhat mundane positives, and his pronounced negatives, for me, add up to less than a compelling case for retention. I'm not passionate about firing him, but I think firing him is the most obvious outcome of a dispassionate analysis.

That said, letting him start the season on a short leash does no good whatsoever. Again, we know what we have in him; indecision is indefensible. I think he should go, but I'd rather see the team commit to him for the season (insofar as any team every commits to any manager).

ROBERT: I don't know if we have adequate information to fully evaluate Yost. We don't see how he works with players and manages the clubhouse. You know, basic "leader of men" stuff. He seems to do pretty well as a talent evaluator and his roster usually makes sense.

Tactically, he leaves me scratching my head more often than I'd like. Whether it was "chasing the hot hand" and throwing out the platoon plan early in the season with Mench or favoring Gwynn over Gross to an unhealthy extent, batting Estrada 5th, or being tied so closely to the closer orthodoxy that he let games get away late without ever bringing in his best relief pitcher. Cordero ended up pitching less innings than Turnbow this year and I'd have loved to have reversed their innings pitched numbers. And there were a couple of games that I was honestly angry at Yost, Mench facing a wild Dempster in a high leverage game, for example. Of course, there are plenty of games when he managed the team well, but there were enough games that stood out, especially late in the season, that I'm not exactly confident in his ability to make the right choice in a key situation.

Yost deserves a lot of credit for taking over the team when it was a complete disaster and getting it to the verge of the playoffs. I'm not yet convinced that he's the right manager to get the team to take the next step.

BEN: I think he's in the upper half of current MLB managers. That's not exactly overwhelming praise, but also not condemnation. I think he has done a good job sticking to the long term plan, and not abusing Gallardo and Villanueva down the stretch, when they were both pitching extremely well.

It's easy to criticize the manager when one of his decisions doesn't work...but that doesn't mean it was a bad decision.

JR: He's such a grump. I can't decide if this has been a progression or if it's something that has always been there and just hard to find, but Yost can be a sour individual who has lied about injuries and seems offended when anyone challenges his perceptions. Obviously, he takes an excess of undue criticism, and reading Philadelphia fans' heated dislike for Charlie Manuel DURING the postseason affirms in my mind that every skipper gets similar treatment. People challenge his fierce loyalty to players, but I still think that's a necessary aspect of any organization. I worry about his track record in the second half of baseball seasons, perhaps indicative of bullpen mismanagement, but I range from ambivalent on his role to mostly feeling he's still the right guy for the job. I just wish he would cheer up.

JASON: I have a hard time being a fan of Yost. While I despise the machine-like approach to managing that LaRussa takes, I also don't like going to the other far extreme by just making decisions based on "the feel of the game". Worse, I don't like Ned bashing fans who express their differing, and many times logical, opinion.

If the Brewers do not make the playoffs in 2008, I think Ned's job will be in serious jeopardy. With one of the highest (if not THE highest) payrolls in team history and a ton of young and extremely talented players, the bar will be set very high for Ned. You can't really argue that he has taken a team from the dregs to a team on the brink of greatness. How much of that Ned is responsible for versus how much Doug, Gord, and Jack had to do with it is the million dollar question.

AL: I don't think Ned gets nearly enough credit for the way he has handled his young pitching staff, almost never letting any pitcher go more than 115 pitches, and never once having a game where someone like Yo or Carlos is left out there for 134 pitches, a situation that occurs a few times a year with most teams, as supporters of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior will tell you.

He also has done a brilliant job of supporting and developing his young position players, never putting them in a position to fail. He goes with the hot hand at times, but always returns to his main guys.

As far as his "strategery", I think Ben said it very well, good moves work, bad moves do not...however, he set up his players for success. I giggle at how the brilliant bullpen management of Bob Melvin suddenly faltered when, you know, his relief corps actually gave up a run.

Doug said it best during his end-of-the-season press conference, much of the trouble with the bullpen getting to the 8th inning was a result of the rotation failing to be effective in the 6th and 7th, which led to the middle relievers being used almost every night. That taxes your relievers, and also leads to your less effective guys being used more often with the game still close.

So then, your thoughts on Doug Melvin?

GREG: I still feel generally very positive about Melvin. He appears to recognize the different posture his team now is in, and he has shifted his approach accordingly. I didn't like the Carlos Lee deal when he made it, but that deal now stands as evidence that Melvin understands the transition from rebuilding to completing a contender. He identified a hole he needed to the right moment, and he decisively used tradeable assets to fill that hole. I don't fault him for the Estrada trade; it turned out poorly, but it reflects a similar,
sound thought process: we have a gaping hole at catcher; let's figure out what expendable assets we can use to get the best catcher we can.

I hated the Linebrink trade, and there I think DM made a miscalculation about what he was getting that way too many of us could see from day one, but there was at least a solid case to make for the trade.

Obviously the stakes are higher now. I can't fault DM's efforts at bullpen construction last offseason, and I think the 'pen's problems were much more Yost's fault than Melvin's, but if next year's 'pen keeps this team out of the playoffs, DM will appropriately face much more harsh scrutiny. Fair or not, he needs to produce results.

CARL: Because of what Doug Melvin got for guys he had to move like Carlos Lee; Richie Sexson, I too have adapted Al's phrase "In Doug we trust".

{Editor's note: I do not believe this has yet been trademarked, but I don't think I was the first to say it.

This year my "faith in Doug" took a hit. It would have taken a lot of guts to fire Ned Yost while the team was still in first place, but sometime in August it was the move to make. Most managerial changes infuse immediate energy in the team. It wouldn't have taken much, as it turned out, to beat the Cubs out for the division title. Don Money as an interim, could have been another Harvey Kuehn success story. Also, the trade I totally agreed with, blew up in Doug's face. We were sure Scott Linebrink would nail down the division. It didn't happen; he wasn't as good as Joe Thatcher, just one of 3 young pitchers traded to San Diego. I guess anybody can make one bad trade, but my biggest concern is that Doug may never dismiss Ned, no matter the quagmire!

ROBERT: The fact that the Brewers are a young team with a good farm system and no real bad contracts speaks well for Melvin. I think the LaPorta pick is going to look awfully smart in a few years. Overall, I'm happy with Melvin.

That said, it wasn't Melvin's best year. There were two major trades and the Brewers arguably came up short on both of them.

2007 VORPs

Davis 28.6, Eveland -4.5

Vargas 8.6, Estrada 7.7 (not counting defense which probably hurts), Aquino 0.2

Thatcher 7.6

Linebrink 2.2

Net for Brewers -13 runs (probably more if you factor in Estrada's defense).

Bad trading may have cost the Brewers as many games as questionable tactical choices by Yost. Granted, the Brewers needed a catcher and bullpen help, but overall they didn't extract equal value from those trades, let alone get value that favored them. Couple that with a bullpen plan that didn't work out and I think it's fair to say that Melvin has had better years.

BEN: I don't think he gave Ned Yost a lot to work with in the Brewers bullpen. That said, in a trade environment with few relievers changing teams, he picked up one of the better available arms in Linebrink. I don't think that the Brewers stay in contention until the final week of the season without that pickup.

Is it fair to say that Arizona got the better of the Doug Davis trade?

JR: At the end of his tenure in Milwaukee, he certainly won't be remembered as a flawless general manager, but he's going to be remembered fondly. No moves made during the season or last offseason have made me feel any less strongly about his importance to the club. It might be hard to see Doug Davis serving as the No. 2 pitcher on an NLCS team, the way it was when Scott Podsednik led off for a World Series champion, but both of those trades were beneficial, even if the other team got something valuable as well.

JASON: Big fan of DM since Day 1. I actually liked the trade for Estrada. I remember reading that the Brewers acquired Linebrink and was extremely pleased. But when I saw who the Brewers gave up for him my jaw dropped. I believe Doug gave up way too much, but it remains to be seen what the Brewers can do with the supplemental pick should they not re-sign Linebrink. If he is re-signed, the Brewers probably have a solid if unspectacular closer.

The minor league system is stacked for the most part and the stream of young talent should continue for many years.

AL: I have been a huge Melvin supporter from the get go, and I have not changed my mind one iota. Doug always has depth, and has done a fine job of adding bench veterans now that the team is contending. He realizes much of the improvement in 2008 will come from how the young players grow, and keeps a steady, long-term view. He added Linebrink and tried to add Eric Gagne as well...even his Ray King find showed he was doing what he could. I do not dislike the Linebrink trade at all, either they'll sign Scott, or get a pair of draft picks for him. And while Davis pitched better than Vargas, the Brewers upgraded their C spot to about average.

So, put yourself in Doug's shoes (even if you have to wear a couple pairs of socks:)...what changes do you expect to see made this offseason? How will the rotation, bullpen, LF, and C look next April?

JR: If the team is willing to take a flier on Eric Munson, dropping Mike Jones off the 40-man, that tells me they're probably going to have Estrada as the starter behind the plate. The depth at that position is limited, and if Munson has enough value for the team to give up on (admittedly, a lost cause anyway) a sleeper pitching possibility, then Estrada is probably the best thing going.

Chris Capuano will be back in the rotation, and I think MJS beat writer Tom Haudricourt has done a good job in his Brewers blog outlining his remaining value. If Capuano has a Carlos Silva type rebound, he'll be plenty good as a starter. Sheets, Gallardo, Villaneuva and Suppan will likely have the other spots, with Bush and/or Vargas traded or relocated to closer. No surprises there. Left field? I honestly have no idea, and it's likely to be an outcome we haven't even considered. I don't think it will be Geoff Jenkins/Kevin Mench, Gabe Gross/Joe Dillon or a free agent signing.

BEN: It's almost easier to start by saying who won't be the starter in LF. I don't think that the players are currently on the Brewers' not Gwynn and not Gross. Of the available free agents, I think that Bobby Abreu is closest to the professional hitter that Doug Melvin said he'd be looking for, but back-to-back seasons under 20 HR is cause for concern. I do think that the Brewers will end up with a veteran presence in the outfield, but a trade is probably more realistic.

I think Johnny Estrada probably comes back next season. He wasn't exactly at his best this season, but I think that he was playing through injuries most of the time.

{Editor's note: Ben answered this before Sunday's JS article that detailed Estrada's aches and pains in 2007.}

Damian Miller would have to take a pay cut in order to stay around and even then, his offensive numbers left quite a bit to be desired. Mike Rivera is a possibility, but if the Brewers' brain trust thought he was the guy for the job, he'd have been given more of an opportunity in 2007.

I'd still love to pry Kelly Shoppach away from his current team (Cleveland) in a trade, but I say that every year.

The rotation will see some new faces from the start of 2007, namely Carlos Villanueva and Yovanni Gallardo. Sheets and Suppan are givens, so that leaves (injuries notwithstanding) one spot for Vargas, Bush, and Capuano. Of the three, only one of them has an 18-win season, so Capuano it is. I think Vargas will be dealt, and Dave Bush goes to the bullpen.

Speaking of which, the bullpen is due for a serious overhaul. I hope that the Brewers resign Linebrink and Cordero, but my guess is they'll be lucky to retain one. Turnbow simply isn't reliable enough to be a closer anymore; I'd like it if he wasn't the 8th inning set-up man anymore, but Doug Melvin hasn't shown a track record of bullpen depth. I think Matt Wise should be able to get out of his own head over the course of the off-season, but the prospect of arbitration may prove too costly.

CARL: Jenkins will not be back; I doubt if Linebrink will. They will try hard to sign Cordero but how much money will it take? They need to work on the bullpen the most. Both starters and set-up men failed equally in getting Cordero opportunities late in the season. Now that we have acquired Eric Munson, maybe that's a sign Estrada will also be moved. Gabe Gross could be better than Geoff as part of a platoon. Capuano is such a good athlete, we have to get him straightened out and back into the rotation.

ROBERT: I expect the 2008 team to look very similar to the 2007 team that was fielded on a regular basis in September. Maybe two starters will be traded, most likely Bush and Vargas, and the rotation will consist of some combination of Sheets, Gallardo, Suppan, Villanueva, Capuano, and Parra (most likely in that order). I'd also expect Gwynn Jr. and upper level players like Zach Jackson, Alcides Escobar, and Hernan Irribarren to be shopped heavily. And perhaps Turnbow in a change of scenery deal, although I think the Brewers would be better off holding on to him and just switching him to a less critical role with a reduced workload. I expect the team to be more active in the trade market than in free agency as it's doubtful that they want to give up a draft choice after so many players have graduated from the farm system.

Your guess is as good as mine for what they get in return, but I expect bullpen to be the primary target. I do expect one of Linebrink or Cordero to come back, probably Cordero even if it's more than I'd want to pay.

LF and C are areas that I think the Brewers would like to upgrade, but where they're not going to reach for guys that aren't obviously better than a Gross/Dillon platoon or Estrada. I think it's a lot likelier that they'll upgrade LF than C. I don't know what the Brewers will do at backup catcher, although I expect that Miller would have to take quite a pay cut if he wants to come back.

JASON: I don't see Melvin ponying up the money necessary to retain Cordero. I think the effort will be there, but CoCo will be heading somewhere else next season. Linebrink would be a downgrade at closer but I think he's the best bet right now. While he won't command Cordero money, he will be expensive and I think Melvin really likes the idea of having that additional pick or two. I'd put the chances of signing Cordero at 25% and Linebrink at 50%. Both? 1%.

I love Joe Dillon's approach to the game (insert requisite mention of small sample here). I think the temptation will be there, though, to upgrade a Dillon/Gross left field platoon through free agency or trade. I haven't studied just who might be available to fit the bill, though.

Gwynn is extremely good trade bait, in my opinion, based on name alone. Throw in talented but blocked position prospects like Robert mentioned and I think we'll see some teams interested in giving up bullpen help.

I'm not sure what to think of bringing in Munson. Maybe it just means the end of the line for Miller (which is sad for me--I played against him in high school so he's one of my favorites).

I would like to see a rotation of Sheets, Gallardo, Suppan, Villy, and Parra. Capuano would fill a long relief role or start if Parra struggles or has injury issues. If neither Linebrink nor Cordero are re-signed, I honestly have no idea who would be a good candidate to close. McClung has done it before, but was terrible. Bush is one of those guys who is very good but only if he can get out of the first inning he pitches--probably not the best guy to have closing out games. Vargas? Not likely, even if he isn't traded.

GREG: A Hall trade seems to be in the offing. However, I don't like trading young, cheap players who are coming off down seasons. There's no way Hall nets bullpen help that's reliable enough to justify the sacrifice. The only plausible, desirable scenario I can imagine for trading him is if someone offers a promising young C who's blocked.

I think the organization sees LaPorta as the opening day LF in 2009, so I don't see them making a big splash at that position. They like Gross better as a reserve, and I can understand anyone's lack of excitement about Grosskins. A splashy but unhelpful signing of an overpriced veteran seems likely here. Somebody like...well, like Geoff Jenkins.

The rotation, as mentioned above, is largely set. We'll definitely see a range of new bullpen arms, probably including at least one major trade acquisition and a bunch of stabs in the dark. Who those guys will be, I have no idea. Cordero is gone; Linebrink is probably gone but could return if no other closer candidate emerges. I can't say I'm confident in him in that role.

The organization will desperately try to upgrade at C. The thing is, Estrada was a defensible move in that direction, given the dearth of options, and he cratered. Finding a real C would be a trick worthy of Melvin's best deals. But for a C, or bullpen guys, what do we have to trade? Most of our minor leaguers haven't matured as prospects; Claudio Vargas will bring something but not a lot.

AL: I have to agree that I see Vargas being moved as well, and Mench is also likely to be traded. While those are not going to get you a high profile Frankie Cordero clone, I can see them adding quality bullpen depth. I don't think there's a chance Cappy doesn't begin the campaign in someone's rotation, as he'll be making $5M or so, and long relievers make closer to 10% of that. I think he's the 5th starter, with Bush in the bullpen, and Parra either in the 'pen or AAA.

I also hope either Linebrink or Cordero is brought back as the closer, though Frankie might well get a 3y/$45M contract, with Scott not making even half that, he seems a lot more likely.

I'd say it's almost certain Estrada returns as the C.

As for LF, I side with Greg that the braintrust sees Laporta as the LF of the very near future, so a stopgap LF is all that's needed, and I would have no problem with a Gross/Dillon platoon, especially if that saved enough money to add another solid reliever. If they struggled, it'd be easy to add a capable LF bat in June or July.

So, changing gears here...Braun and good are these 2 guys? Also, choose the player you feel is most likely to be mentioned in the same breath as them in 2-3 years?

CARL: Fielder & Braun are already superstars. Braun needs to cut down on his swing with 2 strikes and be more selective. He has good power and could be even better if he can stay in the strike zone. Of course he needs to work on his fielding but that should improve. He has a strong arm and good speed too. Prince just needs to keep his cool, while staying healthy and he's in the Hall of Fame.

Corey Hart is still improving but I think Rickie Weeks is the MAN to WATCH! He is so athletic, has improved a lot on defense, took a lot of walks, and late in the season hit with power. His speed and strong arm are always there but some of those HRs were tape measure also. His bat is quick, now if he can just stay on the ball.

ROBERT: Fielder is a legitimate MVP candidate and one of the young stars of baseball. And he should get better. He's hard working and driven. He probably won't get much better defensively, mainly due to his stature, but if he can settle in to being slightly below average you certainly can live with that. He's a star regardless.

Given his K:BB rate it wouldn't surprise me if there's a bit of regression in Braun's future. But he still should settle in to being one of the best hitting third basemen in baseball. The question is his defense. If he's going to cost the Brewers 20 runs defensively a season, they should just move him to LF. He certainly has the tools to improve, but given the window for the Brewers contending they probably can't be that tolerant of continued struggles. It probably wouldn't be that bad an idea to give Braun some reps in LF in Spring Training.

Weeks is the easy guy to mention, but I really like Corey Hart who really doesn't have any holes in his game. Hits for power, hits for average, runs well, throws well, and is at least average defensively. I'm not convinced that when you factor in defense he's not already better than Braun. Yovanni Gallardo probably also needs to be mentioned as a rising young star.

JASON: I think we are seeing the peak in Prince Fielder right now. It's not necessarily a bad thing--I think he can maintain this or a similar level for his remaining Brewer years so that it is more of a plateau than a peak. He will also probably perform very well for a year or two after he is gone (assuming he is not re-signed, of course), but I just can't see Prince's ability slowly decreasing. Whether it's injury or weight issues, Prince seems like the type that will hit a wall. For Prince's sake, I hope I'm wrong. He's a wonderful young man with MVP potential for years to come.

No idea why, but I also see Braun regressing a little next season as he either learns a new position or focuses more on defense. I also see him coming back stronger than ever in subsequent years. He could be a major contender to Prince for MVP races as well. The sky is the limit for Braun. Despite his fantastic play now, I think he still has the potential to put the complete package together.

Corey Hart is a fantastic player who unfortunately gets lost in the hype behind the other kids. He should be mentioned in the same breath NOW.

GREG: They're better than all but an elite handful of hitters their age in all of baseball history. They're the kind of players who give rise not to possibilities but to expectations of pennants. Maybe Braun could come back to Earth a little, but he could just as easily improve, especially if he jacks his walk rate.

Weeks is the guy who could join them at that level. In a season that most people seem to regard as a disappointment, Weeks walked (and, typically, got plunked) at a skyrocketing rate; rediscovered and really amped up his power stroke; and was one of the best baserunners in the league. The only thing he didn't do offensively was hit for average. I've argued that he's an elite leadoff man if he hits .270, and I'm confident he'll do that.

JR: Both are going to endure cold streaks, and we saw that in 2007. Their youth makes it very hard not to believe that we're not seeing an unfinished product, even if some small measure of sophomore slump is in Braun's future. I still haven't given up on the idea that Rickie Weeks can become a player of their magnitude, though I found that assertion challenged this year. I think the coaching staff will agree.

BEN: Considering Prince is an MVP candidate, I think we all know his potential. Braun has All-Star potential, but I don't think he gets MVP consideration unless he can become a complete player at 3B.

I don't know if he's in that league, but Corey Hart is the Brewers' player who comes closest to that level of production in a few years. He does a little bit of everything.

AL: Well, I'm shocked there was not a single mention of Hardy or Carlos V, and only an afterthought of Yo. I have been on the Weeks' bandwagon since I saw his plate discipline when he was in the Midwest League playoffs in Appleton, and I remain a proud member. Kudos to Greg for mentioning how solid his offensive contributions were in what many felt was a "down" season. Hart broke out in '07, showing he is a true 5 tool talent who, as Ben stated, would be hyped beyond belief in many organizations. Hardy was a bit inconsistent, but was steady at SS and overall far above average for a middle infielder.

I'll tell you what though, the long-term success is probably more dependent on Carlos and Yo stepping up to replace Ben Sheets as the #1 SP than any of the rest.

And finally, your out of the box idea that the braintrust will NOT do, but if you were in charge, you would try. Could be a player, a ticket promotion, an idea for the stadium, whatever.

CARL: How about air conditioning Miller Park? It's such a beautiful place, but when it rains in hot weather it can be very sultry. Comfort is everything in entertainment so what would it cost?

AL: I'm surprised Mark hasn't already done this, as he is all about improving the fan experience. For those of you who are unaware, Miller Park is set up for AC, but it would have to be installed.

ROBERT: Out of the box? Hmm, how about roaming vendors in the parking lots before games selling things like ice, beer, soda, charcoal, sausages, condiments, etc. Tailgate fixings, basically, especially for those that forgot a thing or two. That seems like something that's worth a trial for a weekend or two during the summer.

GREG: These are smart people, and we're no longer in the rebuilding zone where wild stabs in the dark make much strategic sense.

Maybe I'd burn this year's first-round pick (or one of them, if we end up with comps) on a guy who could immediately step into the MLB bullpen. I'd sure think hard about whether Dave Bush can close, although I don't think that's a novel idea anymore.

JASON: I'd like to see established bloggers get press credentials, at least on a limited basis at first. Even the best beat writers can fall into a pattern and may not ask questions that the fans want to know. I have no idea what "established" would mean, but anything that puts the team closer to the fans is okay in my book.

Also, good call on the A/C, Carl. I'm sure the people sitting next to me would agree.

JR: It's not out of the box, but I'm really against the team re-signing Francisco Cordero. I understand there is comfort in having a solid, proven arm at the back of the bullpen, but the team has had success manufacturing closers before (Turnbow, Kolb), and there's no reason to think it can't be done again (Bush? Linebrink? Vargas?), for much cheaper than what Cordero will command. Furthermore, there is some debate on whether or not Cordero is a top five closer in baseball, and in my mind, he'd have to be to spend a ton of money on him.

I know the team has tried several creative measures in selling tickets, especially with season ticket packages, but I think it would be workable to extend marquee price tickets to bobblehead days and the final day of the season.

BEN: Kenny Lofton. It's hard to imagine a 41-year old leadoff hitter, but a .350-.360 OBP at the top of the order would keep the tables set for Fielder and Braun.

AL: Well, AC and Lofton were both on my mind when I thought up this question, so I think those are sound. Robert's idea is mind-boggling in its simple, yet highly functional design. I think you guys outdid yourself.

I will throw out a pair of others...I think you'll hear Ben Sheets' name brought up in trade rumors, though it may just be other teams asking about his availability.

And with the popularity of the Angels/Indians series, I'd try some sort of "all seats the same price" promotion...I believe the cheapest ticket is $8 this year (excluding the Uecker seats, of course), so I guess I'd probably fill up Miller Park for 3 games in mid-April with that.

Thanks for joining us, the roundtable should return in late March, 2008. A big thank you to the participants.

10/22/2007 12:01:00 AM

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