2011 was pretty much a perfect storm for the Milwaukee Brewers. They got an MVP year from Ryan Braun, a fantastic year from Prince Fielder, and solid pitching from Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Yovani Gallardo. The team won the NL Central and lost in the NLCS to the eventual World Champion St Louis Cardinals. Going into 2012, there wasn't much attrition of note for Milwaukee, aside from one player: Fielder.
Depth Chart (as of 3/22)
C: Jonathan Lucroy
1B: Mat Gamel
2B: Rickie Weeks
SS: Alex Gonzalez
3B: Aramis Ramirez
LF: Ryan Braun
CF: Carlos Gomez
RF: Nyjer Morgan
SP: Zack Greinke
SP: Yovani Gallardo
SP: Shaun Marcum
SP: Randy Wolf
SP: Chris Narveson
CL: John Axford
The team has a new third baseman in Aramis Ramirez, who is approximately eleventy billion times the hitter that former starter Casey McGahee is. With Fielder's departure, the team decided to stay in-house in replacing him, and are apparently ready to roll with former top prospect Mat Gamel, who has hit a ton in the minors but has never gotten a chance in the majors. The third change in the infield is at shortstop, where defensive whiz Alex Gonzalez replaces butcher Yuniesky Betancourt. Milwaukee also dipped into the Japanese market with outfielder Norichika Aoki, and signed former Braves bench basher Brooks Conrad.
The Brewers had no qualms about letting Betancourt walk, but made a brief attempt to keep Fielder. However, the $200 million deal he got from the Tigers pretty much killed any hope of his coming back. McGahee was dealt to the Pirates, and veteran infielder Craig Counsell retired to take an administrative job with the Brewers. Two more utility players, Mark Kotsay and Jerry Hairston Jr, also left town as free agents.
Outfielder Logan Schafer looks like he'll make Milwaukee's Opening Day bench. Another prospect, Taylor Green, is battling Conrad for a bench spot, but looks to be coming up on the short end of the stick right now.
The ultra-exciting Green vs Conrad battle for a bench spot is enthralling. Schafer might not stick with the Brewers too long, depending on the status of Corey Hart for Opening Day. In that case, Milwaukee would have four players who can play center field in Schafer, Aoki, Nyjer Morgan, and Carlos Gomez.
Hart had knee surgery at the beginning of the month, and it's a coin flip on whether or not he'll be ready in right field for Opening Day. Starter Shaun Marcum is dealing with some stiffness in his shoulder, and his status for Opening Day is also up in the air. If he's unable to go, reliever Marco Estrada will slot into his rotation spot.
Can Mat Gamel come close to adequately replacing Prince Fielder at first base?
Milwaukee picks up right where they left off last year, even without Fielder in the fold. Braun has another MVP caliber season, Gamel hits like he did in the minors, and Ramirez begins to rake like he did before dealing with injuries for the Cubs.
The Brewers offense falls apart without Fielder, and Braun struggles under the cloud of steroid suspicion. The projected rotation misses at least 25% of their starts, and Milwaukee sinks to third in the division.
This is a really good team, even without Prince Fielder. They're going to contend for the NL Central crown this season, and if they can get good performances from their stars, they could easily win it.
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