Projecting the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers; Gamel has big shoes to fill
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The Milwaukee Brewers took an enormous stride as a franchise in 2011, winning its first playoff series in nearly 30 years before ending its postseason run just a couple wins shy of a World Series appearance. Despite falling short, there was a noticeable increase in fan support – something that propelled Milwaukee to baseball’s best home record during the regular season (57-24). Whether or not that trend can carry over into next season has a lot to do with how competitive the club remains.
So, just how competitive will the club be in 2012?
That answer depends on exactly how the franchise replaces its fan-favorite first baseman, Prince Fielder, who has made it assertively obvious that he will be playing elsewhere at the onset of next season.
Outside of Fielder, and a few other role players who will be departing, the offense should look relatively the same as the one that ranked fifth in the National League with 721 runs scored in 2011. Also, the entire starting rotation is slated to remain intact.
One would assume that with such a large contract – Fielder’s – coming off the books this winter, the Brewers would have a large chunk of money to spend via free agency on the few holes they have. However, a deeper look at next season’s contractual obligations – in addition to the true impact of losing Fielder – offers a rather substantially contrasting point of view.
Current 2012 Roster
While shortstop is the only starting spot in the lineup that currently remains empty, the roster actually lacks depth pretty severly; especially for a National League club. As of now, 25-year-old Taylor Green – the organization’s minor league 2011 Player of the Year – is the only infielder projected to be a part of next season’s bench corps.
On top of that, an alarming majority of the team’s bullpen will require replacing. Axford will return to the closer role where he flourished in 2011. However, the bridge of arms that set Axford up for much of his 48 saves will no longer be around to do so next season.
A starting shortstop, some bullpen arms and a few role payers to come off the bench is a lot to replace. That being said, it’s another area that will ultimately represent the biggest difference between this season’s squad and last.
The impact of Prince’s departure
As of now, Mat Gamel stands to take over for Fielder at first base. While going from Fielder to Gamel isn’t a dramatic downgrade defensively, it’s the void left in the lineup that remains a concern. Gamel has played a total of 85 games in the MLB. During those games, he has a .222 batting average to go along with just five home runs and 23 RBI. Even when those numbers are adjusted to reflect a full season, they obviously pale in comparison to Fielder’s.
Ultimately, it goes well beyond simply replacing Fielder’s .299 average, 38 home runs, 120 RBI and 95 runs scored.
As the number-four hitter, Fielder provided integral lineup protection behind Milwaukee’s star slugger, Ryan Braun. Fans who take solace in the fact that, while the offense will no longer have Prince’s production in 2012, they’ll still have Braun’s (33 home runs and 111 RBI in 2011), next season should provide an awakening of the rudest proportions.
For instance, not only did Fielder tally more home runs and RBI than Braun last year, he did so despite drawing 32 intentional walks to Braun’s two. That’s 32 plate appearances, nearly every case during an RBI opportunity, in which Fielder was not permitted to swing. Given the chance, Prince’s numbers could very well read more like: 42 home runs, 135 RBI and 105 runs scored.
Misinformed Brewers fans may take solace in the fact that they still have Braun’s bat in the heart of their lineup. To them, I would ask this: Who do you think opposing teams are going to start intentionally walking without Prince around?
The answer is, of course, Ryan Braun.
Now, taking into account around 30 fewer at-bats as a result of increased intentional walks, Braun’s 2011 numbers would actually be closer to 30 home runs and 100 RBI. Meaning, one could argue, that leaving with Fielder are approximately 45 home runs and 145 RBI of offensive production.
Still feel content with only Braun in the middle of the lineup now?
Payroll projections and spending money
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