2013 NL Central preview: Milwaukee Brewers

2013 NL Central preview: Milwaukee Brewers
March 27, 2013, 7:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

The Brewers are an interesting case, as they operate in a smaller market with budgetary issues that have prevented them from holding on to stars like Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke, but they always seem to find a way to stay in contention. Will that continue in 2013?

2012 retrospective

2012 was Year 1 A.F. (after Fielder). The Brewers were two wins away from the World Series in 2011 with the slugging first baseman, but didn't have the funds to keep him around. He wound up signing with the Tigers, who lost to the Giants in the World Series. Milwaukee, meanwhile, had a decent season, but was on the outside looking in when October baseball came rolling around.

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The Brewers finished third in the NL Central with an 83-79 record. Ryan Braun avoided a massive PED suspension and finished second in NL MVP voting. It was a season marred by change, as 2011 postseason hero Nyjer Morgan became a non-factor with the emergence of Carlos Gomez and Japenese import Norichikia Aoki in the outfield. Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzalez both suffered season-ending injuries and only Yovani Gallardo made more than 30 starts for an inconsistent rotation that saw Greinke dealt to the Angels at the trade deadline.

Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks helped provide some offense while Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada emerged as solid options behind ace Gallardo in the rotation. John Axford and ultra-expensive setup man Francisco Rodriguez were the poster boys for an extremely disappointing year for the bullpen.

Who’s leaving

RHP Shawn Marcum, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, RHP Kameron Loe, RHP Livan Hernandez, LHP Manny Parra, C Yorvit Torrealba, 1B Travis Ishikawa, OF Nyjer Morgan

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Morgan became obsolete with the play of Aoki and Gomez and Rodriguez's departure is actually a positive given his lofty price tag. Jonathan Lucroy's development made Torrealba expendable and Marcum's checkered injury history will be easily replaced by the last-minute signing of Kyle Lohse.

Who’s arriving

RHP Kyle Lohse, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, LHP Mike Gonzalez, RHP Burke Badenhop, RHP Kelvim Escobar, INF Yuniesky Betancourt

Lohse, whom the Brewers agreed to terms with earlier this week, answers a big question mark in the rotation behind Gallardo. The bullpen received a major shakedown, but Gorzelanny, Gonzalez and Badenhop should help improve over last year's debacle.

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Betancourt, also signed this week, is a familiar face, having spent all of 2011 in Milwaukee. He will provide depth in the infield and acts as a veteran presence behind young prospect Jean Segura, who is still getting a feel for the big-league game. But, this is a guy who has just 129 career walks in more than 1,000 games with little pop and defensive flaws, so don't count on Betancourt to help add much to the Brewers' win total.

Season outlook

MLB is coming hard after Braun under PED suspicion, but the perennial MVP candidate has thwarted all advances to date. Keeping him on the field is one battle, but will he be able to focus on baseball amdist all the controversy? He tuned it all out last year and if he's able to do it again, the Brewers will be in contention. Braun is simply that good.

Corey Hart will miss the first part of the season with another injury, but Gonzalez is healthy again and Weeks joins the always-steady Ramirez to help provide offense. The real question mark will be if Gomez -- who took a huge step forward last year -- and Aoki can duplicate their production. If they do, the Brewers' offense could be a well-oiled machine.

The rotation is unproven beyond Gallardo and Lohse, but talent is there and the bullpen should be much improved. A bounce-back season from Axford would go a long way to helping the cause.

Catcher Jonathan Lucroy is a player to watch this season after compiling an .881 OPS in 96 games last year. He won't turn 27 until midseason and is a driving force for this team, both behind the plate and on offense. Another big season from Lucroy could be the final piece in a potential push for an NL Wild Card spot.