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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

So The Brewers Lost

It's taken me a day or two to digest the Brewers' loss in the NLCS, but here's what it comes down to: The problems are fixable.

First of all, if you would have told me at the beginning of the year that the Crew would win 96 games and the division and end up in the NLCS, I would have been happy with that.


That being said, there are a few gaping holes that the Cardinals exposed in the Brewers: 1) A weak bottom half of the lineup and 2) Poor defense. Things won't get any easier next year. They'll more than likely be without Prince Fielder, leaving a 300-pound hole in the top half of the lineup. They'll probably lose LaTroy Hawkins and K-Rod in free agency, which means they'll have to rebuild their bullpen.

That's a lot of holes to fill, but there is some good news in all of this. Scanning over the list of the free agent class of 2012, there are a few options. Here are some hypotheticals:

1) Keep everything in-house. Move McGeehee over to 1st base to minimize the impact of his defense. Re-sign Hairston for another year, then run Taylor Green out there starting in about May. Pick up Yuniesky Betancourt's option.

Advantage: Cheap and easy.

Disadvantage: You're not upgrading your defense up the middle. Rickie Weeks isn't a defensive mastermind, and Yuni's troubles are well-known. They were close to benching him before he started getting hits. Taylor Green, while a hot prospect, is an unknown commodity defensively.

2) Replace Yuni with someone else
. ANYONE else will do. His UZR rating is third from the bottom of every day shortstops on Fangraphs. His bat goes hot and cold, and since it was mostly hot this year it'll probably run cold next year. All told, he takes more runs off the board than he adds.

You can still shuffle the infield if you do this. Casey goes to first, Taylor Green to third, but then your unknown commodity goes to short. He wouldn't be relied upon to hit home runs, but rather just provide a solid defensive front up the middle.

I like this plan a lot. Consider your new batting lineup if you do this:
Hart
Morgan/Gomez
Braun
McGeehee
Weeks
Hairston/Green
Unknown Shortstop
Lucroy
Pitcher
"So why are you batting McGeehee fourth? He sucks!" Well, he won't have to concentrate so much on his defense, and his general slowness will fit in perfectly over at first. He'll also see more pitches with Braun in front of him and Weeks behind him, and a guy with a .250 batting average and big bat is about prototypical for a cleanup man. Plus, with this, I'm keeping Rickie in a position where he's comfortable and leaving the lineup mostly untouched.

Advantage: An instant bump to defense.

Disadvantage: Who exactly do the Brewers get? Nick Punto? The best defensive players are pretty well locked up, and they usually come with good bats to boot. One option might be Marco Scutaro of the Red Sox, but he was the one bright spot in their season and has a 2012 option. I doubt they'll want to let him go. Rafael Furcal is also on the table, but his defense isn't what it used to, and his bat was limp almost all year.

Plus, there are two players that are near the top of Fangraph's 2011 UZR rankings: J.J. Hardy and Alcides Escobar. That may show you the Brewers' commitment to defense right there.

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So what will probably happen? Option Number One is more likely. From recent history, we can see that when Doug Melvin doesn't see a player he covets, he doesn't run out and get a random guy but instead stands pat with what he has. Unless he can get a substantial upgrade at a position that includes a bat and a glove, he's not likely to make the deal.

At this point I trust Doug Melvin, but if we're losing such a major part of the offense like Prince it's imperative that they make up for it. Since hitters who bat .300 and hit 35 HRs don't fall out of the sky every day, defense is the way to do it.

Big h/t to Cot's Baseball Contracts.