The Brewers made moves last offseason to try and push all-in for a run to the World Series, acquiring Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum toward that end. Unfortunately, the team was eliminated short of that goal, losing in the NLCS to the eventual champs, the St. Louis Cardinals. Brew Crew Ball's Kyle Lobner was nice enough to sit down for our 5 Questions Series, and he talked about what he'd like to see the team do for 2012, award candidates, and the minor leagues, among other topics.
ON THE IMPENDING FREE AGENCY OF PRINCE FIELDER:
MLBDD: The big question for 2012 seems to be whether the team can bring back free agent 1B Prince Fielder. Do you think he will be back in Milwaukee, and how big do you think his contract will be, regardless of where he signs?
KL: I think there's still a small chance Fielder returns, but it's very small. Maybe less than 10%. There's two related problems here: First, Fielder is probably worth more to someone else than he is to the Brewers. There's likely at least one team out there with a glaring enough hole at first base to justify giving Fielder a 6-7 year deal, and that's simply not something the Brewers should be trying to compete with.
Secondly, though, even if Fielder doesn't draw a massive, over-the-top offer, signing him to a fair-market deal at this point would require some significant short-term payroll shifting. The Brewers probably have $10-15 million available as things stand right now and still need a first baseman, shortstop, some bullpen help and bench. If they give Fielder (or Jose Reyes) all of that money, then they'll have to dump payroll elsewhere simply to put 25 guys on the roster on Opening Day.
My Thoughts: It is sounding more and more likely that Fielder will not be back in Milwaukee for 2012, but it remains to be seen where he will end up instead. The team could very easily give Mat Gamel a shot at 1B if they aren't able to bring him back, but it seems more likely that they would try to find a reasonably priced 1B who will give them some of the production. Kyle is right that the team really needs a solid replacement at shortstop, but I'm not sure that Jose Reyes is that player for them either. They might be better served trying to find someone to hit near the bottom of the order, and spend that money elsewhere.
Read about Kyle's thoughts on the minors, the Braun candidacy, and potential moves for 2012 after the jump...
ON LAST OFFSEASON'S TRADES:
MLBDD: It's been nearly a year since the Brewers acquired Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. How do you feel about these trades now, and is that different than you did when they happened?
KL: Watching Brett Lawrie rake for the Blue Jays stings a little bit, but I still feel like the Brewers did what they needed to do to put themselves in a position to compete. Of the five players they gave up Lawrie was the only sure thing, and even he had a question mark: No one knew if he'd ever settle into a defensive position.
Marcum and Greinke both had strong days and frustrating moments this season, but they also shored up an incredible glaring weakness in the organization and both are still under club control for 2012. It'd be nice if the organization hadn't put themselves in a position to need to make moves like this, but once they found themselves there it's hard to argue with what they decided to do.
My Thoughts: It's hard to argue with the results, as Greinke and Marcum were key to the Brewers making it to the playoffs. The hard part is that the team realistically gave up quite a ransom in players to get them both. Both players remain under contract through 2012, and I could see the team moving them both at the deadline next year if they were to fall out of contention early for some reason.
ON THE FARM SYSTEM:
MLBDD: While the trades clearly helped the Major League team, they left the farm system pretty empty. Are there any specific prospects you are excited to follow in 2012, and is there one that really surprised you with their 2011 performance?
KL: I'm not sure they planned it this way, but the Brewers had two first round picks in 2011 at the best possible time. They used them to select two advanced collegiate pitchers in Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley, and it'll be interesting to see how those guys are handled and progress in the organization this season.
Among the guys who are still here, Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg and Nick Bucci are all interesting for one reason or another. The organization lacks in surefire prospects and depth at that point, but they've still got some impact potential.
My Thoughts: There's not a lot to love here in terms of high-ceiling talent. They have the two top draft picks from this year, but beyond that there really isn't a lot. Something that could be interesting, depending on how they value those players, is that they could also become trade chips to help the team compete in 2012. While both Jungmann and Bradley were collegiate pitchers, it seems unlikely that they would be ready to help in 2012.
ON THE BRAUN CANDIDACY:
MLBDD: Ryan Braun's name has deservedly come up frequently as an MVP candidate after his performance this year. Do you think he will win, and if not, who do you think will win instead?
KL: At this point I'd say it's a coin flip between Braun and Matt Kemp. I voted for Braun (and I'm admittedly biased), but I don't think you can go wrong voting for either guy at this point. Kemp had an incredible season on a mediocre team, so it's just a question of how many voters penalize him for playing in fewer relevant games.
My Thoughts: I voted on the American League ballots over at Fake Teams, and to be honest, I'm not sure which of the two I would have picked on the National League side. He's right that you really couldn't go wrong, and Braun seems likely to be a perennial MVP candidate, especially if Fielder leaves.
ON OFFSEASON MOVES:
MLBDD: The team reached the League Championship Series this season, but fell short to the rival Cardinals. What moves would you like to see the team make to get them further in 2012?
KL: The first priority needs to be shoring up the shortstop position. With Yuniesky Betancourt, Jerry Hairston Jr and Craig Counsell leaving the team doesn't have a single major league SS in the organization. Improving on Betancourt's 2011 production shouldn't be difficult, but they'll have to find someone who can do it.
From there, creativity is going to have to be key. The team is losing a massive contributor at first base (Fielder) and three of their top four bullpen arms (Francisco Rodriguez, LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito), but really doesn't have the financial resources to use the free agent market to replace all of them. They're probably going to have to look at some low risk options and hope they can find someone that can help them with a bounce-back or breakout season.
My Thoughts: Shortstop seems like it has the potential to be the most pressing need, and I can't really see them becoming players for either Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins. Whether or not they do, one of the gaps they need to fill is likely to be held down by either a rookie/prospect or a free agent acquisition with some flaws.
Thanks again to Kyle for taking the time to answer our questions!