Braun  Brewers baseball talk around Christmas? Absolutely! These are crucial times for the Brewers as they sift through the collection of free agents on the market, and decide whether to kick the tires or move on to in-house options.

It’s a known fact the Brewers are in need of pitching, especially in the bullpen. With 29 blown saves in 2012, and bloated ERA’s, the bullpen was clearly the number one issue that needed to be addressed. John Axford will once again be counted on to close games. After a rough 2012, (4.67 ERA, 35 saves, 1.44 WHIP), the Brewers will need Ax to return to his 2011 form, (1.95 ERA, 46 saves, 1.14 WHIP) for them to have any chance at competing for the division.

Francisco Rodriguez will not return to the team after a 2012 where he posted a 4.38 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and gave up 35 earned runs compared to 6 earned runs in 2011. The Brewers also jettisoned Manny Parra, Jose Veras, and Kam Loe from their disastrous 2012 bullpen.

The Brewers signed lefty Tom Gorzelanny to a two year 5.7 million dollar deal. While this doesn’t make big headlines as a major free agent splash, it’s a good signing. Gorzelanny was solid last year as a reliever posting a 2.88 ERA over 72 innings. He’s effective against righties (.245 BAA) and also lefties (.237 BAA). Gorzelanny is also a ground ball pitcher, which is a huge plus at hitter friendly Miller Park. He also has the flexibility to make a few spot starts here and there.

The Brewers also acquired RHP Burke Badenhop in a trade with the Rays for Raul Mondesi Jr. earlier this month. Badenhop posted a 3.03 ERA last year and a 1.20 WHIP in 62 innings, and will fit in the pen nicely.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin has kept his eye on a few other relievers currently on the market as well. There are guys still available like lefty Mike Gonzalez, Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch, and Kyle Farnsworth. It’s conceivable to think he will need to add at least one more guy to the mix. That could come in the form of a free agent or an in-house option of someone like Johnny Hellweg, Jesus Sanchez, or Travis Webb.

Overall I think this bullpen will have some potential. With Jim Henderson coming off of a solid season, he will most likely enter 2013 as the set-up man to Axford. Badenhop, Kintzler, and Gorzelanny should see some 7th/8th inning work as well.

Now let’s talk starting pitching. With Zack Greinke leaving via free agency, Yovanni Gallardo is the clear ace of this staff. It remains to be seen whether he can handle such a role. Yo is only 26 and entering the prime of his career. The Brewers also let Shawn Marcum go via free agency, and released Randy Wolf back in August, so needless to say there are spots in the rotation to be filled.

The Brewers were pleasantly surprised with guys like Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers, Wily Peralta, and Tyler Thornburg who all made big starts for them last year. The cupboard is not bare folks. There are some big arms here. The thing that is missing is experience. Ideally another veteran starter would be fantastic, but right now the prices are just ridiculous. When Ryan Dempster gets a 2 year deal for 26.5 million to pitch in the offense heavy American League East, it’s pretty obvious the market needs to settle down a bit before the Brewers will dip their toes in the water.

The free agent baseball market is a lot like playing the stock market. When you’re a small market team like the Brewers, you don’t pay $50 for a $30 share of stock. They have to be smart with their decisions. The Brewers need to pay $25 for that $30 share of stock and hope and pray it grows in value. Buy low, sell high is what keeps this team above water. Only teams like the Angels, Dodgers, Rangers, Yankees, and a few other large market teams with huge TV deals can pay well over market value for free agents. Much like the technology market, prices are always crazy high at first, but as the big market teams fill their wish lists, prices start to stabilize and that’s when the Brewers make their moves.

Pitching aside, the Brewers offense was one of the best in baseball in 2012. The Brewers ranked #1 in home runs, stolen bases, slugging pct., and runs scored in the National League. The Brewers return all of their pieces offensively from last year. Corey Hart will be a free agent in 2014, so he’ll be motivated to produce in a contract year.

There’s a lot of reason to be excited going into 2013. There’s been speculation that the Brewers want to reduce payroll from 100 million in 2012, to around 80 million in 2013. Are the Brewers losing money? We’ll never know as teams aren’t required to open their books to the public. The Brewers will pay seven of their players just over 50 million, with Weeks being the highest of the seven at 11 million. As shocking at this sounds, Weeks (11M), Hart (10.3M), and Ramirez (10M) will all make more money than Ryan Braun (9.5M) in 2013. Braun’s market value is probably closer to 17 or 18 million, so needless to say the Brewers are getting quite a deal for his services.

The bottom line for this team is they have little margin for error. If they can add a veteran starting pitcher without breaking the bank, avoid injuries to key players, and the bullpen bounces back, this team can win the division. With all of its speed and power, this team will definitely be fun to watch. We’re just over two months from pitchers and catchers reporting, so it won’t be long before the popping of the gloves and cracking of the bats will give Brewer fans a reason to believe.

 

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