How has the face of your team changed over the last five years?
The network’s theme for this year’s MLB season previews is “the changing face of baseball” and few teams have seen as much change recently as the Milwaukee Brewers. Five springs ago, the team was coming off one of the most successful seasons in franchise history, winning 96 games and going all the way to the NLCS.
The Brewers had winning seasons in 2012 and 2014 but couldn’t quite get over the hump back into the playoffs, and when the bottom fell out during a 5-18 start in 2015 the club entered into a complete rebuild mode. Doug Melvin began the process by firing Ron Roenicke and installing Craig Counsell as his new field manager in May, and then dealing away the first wave of veterans during that summer. After Melvin moved into an advisory role following the season, the youthful David Stearns picked up right where he left off. Between the two general managers, the club has traded an entire 25-man roster’s worth of players – from blockbuster deals for Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy to smaller ones including players on the fringes of the roster like Jason Rogers or Luis Sardinas – in less than two calendar years, quickly stripping the payroll to one of the lowest levels in the league while rebuilding the farm system into one of baseball’s best.
The last time the Brewers underwent a rebuild project of this magnitude, it yielded stalwarts like Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Yovani Gallardo (among others) to form the core of those playoff-bound teams of 2008 and 2011. A top-flite farm system also allowed the team to go out and acquire CC Sabathia, Zack Greinke, and Shawn Marcum to supplement to those postseason runs. Ryan Braun, now the team’s longest tenured player by a long-shot, stands alone as the last remaining connection to those playoff teams, and even he was reportedly nearly dealt to the Dodgers this past summer. Now that the tear down phase is essentially complete, Milwaukee will be a team in transition in 2017 as they continue to give chances to their young players to see which ones will become the core of the next run of successful Brewers’ teams.
To start the year at least, the Milwaukee Nine won’t look altogether too different from the team that was fielded during the end of last season. Ryan Braun returns to man left field with Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana patrolling center field and right field. Broxton and Santana were both terrific during about a half-season’s worth of games last year and offer similar, high-variance profiles. Both players are adept at taking walks and have brandished plus home run power, but both struck out in more than 30% of their plate appearances last season. Keon at least offers strong defense in center field should his offense crater, but Santana has graded out as a poor defender in right field thus far in his young career and will therefore have more pressure on him to produce value with his bat. Backing up at all three positions will be lefty Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who was solid in a 4th outfielder role last season and brought back on an arbitration deal. Super-utilityman Hernan Perez should also see some time in the outfield, as could Scooter Gennett, who is attempting to transition into more of a versatile role with the club after losing his grip on the second base job.
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