By Brian Gillespie, MLB Analyst (Sports Network)
2004 FINISH (67-94) - Sixth Place (NL Central)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: RP - Ricky Bottalico, RP - Jose Capellan, OF - Carlos Lee, RP - Justin Lehr, C - Damian Miller
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: C - Gary Bennett, SS - Craig Counsell, C - Keith Ginter, RP - Dan Kolb, OF - Scott Podsednik, RP - Luis Vizcaino
PROJECTED LINEUP: Brady Clark (CF); Junior Spivey (2B); Lyle Overbay (1B); Carlos Lee (LF); Geoff Jenkins (RF); Russ Branyan (3B); Damian Miller (C); J.J. Hardy (SS)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Ben Sheets (RHP); Doug Davis (LHP); Chris Capuano (LHP); Victor Santos (RHP); Jose Capellan (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Mike Adams (RHP)
MANAGER: Ned Yost
Success is measured vastly different throughout the league. While the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees would wince at winning any less than 80 games, the Milwaukee Brewers feel like they are headed in the right direction after winning just 67 contests in 2004.
This optimism has been spurred on by the diehards, who saw the Brewers still sitting in the playoff race in mid-July last season at 47-43. Of course, it can't be ignored that the club went just 23-51 after July 18, finishing in the cellar of the NL Central.
Nonetheless, Ned Yost's club left an indelible mark on the 2004 campaign, flashing such young stars as first baseman Lyle Overbay and centerfielder Scott Podsednik. While Podsednik's franchise record 43 stolen bases and .314 average were impressive, they weren't enough to convince the front office that he would be a long term solution for the franchise. Along with right-handed reliever Luis Vizcaino, Podsednik was shipped to the Chicago White Sox for talented leftfielder Carlos Lee.
Lee, who is signed for one more year with an option for 2006, will thicken up the middle of the Brewers' lineup with a power stroke. Placing Lee between Overbay and Geoff Jenkins will make for a brutal trio for any opposing pitcher to get through in the course of a game. Milwaukee can only hope that Lee can fight through a hand injury which hampered him in Spring Training.
The Brewers also didn't stand pat in their bullpen, as they sent closer Danny Kolb to the Atlanta Braves for talented pitching prospect Jose Capellan. Kolb earned his wings last season, posting a franchise best 39 saves with a 2.98 ERA. Meanwhile, Capellan worked his way up through the Atlanta minor league system in 2004, recording a 14-4 record with a 2.32 ERA. Capellan initially was considered closer material, but the Brewers are taking a look at him as a starter right now.
Milwaukee's infield success could hinge on the progression of 22-year-old shortstop J.J. Hardy. The youngster has terrific defensive tools, which will make him the perfect double-play combination with Junior Spivey. However, Hardy has a long way to go when it comes to hitting major league pitching.
Spivey is another question mark, as he is coming off left shoulder surgery. The four-year veteran played in just 59 games last season, hitting .272 with seven homers and 28 RBI. Keep any eye on Bill Hall, who could end up supplanting Spivey at the position. Hall must work on his patience at the plate, considering he struck out 119 times in 390 at-bats last season.
Overbay came out of the gate like a house on fire last season, pushing his batting average as high as .369 by mid-May. The Centralia, WA native leveled off a bit until hitting just .216 in September. For the year, Overbay finished with a .301 batting average and a league and franchise-best 53 doubles. Milwaukee will need a similar effort from Overbay this year.
Journeyman Russell Branyan is back to play third base for the Brewers. After being traded from Cleveland last season, Branyan hit just .234 with 11 homers and 27 RBI. The 29-year-old has always had the ability hit the longball, but struggles to lay off bad pitches.
Milwaukee brought in veteran Damian Miller to fill their need at catcher. Miller registered solid numbers for Oakland last season, posting nine homers and 58 RBI while hitting .272. Last year, Miller committed just one error in 751 total chances.
Lee should be quite an addition to the Milwaukee outfield, as his 31 homers and 99 RBI would have led the Brewers in 2004. The native of Panama has posted 62 homers over the last two seasons, while knocking in 212 runs. Lee is equally capable of hitting off both righties and southpaws.
Taking over in centerfield for Podsednik will be Brady Clark, who played a large portion of the 2004 season in right. Clark lacks power, but has made up for it by hitting .276 with 28 stolen bases over the last two seasons. The 31-year-old, who has spent time with both Cincinnati and the New York Mets in his career, will be leading off for the Brewers.
Lifetime Brewer Geoff Jenkins will move from left to right field this season, opening a spot for Lee. Jenkins posted solid numbers with 27 homers and 93 RBI last season, despite striking out 152 times. The former All-Star is signed through 2007 with an option for 08'.
The jewel of the Brewers' pitching staff is 26-year-old righthander Ben Sheets, who is coming off a season in which he went 12-14 with a 2.70 ERA. Sheets finished second in the NL in strikeouts (264) and WHIP (0.98), while placing third in ERA, complete games (five) and innings pitched (237.0). For his efforts, Sheets received a one-year, $6 million deal through arbitration in February.
A pair of lefthanders in Doug Davis and Chris Capuano follow Sheets in the rotation. Davis, an eight-year veteran, posted a career-high 12 wins to go along with a career-low 3.39 ERA in 34 starts last season. Meanwhile, Capuano went 6-8 with a 4.99 ERA in an injury-shortened rookie campaign. Capuano's season came to an end in late August, when he was shelved because of elbow soreness.
Dominican righthander Victor Santos, who became a full-time starter for the first time in his four-year career last season, posted a career-best 11-12 mark with a 4.97 ERA. Santos, a finesse pitcher, possesses a very good overhand curve and two and four-seam fastballs. The twirler won't have catcher Gary Bennett to work with this season, though.
Capellan will likely be the Brewers' fifth starter, but don't forget about righthander Wes Obermueller. The Cedar Rapids, IA split time between Milwaukee and Triple-A Indianapolis last season. Obermueller went 6-8 with a 5.80 ERA in 25 appearances with the big club.
The Brewers will rely on unheralded righthander Mike Adams to replace Kolb in the closer role. Adams very quietly posted 12 holds in 46 appearances in his rookie campaign for the Brewers in 2004. The 26-year-old raced through the Brewers' minor league system in less than three years, utilizing a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider.
Milwaukee will likely look to righthanders Ricky Bottalico and Jeff Bennett to carry the load for the Brewers in late-inning roles. Bottalico made 60 appearances for the New York Mets last season, registering a 3-2 record with a 3.38 ERA and 12 holds. In the meantime, Bennett went 1-5 with a 4.79 ERA in 60 appearances for the Brewers during his rookie campaign.
Justin Lehr, who saved 13 games at Triple-A Sacramento last season and then posted a 5.23 ERA in 27 games with the Athletics, is an option for a second closer.
The Milwaukee bench is in limbo with a variety of different players in contention. One thing is for sure - Brooks Kieschnick will be on the pine, as he is available to pitch and play the field. Kieschnick went 1-1 with a 3.77 ERA in 32 appearances out of the 'pen in 2004, while hitting .270 with a homer and seven RBI in 63 at-bats.
Infielders Wes Helms and Jeff Cirillo are both capable replacements for Branyan in the infield. Helms hit .263 last year, while Cirillo is in the tail end of his career. Rookie infielder Corey Hart could get a chance as well.
Trent Durrington is a versatile utilityman, capable of playing a variety of positions in both the infield and outfield. Durrington's speed can be an asset off the bench in pinch-running spots as well.
It will be interesting to see how much of a difference that Lee can make for the Brewers this season. While Lee is a talented player, the Brewers still have plenty of holes which will stunt their growth as a team. Look for Milwaukee's bullpen to be their downfall en route to yet another last place finish in the NL Central.