- Phil Rogers
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The long wait for another playoff appearance continues in Milwaukee, but the Brewers did give their fans an interesting summer in 2007.
Prince Fielder made an MVP run, leading an exciting group of players into first place for much of the season. Injuries to starting pitchers eventually proved too much to overcome, leaving the Brewers two games behind the Cubs, but they did turn in their first winning season since 1992.
Manager Ned Yost seemed uptight down the stretch, when he was unable to put the brakes on a 3-7 stretch in late September that knocked Milwaukee out of the race. He received a vote of support from owner Mark Attanasio, but will be under close scrutiny next spring.
Another front-end starter: Ben Sheets never seems to hold up, and Jeff Suppan was a major disappointment after signing as a free agent. Second-year right-hander Yovani Gallardo has the stuff to be an ace, but doesn't have the experience.
A healthy Johnny Estrada: The well-traveled former All-Star catcher underwent surgery on his knee and elbow after the season, which was a disappointment for him. He threw out only six of 79 runners, but hopes that he'll be a different man after having his elbow repaired.
In the picture: Perhaps because of his injuries, Estrada was a major disappointment last season. The free-agent market for catchers offers a variety of intriguing options that will be studied while deciding whether to tender the arbitration-eligible Estrada a 2008 contract. Jorge Posada is out of the Brewers' price range, but it wouldn't be a shock if they stepped up to sign Michael Barrett, Jason LaRue, Jason Kendall, Paul Lo Duca or Yorvit Torrealba.
Bill Hall: With J.J. Hardy at shortstop and Corey Hart available to play center field, the talented Hall is suddenly expendable. Yost is saying that Hall is still his center fielder but it won't be a surprise if Hall gets traded, possibly to a team that wants to move him back to shortstop.
Chris Capuano: Snakebit all season, Capuano did not pitch as badly as his 5-12 record indicates. He could benefit from a change of scenery, but the Brewers can't expect much in return with him a four-plus arbitration player.
Tony Gwynn Jr.: The San Diego Padres wish someone had traded for Gwynn during the 2007 season, as it was his two-out hit in the ninth inning on the next-to-last day of the regular season that kept San Diego from winning the wild-card race. He's a good hitter, but is getting crowded out of a deep outfield mix in Milwaukee.
LHP Manny Parra: There aren't many teams that wouldn't find a spot in the rotation for Parra, a four-pitch lefty who threw a perfect game in his first start in Triple-A. He's not considered a pure power pitcher, but he owns a fastball he can run up to the mid-90s.
SS Alcides Escobar: His presence may make it easier for Melvin to deal Hall. He is considered a very solid fielder (he led Southern League shortstops in fielding percentage) and a good runner. His bat is questionable, but he could fill in for Hardy if needed.
The Brewers have a chance to develop into a perennial contender if Yost (or his replacement) can get them over the hump. Melvin is an excellent GM and a good bet to make a move or two that will have a significant impact next season. The lack of shortstops on the market should make it easy for Melvin to move Hall for pitching, with the White Sox's Jon Garland among the possibilities.
The 2008 season will mark the last year of Sheets' contract, which makes it a big year for Milwaukee. There's no guarantee the Brewers are going to reinvest heavily in Sheets.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available at bookstores, through Amazon.com or by direct order from Triumph Books (800-222-4657).
The Brewers improved a great deal in 2007, but still need to do a few more things in order to hold up over the long haul in '08.