Commentary

Brewers could rebuild pitching by making some trades

Originally Published: November 7, 2008
By Phil Rogers | Special to ESPN.com

CC Sabathia is a workhorse, and the Brewers were willing to ride him. The midseason acquisition made three consecutive starts on three days' rest down the stretch, bringing the playoffs to Milwaukee for the first time in 26 years.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
GM: Doug Melvin
Manager: Ken Macha
'08 record: 90-72, 2nd in NL Central
Milwaukee Brewers '08 payroll: $74.7M, 17th MLB
Runs scored: 750, 7th NL
Runs allowed: 689, 13th NL
OPS: .757, 6th NL
ERA: 3.85, 2nd NL
Fielding percentage: .984, T-7th NL

Left fielder Ryan Braun and first baseman Prince Fielder combined for 71 homers to help reward owner Mark Attanasio's aggressive pursuit of a winner. But after losing a four-game Division Series to Philadelphia, the Brewers are left trying to figure out what to do with the front of their starting rotation.

Primary needs

No starting pitcher committed for 2009 won more than 10 games -- and among those returning, only Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra and David Bush made more than 12 starts. The Brewers' bullpen is also a problem, as no one would pencil in Salomon Torres for another 28 saves after he compiled a 4.70 ERA in the second half. Improved fielding would help the pitching staff. The most immediate need was filled when Ken Macha was hired to replace Dale Sveum, who wasn't retained despite his success after Ned Yost was canned on Sept. 15.

Free agents

LHP CC Sabathia, RHP Ben Sheets, 2B Ray Durham, RHP Eric Gagne, RHP Guillermo Mota, INF Craig Counsell, LHP Brian Shouse, INF Russell Branyan, 3B Mike Lamb, OF Gabe Kapler, RHP Salomon Torres (option)

GM Doug Melvin has made a five-year, $100 million offer to Sabathia, who enjoyed his time with the Brewers, but he seems headed elsewhere. Sheets is the guy they'd have a chance to retain if they wanted to, but his dubious health history makes that problematic. Melvin exercised an option to retain center fielder Mike Cameron.

Trade bait

With exciting shortstop Alcides Escobar in the wings, J.J. Hardy could be traded or moved to second base, where Rickie Weeks has made himself expendable. Fielder could be dealt in a huge package for pitching.

Farm aid

In addition to Escobar, the Brewers have a big supply of prospects coming. The organization is deeper in position players than pitchers, however. Mat Gamel's left-handed bat could be valuable at third base if he cuts down his errors and avoids a shift to the outfield. Catcher Angel Salome hit .360 to win the Southern League batting title but is an unconventional hitter and an easy target for opposing base stealers.

Outlook

With Macha in place, the focus moves to replacing pitching coach Mike Maddux, who was wooed away by Texas president Nolan Ryan, and finding arms for the rotation. An improvement in the bullpen, possibly even including an established closer, is also needed. Melvin should have some money to spend in that pursuit.

Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has its Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available in bookstores, through Amazon.com and by direct order from Triumph Books (800-222-4657).