New faces, position changes for Brewers this spring
Originally Published: February 24, 2008By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com
PHOENIX -- The Milwaukee Brewers might not be "America's team" just yet, but they're a huge hit at local synagogues. That's a given for a club with two players, Ryan Braun and Gabe Kapler, who go by the nickname "Hebrew Hammer."Hey, if Wikipedia confirms it, it must be true.
The Brewers were on their way to becoming a national story last year when they were done in by inferior defense, underperforming veterans and a failure to win on the road. Their 83 victories were the franchise's highest total since 1992, but after leading the National League Central by 8½ games on June 23, they were left with a nagging sense that they'd blown a major opportunity. To the Cubs, no less. There's plenty of optimism in Milwaukee's camp this spring, but a lot of elements have to mesh. Closer Francisco Cordero left to sign a $46 million contract with Cincinnati, and general manager Doug Melvin rebuilt the bullpen. The Brewers signed Mike Cameron to play center field, which means Bill Hall will shift from center to third base and Braun, in turn, will move from third base to left field. The starting rotation, a potential team strength, also suffered a minor setback in the first week of spring training when Yovani Gallardo underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. So questions abound for manager Ned Yost. Here are five that could determine whether the young Brewers will be serious contenders or will fall into the "not quite" category again in 2008.
AP Photo/Morry GashThe Brewers signed Eric Gagne to a one-year, $10 million contract to be their closer this season.
1. How many starters will be enough?Like their Midwest neighbors, the Cubs, the Brewers need to sort through an abundance of pitching options in Arizona. When the Brewers arrived in camp, Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan and Gallardo were locks for the Opening Day rotation, and David Bush, coming off two straight 12-win seasons, was pretty darned close. Gallardo isn't expected to return until mid-March, but the Brewers still think he might be ready to slot into the back end of the rotation in April.
2. What will life be like after Cordero?Now that Cordero has departed for Cincinnati, Eric Gagne will try to fill the void. Will he be the Gagne who converted 16 of 17 save opportunities in Texas, or the guy who was nearly run out of Boston during the stretch drive? Various explanations have been offered for Gagne's free fall with the Red Sox. Did he try too hard to impress in Boston and overthrow as a result? Could his problems be traced to an inability to adjust to a set-up role? That was agent Scott Boras' explanation, although it sounded kind of lame.
3. How's Braun faring in his transition to the outfield?Quite well, thank you. Braun was so anxious to hit the ground running that he spent the winter at Pepperdine University chasing down fly balls off the bat of his agent, Nez Balelo. Since his arrival in Arizona, he has come out early each morning to work on the finer points of outfield play with coaches Ed Sedar and Reid Nichols.
4. What's up in center field?Cameron paid a price after testing positive twice for banned stimulants. At one point, it appeared likely that he'd sign an Eric Byrnes-like deal for three years and at least $10 million annually. In the end, Cameron landed in the Brewers' laps for one year at $7 million. And now he'll have to sit out the first 25 games of the regular season.
5. Is this Rickie Weeks' breakout year?If B.J. Upton could break through in Tampa after years of position changes and organizational misuse, it might be time for Weeks to live up to his billing as the second overall pick in the 2003 draft.