Spring is in the air. Yes, it’s been literally days since the last snowfall. Local news stations are filing their “brave the cold” fodder away, and dusting off “beat the heat” segments. Melting ice has uncovered a treasure trove of spare change, wrappers, and dog shit left beside sidewalks over the past four months. Best of all, Brewers baseball is back.
Monday, the long-empty Miller Park lots will, again, be overtaken with automobiles; Port-a-Johns; the distinct scent profile of grilled meat, charcoal, and barf; as well as hoards of Brewers fans. Before game one of (at least) 162 is in the books, Milwaukee Record will get you up to speed on what to expect from your Milwaukee Brewers.
Following a fairly inactive offseason, the Brewers made waves with a surprising late-winter acquisition. Enough about Hank the Dog, though; Milwaukee also brought in Matt Garza, a proven veteran starter who was set stray by the Rangers—by way of the Cubs—when his contract was up last season. For the staggering (yet miraculously under-market value for a pitcher with his résumé) price of $50M spread over the next four seasons, the Brewers get a top-of-rotation-caliber hurler with a 3.84 lifetime ERA and more than 1,000 strikeouts in eight seasons. Between default “ace” Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse (who is actually the team’s best starter), a finally healthy Marco Estrada, and pitching project Wily Peralta, the Brewers rotation looks much better on paper than it did last season…and much more misogynistic.
First things last, evidently
When Corey Hart decided against re-signing with the only big league team he had ever known—not to mention the franchise that paid him $10M to occupy a place on the disabled list all of last season—in favor of a generous one-year deal with the Seattle Mariners, the Brewers were left with the same corner infield quandary they faced last season. Like last year, the front office addressed the hole at first base by slapping together a makeshift platoon of affordable veterans. Mark Reynolds will be the opening day starting first baseman.
While Reynolds hit more than 20 home runs in each of the last six seasons, the all-or-nothing slugger is known for his propensity to strike out. His 223 strikeouts in 2009 is a single-season record, and he’s thrice led the National League in Ks. When Reynolds inevitably gets a day or two off to break up a slump (or fills in for the $15.1M ghost of Aramis Ramirez at third), first base will be occupied by a familiar face. Remember Lyle Overbay? The pre-Prince Fielder Brewers first baseman will spell Reynolds in his second stint with the Brew Crew. Though nice for nostalgia’s sake, with nine years between Brewers at-bats, fans who once screamed “OOOOO!!!” when Overbay stepped to the plate will now be muttering “Oh…”
Beyond Garza, Reynolds, and Overbay, the Brewers didn’t rotate much of their stock. In all, 20 members of Milwaukee’s opening day roster were on the team at some point last season. The first acquisition came when Milwaukee said sayonara to beloved Japanese outfielder Nori Aoki, trading him to Kansas City for promising young relief pitcher Will Smith, in a roster move that launched a million “Fresh Prince” puns. Hopefully he can Hitchon to a bullpen spot and avoid becoming an Enemy Of The State of Wisconsin.
The second low-risk acquisition saw the Crew nabbing 21-year-old Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Chung Wang in the Rule 5 Draft. The former Pirates prospect has only pitched 12 games in the lowest level of the minors. However, in order to keep their hands on Wang (sorry!), the Brewers need to keep the lefty pitching prodigy in the big leagues all season or risk returning him to the Pirates, who retain his minor league rights upon demotion.
Besides the aforementioned additions, the Brewers roster has shifted through small modifications. After missing the final 65 games of last season on account of eating a lozenge in 2011 (long story!), Ryan Braun is back. He’s now stationed dangerously close to fans as the new right fielder. Khris Davis, who fared pretty well as Braun’s replacement last season, will now man left field. Scrappy Lilliputian middle infielder Scooter Gennett looks to dazzle fans with his grit, scrap, and moxie in a straight-up second base platoon with Rickie Weeks, in what looks to be the latter’s final season in Milwaukee.
Speaking of “gamers” stepping in for longtime Brewers staples, Craig Counsell will fill in for Bob Uecker in the broadcast booth during select road games. Additionally, ex-Brewers outfielder Darryl Hamilton will occasionally commentate, too, when Mr. Baseball opts to take down Miller Lite aluminum pints on his boat instead of call a likely meaningless series in Miami in September.
Though notable pitching improvements, Braun’s return, and a clean slate in the standings could make the 2014 Brewers campaign an unforgettable one, sharing a division with three reigning playoff teams (each of which made greater offseason strides) seems to suggest a young and slapdash squad that, realistically, has a third place ceiling. But hey, Hank the Dog, right?!