The Milwaukee Brewers lost a huge part of their game when Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers a few weeks ago. They appeared to be in even deeper trouble when All-Star and National League MVP outfielder Ryan Braun faced a 50-game ban after random testing found an elevated level of testosterone in his bloodstream. Braun appealed the result, which was subsequently overturned, but it still leaves observers wondering what impact this all might have on the defending National League Central division champs.
The Action: General manager Doug Melvin made one trade in the off-season, sending Casey McGehee to the Pirates for reliever Jose Veras; Melvin could afford to move McGehee after signing former Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez. To Ramirez’s left at shortstop will be longtime Brave Alex Gonzalez, and Melvin shelled out $2.5 million in a posting fee to land outfielder Norichika Aoki from the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
It’s A Lock: One thing that hasn’t changed is the top end of the pitching staff. The starting rotation of Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson is in place, as are closer John Axford and setup man Francisco Rodriguez. Wily Peralta could grab a starting spot if one of the others gets in trouble.
Now that he seems to be past the controversy, Braun will retain his left-field spot (although a strained groin is slowing him in spring training). Ramirez brings stability and a dependable RBI stroke to the hot corner at Miller Park, while Gonzalez should also provide a steady hand in the field and at the plate. Rickie Weeks is, of course, the everyday second baseman, while Jonathan Lucroy gets another season at catcher.
Hedge Your Bets: The departure of Fielder opens the door for 1B prospect Mat Gamel, who hit .310 with 28 HR and 96 RBI at Nashville in 2011. There is some talk that Corey Hart could also see time at first if Gamel can’t stick with the big club or hit lefthanders well enough. Aoki must also adjust to the major leagues, and no one knows yet if the 30-year-old former Japanese League batting champ can do that.
Center field appears to be the liveliest position battle. Nyjer Morgan did well in the role, getting most of the playing time. Carlos Gomez is still pressing for playing time, as is veteran Corey Patterson and hot prospect Logan Schafer. Hart is recovering from knee surgery, and could be pushed out of right field by Aoki or moved to first base.
The Payoff: Milwaukee finds itself in the middle of the pack in the MLB futures betting without Fielder, but manager Ron Roenicke should have enough personnel to put up a good fight against the likes of the Cardinals and the Reds in the division.
For those looking for a Major League Baseball prop bet, we’ve got “Go Yard Or Go Lard!” which asks you to predict whether Fielder will, by the end of the regular season, have more (or fewer) career home runs than his listed weight of 275 pounds. He starts 2012 with 230 homers.