True or False? 2006 Brewers:2005 Brewers::1990 Brewers:1989 Brewers.
To investigate this question it’s time for a lengthy trip down memory lane with the Brewers of yesteryear.
Last year, I began my preview with these words, that rung sadly true for baseball fans in Wisconsin, “In 2004 the Milwaukee Brewers finished last in the NL Central for the third consecutive season and failed to win 70 games for the fourth straight season.” However, I concluded my preview on an optimistic note, noting the team was heading in the right direction and predicted 75 wins and fourth place in the NL Central. The Brewers exceeded my expectations, finishing in third place in the Central, two games ahead of the Cubs. More importantly, they finished with 81 wins, reaching the .500 mark, which had eluded them since they went 92-70 in 1992.
To contemplate how long it was since the Brewers reached .500, their staff in 1992 was Bill Wegman, Jaime Navarro, Chris Bosio, Ricky Bones and Cal Eldred. Their closer was Doug Henry. Their shortstop, Pat Listach, won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Greg Vaughn, Dante Bichette and Robin Yount both patrolled the outfield. B.J. Surhoff still played catcher. Finally, Jesse Orosco, who pitched in relief for the ’92 BrewCrew, was only 35 years old.
However, looking back a few more years, the 1989 Brewers were the last Milwaukee team to finish at 81-81. The 1989 Brewers had a run differential of +28, which resulted in a Pythagorean Record of 84-78. The 2005 Brewers also had a Pythagorean Record of 84-78, with a +29 run differential. As these are the only two Brewers teams in history to finish at exactly .500 (the 1996 team finished at 80-82), it seems appropriate to compare the two of them. The 1990 Brewers had a disappointing campaign, seeing their record fall to 74-88 (with a Pythagorean Record of 78-84) and several key players from the 1989 take a big step backwards. Does the fate of the 1990 Brewers shed light on the future of the 2006 team? Should we temper our expectations of this up-and-coming team based on the problems that befell their last .500 incarnation?
1989 Brewers: B.J. Surhoff, 24, .248/.287/.339, OPS+ 77
1990 Brewers: B.J. Surhoff, 25, .276/.321/.376, OPS+99
2005 Brewers: Damian Miller, 35, .273/.340/.413, OPS+ 97
1989 Brewers: Charlie O’Brien, 29, .234/.339/.383, OPS+105
1990 Brewers: Charlie O’Brien, 30, .183/.253/.262, OPS+46
2005 Brewers: Chad Moeller, 30, .206/.257/.367, OPS+ 62
B.J. Surhoff continued the improvement that would see him eventually become an average catcher into his late 20’s, before he was moved to 3B, then 1B and the OF. Surhoff would be an above-average hitter in the late 1990’s and would make an All-Star appearance in 1999. However, at this point in his career Surhoff had completed his third season in the majors and in 1990 he began to show the offensive potential that made him the first overall pick in 1985. Surhoff showed the improvement the front office was liking looking for and expecting.
Damian Miller, on the other hand, is going to be 36 in 2006. Last year represented his maximum offensive output (a 97 OPS+ is second-highest of his career, just ahead of 2 96+’s) and catchers do not tend to age well. I don’t see him reproducing those numbers, but he won’t be an Alberto Castillo eiher. Aside from not being an offensive black-hole, he’s also got a very good defensive reputation, so he’ll be worth the money to the Brewers.
In terms of backups, it’s a toss-up between the two of them and in the end it’s pretty irrelevant. Charlie O’Brien rebounded from an uncharacteristically good offensive season and put up the worst OPS+ he had in any 100+ at-bat season of his career. He was traded to the Mets partway through the year. Chad Moeller doesn’t have O’Brien’s great defensive reputation and also has a very limited offensive upside. He’s better defensively than either Mike Rivera or Mark Johnson, who are the starter and backup respectively at Triple-A Nashville. I’d probably go with Rivera as the backup if it was decision, but it’s not. They’ll go with the glove and Moeller’s got the best one.
1989 Brewers: Greg Brock, 32, .265/.345/.405, OPS+ 112
1990 Brewers: Greg Brock, 33, .248/.324/.368, OPS+ 95
2005 Brewers: Lyle Overbay, 28, .276/.367/.449, OPS+ 113
In 1990 University of Wyoming product Greg Brock was entering his second-last season in the majors. After his age-30 season he went from being a steadily above-average offensive player to alternating years of below-average and just above-average production. Brock was never anything special for a first baseman; his most comparable player based on similarity scores is Travis Lee. Although he wasn’t a liability, going into 1990 the Brewers had to have expected more from Brock.
Lyle Overbay is no longer a Brewer and anyone who wonders why that is needs to re-evaluate their devotion to the Blue Jays. Prince Fielder is ready to assume the first base job and it will be very interesting to see how he fares in the majors. Slimmer than his father, Prince possesses a great batting eye and the trademark Fielder power. Prince had a .957 OPS with Triple-A Nashville before getting the call to the majors last year, where he hit .288 in 59 at-bats. Fielder’s going to hit and he could outproduce Overbay’s 2005 production this year. The Brewers shouldn’t have to worry about first base for the next six years.
1989 Brewers: Jim Gantner, 36, .274/.321/.333, OPS+ 86
1990 Brewers: Jim Gantner, 37, .263/.328/.319, OPS+ 83
2005 Brewers: Rickie Weeks, 22, .239/.333/.394, OPS+ 90
In 1990 Wisconsinite Jim Gantner was nearing the end of a 17-year career that he would spend entirely with the Brewers. He’d play until 1992, but since about 1984 Gantner was the player the statistics above indicate – an above-average defensive second baseman who put up an empty average in the .260’s or .270’s. In 1990 the Brewers knew what they were getting with Gantner; he did exactly as expected.
Meanwhile, Rickie Weeks already bettered those numbers last year, with a low average but a higher slugging percentage than Gantner had in every year of his career save 1983. Weeks has hit for a high average throughout his minor league career and, given time, will do so in the majors. He should be better than Gantner this year, although he doesn’t profile as the sort of player to explode on the scene as a rookie. If a rookie for the Brewers is going to do that, it’s going to be Fielder, who could hit 30 homers.
1989 Brewers: Bill Spiers, 23, .255/.298/.333, OPS+ 79
1990 Brewers: Bill Spiers, 24 .242/.274/.317, OPS+ 66
2005 Brewers: J.J. Hardy, 22, .247/.327/.384, OPS+ 86
Spiers was a first-round draft pick who reached the majors two years after being drafted in 1987. Milwaukee expected big things out of the shortstop, including gradual improvement at the major-league level. Spiers went backwards in 1990, before taking a step forward in 1991. His two best seasons wouldn’t come until he was a part-time player for the 1997 and 1998 Houston Astros at 3B. He was a youngster who disappointed the 1990 team.
The Brewers hope Hardy, a second-round draft pick, avoids the sophomore slump that plagued Spiers. Hardy, a player with a good defensive reputation who seemed to struggle a bit with the glove in 2005, turned in two very different halves. Before the All-Star Break Hardy hit .187/.293/.267, for an OPS of .560. After the break Hardy hit .308/.363/.503, for an OPS of .865. Hardy’s improvement with the bat over the course of the season is a good sign for 2006 and gives an indication of the offensive player he can become. If Hardy can play the defence that won him rave reviews in the minors and put up offensive numbers anywhere close to what he did in the second-half of 2005, the Brewers will have one of the best shortstops in the NL on their team.
1989 Brewers: Paul Molitor, 32, .315/.379/.439, OPS+ 132
1990 Brewers: Gary Sheffield, 21, .294/.350/.421, OPS+ 116
2005 Brewers: Bill Hall, 25, .291/.342/.495, OPS+ 117
Sheffield, who reached the majors in 1990 as a 20-year-old, took over at 3B in 1990 and put up very good numbers. Realistically, the Brewers couldn’t have expected anything more from Sheffield. They knew they were going to experience a drop from Molitor’s production and Sheffield did all that he could to make it up.
The 2006 Brewers will have Koskie at 3B, which likely means the team will also not replicate Hall’s numbers in 2006. Koskie will get a good amount of playing time against right-handed pitchers, but Bill Hall will get 400 at-bats over the course of the season, so even a healthy Koskie will not play every day, particularly against lefties. Hall will likely act as a super-sub and will be ready to start at third when Koskie gets an inevitable injury. I expect Koskie to rebound from his 2005 season, but not reach the heights he had in Minnesota in the early 2000’s.
Utility Infielder 1
1989 Brewers: Gary Sheffield, 20, .247/.303/.337, OPS+ 82
1990 Brewers: Paul Molitor, 33, .285/.343/.464, OPS+ 125
2005 Brewers: Russ Branyan, 29, .257/.378/.490, OPS+ 126
Utility Infielder 2
1989 Brewers: Gus Polidor, 27, .194/.230/.234, OPS+ 32
1990 Brewers: Edgar Diaz, 26, .271/.338/.298, OPS+ 81
2005 Brewers: Jeff Cirillo, 35, .281/.373/.427, OPS+ 110
Molitor is stuck as a reserve infielder as he only played in 103 games and because he alternated between first and second base, and thus played less games than Brock and Gantner. Molitor had another fine season in 1990, as part of his Hall of Fame career, and In his only full season in the majors Edgar Diaz proved to be a competent offensively, but his range factor ratings are very poor and its likely defensive shortcomings prevented him from ever gaining a foothold in the majors. The 1990 team got much more production from their reserves than the 1989 team did.
The 2005 Brewers got very good production from their utility infielders and it seems unlikely the 2006 team will do quite as well.. The 2006 team will likely use Bill Hall and Cirillo in this role. As stated above, Hall will likely be a very good reserve infielder and will get a lot of playing time. The front office should temper their expectations with Cirillo, as his OPS+ in the last 4 years have been 74, 50, 48, 110. The 2006 Brewers will be worse off the bench as Branyan has taken his power (and strikeouts) to Tampa Bay and Cirillo cannot possibly duplicate his 2005 season.
1989 Brewers: Glenn Braggs, 26, .247/.305/.370, OPS+ 91
1990 Brewers: Mike Felder, 28, .274/.330/.359. OPS+ 94
2005 Brewers: Carlos Lee, 29, .265/.324/.487, OPS+ 110
Felder exceeded, but barely, Braggs’ production in 1990. I don’t have much to say about them, so onto Carlos Lee. Lee, who actually had his worst offensive season in four years in 2005, also made his first All-Star team, won his first Silver Slugger and played in all 162 games for the Brewers. Lee’s a solid corner outfielder and he’s a good bet to improve on his production from last year. The Brewers will likely deal him for some young talent in July, as he’s a free agent after the season and Melvin chose not to offer him a contract extension in the offseason. If the Brewers are in the division or wild-card race Melvin will have a tough decision to make, as it’ll look foolish in a couple of years if the team let Lee leave for nothing and missed the playoffs while they were building a contender. However, Melvin will likely also feel pressure from the fans to “go for it” if the team is sniffing contention for the first time in a long while.
1989 Brewers: Robin Yount, 33, .318/.384/.511, OPS+ 152
1990 Brewers: Robin Yount, 34, .247/.337/.380, OPS+ 102
2005 Brewers: Brady Clark, 32, .306/.372/.426, OPS+ 109
1990 was the beginning of the end for Robin Yount, as he dropped from one of the best seasons of his career to an average season. He won the AL MVP award in 1989, despite not making the All-Star team (and he wouldn’t make another one in his career. Actually, on a side note, it’s very surprising Yount only made 3 All-Star teams in his 20-year career). Nevertheless, Yount’s regression was a huge loss for the 1990 Brewers and they weren’t able to balance it in other areas.
Brady Clark set a career-high in at-bats last year and tied his career-high in slugging percentage. While playing a competent centre-field, Clark was surprisingly dreadful on the base paths last year, going 10 for 23 in stolen-base attempts. The Brewers front office will likely be happy if Clark can put up average offensive numbers and continue his solid defence. Clark could see his playing time decrease towards the end of the year, as the team may want to see Corey Hart, Gabe Gross, Nelson Cruz or Anthony Gwynn Jr. get regular at-bats in the pros.
1989 Brewers: Rob Deer, 28, .210/.305/.425, OPS+ 105
1990 Brewers: Rob Deer, 29, .209/.313/.432, OPS+ 108
2005 Brewers: Geoff Jenkins, 30, .292/.375/.513, OPS+ 131
Rob Deer is the “Three True Outcomes Hero.” He either struck out, walked or hit a homer in 47.2% of his plate appearances in 1990; it was 46.4% in 1989. Geoff Jenkins will be back for another season in Milwaukee. As I said in the 2004 preview, Jenkins is a slightly above-average player in seasons when’s he hurt and is a good player when he’s healthy. To update the chart from the 2005 preview:
OPS+ How’s he doing? 1998 75 Rookie 1999 133 Healthy 2000 138 Healthy 2001 105 Hurt 2002 103 Hurt 2003 133 Healthy (Relatively) 2004 108 Healthy 2005 131 HealthyJenkins will likely be better than Rob Deer, but he won’t provide the same break in action for opposing fielders. Deer did what was expected of him in 1990; with Jenkins it’s tough to know what to expect. There’s a high degree of variability in his performance.
Backup Outfielder 1
1989 Brewers: Mike Felder, 27, .241/.293/.324, OPS+ 75
1990 Brewers: Greg Vaughn, 24, .220/.280/.432, OPS+ 98
2005 Brewers: Chris Magruder, 29, .203/.265/.312, OPS+ 51
Backup Outfielder 2
1989 Brewers: Terry Francona, 30, .232/.255/.322, OPS+ 63
1990 Brewers: Darryl Hamilton, 25, .295/.333/.346, OPS+ 92
2005 Brewers: Corey Hart, 23, .193/.270/.368, OPS+ 66
Like in the infielder, the outfield reserves were one of the few offensive positions where the 1990 Brewers improved over the 1989 team. Vaughn and Hamilton provided good production off the bench and their skills complimented one another, as Vaughn’s power contrasted well with Hamilton’s speed and ability to hit for average.
Corey Hart, who can play at both 1B and 3B in addition to the outfield, will likely assume the primary reserve outfield role for the 2006 team. Hart will likely get some at-bats at 1B against lefties in place of Fielder, but will get most of his action in the outfield. Hart hit .308 with 17 homers for Nashville last year before getting some time in the majors towards the end of the season. Hart should be an above-average reserve and could find himself with a starting job towards the end of the season. If the Brewers take a second outfielder to Milwaukee it will likely be Gabe Gross, Dave Krynzel or Jason Romano. Whoever it is, they should be able to at least equal the dismal offensive numbers of Magruder. The Brewers will get much better production off the bench in 2006 in the outfield.
The 1989 Brewers had an offence built around two superstars in Young and Molitor, with solid production from Greg Brock and Rob Deer and some young players like Surhoff, Spiers and Braggs. In 1990 Molitor experienced some injury trouble, whereas Yount didn’t come close to equalling his MVP numbers from 1989. With the two stars struggling the Brewers needed their younger players to avoid the sophomore slump and pick up the slack. Surhoff improved, but Spiers took an unexpected step backwards. Sheffield put up fantastic numbers at 3B and Deer, Felder and Gantner performed as expected. However, meeting expectations doesn’t make up for lost production and the only players the Brewers could have expected big things from were Sheffield and Spiers. Spiers regressed and Sheffield put up big numbers, but also began the clubhouse malcontent routine that would eventually lead to his departure from Milwaukee, at which point he ripped the organization and the city and claimed (although he later recanted) he made intentional errors because he was forced to move to third base.
Sheffield offered an explanation for his behaviour in a June 15, 1992 Sports Illustrated article , where he says, "I was basically all alone in Milwaukee -- 20, 21, 22 years old, and I had no one to talk to. There were a lot of selfish players there, caught up in themselves. They couldn't help the younger guy. I didn't want to beg for it, so I just stayed away from them. Finally it got to the point where I didn't want to play anymore. I didn't want to work at it. The fun was totally out of the game. All I wanted to do was go through the motions. I started thinking, All I want to do is be an average player. I didn't want to be a great player anymore. It was killing me." I’m hesitant to put the blame entirely on the “selfish” Brewers given Sheffield’s reputation and I would think Sheffield could be the prototypical cocky youngster who believes he doesn’t need to practice or listen to the advice of others because of his natural talent. However, the Brewers weren’t flawless in this episode either, as they subjected him to drug testing because he was Doc Gooden’s nephew and they sent him to the minors following one blow-up over his defence, where it would later be revealed he was playing with a foot injury. It was a tumultous period, despite Sheffield’s offensive prowess.
The 2006 Brewers have no such superstars who are in danger of regressing. The biggest candidate for such a drop is Jenkins. There’s no Robin Yount on this team. However, even a drop by Jenkins should be made up by an improvement from Carlos Lee. Other possibilities for regression are Clark, Hall and Miller, but none should fall very far.
Although rookie/sophomore slumps and failed expectations are possible, Fielder and Weeks are both hitters with sizable track records and it’s hard to imagine them imploding. Their improvement, especially if coupled with improvement from J.J. Hardy, should be enough to offset any drop in production at 3B. While the 2006 Brewers should be a superior offensive team to the 1990 Brewers, they also have a lot more to look forward to in the future. Three-quarters of the infield is 23 or younger and are all in the majors; this is a foundation that the 1990 Brewers never had.
Starting Pitcher #1
1989 Brewers: Chris Bosio, 26, 2.95 ERA, 48 BB, 173 K, ERA+ 130
1990 Brewers: Chris Bosio, 27, 4.00 ERA, 36 BB, 56 K, ERA+ 97
2005 Brewers: Ben Sheets, 26, 3.33 ERA, 25 BB, 141 K, ERA+ 127
Starting Pitcher #2
1989 Brewers: Teddy Higuera, 30, 3.46 ERA, 48 BB, 91 K, ERA+ 111
1990 Brewers: Teddy Higuera, 31, 3.76 ERA, 50 BB, 129 K, ERA+ 109
2005 Brewers: Doug Davis, 29, 3.84 ERA, 93 BB, 208 K, ERA+ 110
Starting Pitcher #3
1989 Brewers: Don August, 25, 5.31 ERA, 58 BB, 51 K, ERA+ 73
1990 Brewers: Mark Knudson, 29, 4.12 ERA, 40 BB, 56 K, ERA+ 94
2005 Brewers: Victor Santos, 28, 4.57 ERA, 60 BB, 89 K, ERA+ 92
Starting Pitcher #4
1989 Brewers: Jaime Navarro, 22, 3.12 ERA, 32 BB, 56 K, ERA+ 124
1990 Brewers: Jaime Navarro, 23, 4.46 ERA, 41 BB, 75 K, ERA+ 87
2005 Brewers: Chris Capuano, 26, 3.99 ERA, 91 BB, 176 K, ERA+ 106
Starting Pitcher #5
1989 Brewers: Tom Filer, 32, 3.61 ERA, 23 BB, 20 K, ERA+ 107
1990 Brewers: Ron Robinson, 28, 2.91 ERA, 37 BB, 57 K, ERA+ 133
2005 Brewers: Tomo Okha, 29, 4.35 ERA, 28 BB, 81 K, ERA+ 97
The 1990 Brewers took a hit in their rotation, much like they did with their offence. Chris Bosio and Jaime Navarro, who both put up very good ERAs in 1989, struggled in 1990. Navarro’s good rookie season should have raised some flags, as he had a middling K/BB ratio and he came crashing down in 1990. Bosio had a career-high 173 K’s in 1989 (in a career-high IP total of 234.2), but in 1990 his K rate fell (from 6.64 K/9 to 5.16) and his BB rate rose (from 1.84 BB/9 to 2.57). Teddy Higuera almost duplicated his numbers from 1989 and Mark Knudson was a noticeable improvement over Don August, who never lived up to the billing that made him the 17th overall pick of the Astros in the 1984 draft. Interestingly, Knudson and August were traded together from the Astros to the Brewers for the ageless Danny Darwin. Ron Robinson, who was acquired in a mid-season trade for Glenn Braggs, was an improvement over Filer, but neither was enough to cancel out the down seasons from Bosio and Navarro.
The 2006 Brewers enter the season with most of the same rotation that they had in 2005. Ben Sheets is a legitimate ace and if he overcomes the back and shoulder soreness which has been plaguing him all spring he should have another strong season for the Brewers. Doug Davis has turned into a decent mid-rotation starter under the tutelage of Mike Maddux, much to the surprise of the front offices of Toronto and Texas. Sheets is a contender’s ace, but Davis isn’t a true playoff team’s #2 – I refuse to accept that. Sheets has been consistently good the last two years and barring injury troubles, there’s little reason to expect a drop-off like Bosio. Davis is basically Teddy Higuera.
It’s no secret which team Duke alumni Chris Capuano has in the Brewers NCAA pool, but it’s still a secret to most casual baseball fans that he racked up 18 wins last year. Capuano isn’t an 18-win pitcher, but he looks like he’s turning into a solid mid-rotation starter, like Davis. If he masters the cut fastball he’s been trying to learn from Davis in spring training he could be even better this year. Victor Santos went to the Pirates, via the Royals, so Ohka will be the Brewers new fourth starter and David Bush will round out the back of the rotation. That’s a solid #4/5 tandem; what the rotation lacks in front-end punch, it makes up in depth. Rick Helling, another candidate for the rotation is nursing a sore elbow, and may end up in the bullpen when he’s healthy, as Bush is impressing Yost and Maddux in spring training.
1989 Brewers: Bill Krueger, 31, 3.84 ERA, 33 BB, 72 K, ERA+ 100
1990 Brewers: Randy Veres, 24, 3.67 ERA, 16 BB, 16 K, ERA+ 106
2005 Brewers: Ricky Bottalico, 35, 4.54 ERA, 19 BB, 29 K, ERA+ 93
1989 Brewers: Mark Knudson, 28, 3.35 ERA, 29 BB, 47 K, ERA+ 115
1990 Brewers: Tom Edens, 29, 4.45 ERA, 33 BB, 40 K, ERA+ 87
2005 Brewers: Julio Santana, 32, 4.50 ERA, 19 BB, 49 K, ERA+ 94
1989 Brewers: Chuck Crim, 27, 2.83 ERA, 36 BB, 59 K, ERA+ 136
1990 Brewers: Chuck Crim, 28, 3.47 ERA, 23 BB, 39 K, ERA+ 112
2005 Brewers: Matt Wise, 29, 3.36 ERA, 25 BB, 62 K, ERA+ 126
1989 Brewers: Tony “The Mechanic” Fossas, 31, 3.54 ERA, 22 BB, 42 K, ERA+ 109
1990 Brewers: Paul Mirabella, 36, 3.97 ERA, 28 BB, 29 K, ERA+ 98
2005 Brewers: Jorge de la Rosa, 24, 4.46 ERA, 38 BB, 42 K, ERA+ 95
1989 Brewers: Dan Plesac, 27, 2.35 ERA, 17 BB, 52 K, ERA+ 164
1990 Brewers: Dan Plesac, 28, 4.43 ERA, 31 BB, 65 K, ERA+ 87
2005 Brewers: Derrick Turnbow, 27, 1.74 ERA, 24 BB, 64 K, ERA+ 243
The 1990 Brewers bullpen failed to match the 1989 version, as the team’s pitching in general failed to approach the levels it reached the previous year. The best closer in Brewers history, Dan Plesac, had his worst year as a closer and would never reclaim the job again. “The Mechanic” had an ERA in the 6’s and the team soon went to Paul Mirabella from the left side in close games. Chuck Crim didn’t have the year he had one season ago and neither Tom Edens nor Randy Veres could match the production of Bill Krueger or Mark Knudson, who both moved into the rotation. Some of these downturns seem difficult or impossible to predict in retrospect, as Plesac had an uncharacteristically bad season, whereas Crim, who had been a good reliever for 3 seasons, was a sub-par reliever by 1991.
Meanwhile, the 2006 Brewers do not have a great bullpen, but if they can approximate their 2005 production they should be in good shape. Turnbow will likely not live up to his 2005 line, but as long as he’s able to locate his fastball and strike out batters the waiver-wire claim will be a solid closer. Matt Wise, another Angels product, should be a serviceable set-up man. Dan Kolb is back, to see if he can capture his magic with Mike Maddux, while Ricky Bottalico is gone. De la Rosa is likely to be the main option from the left, while other options from the right include Jose Capellan, Kane Davis, Justin Lehr and Rick Helling. It’s nobody’s idea of a top bullpen, but it’s got the possibility to surprise some. The most interesting names to watch are Turnbow, Wise and Capellan (if and when he’s in the bullpen), as those are the most likely players to be around in 2007 and beyond.
The 1989 Brewers had some problems, but a fall of 7 games could hardly have been expected. The main culprit was that arguably their five best players of the 1989 season: Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Chris Bosio, Jaime Navarro and Dan Plesac all experienced a substantial drop in their 1990 performance. (Molitor’s wasn’t a drop in performance so much as an injury.) The only you could really have predicted was Bosio’s. You knew Yount was going to have trouble duplicating his season, but no one expected him to fall that far that fast. While other players stepped up with improved contributions, such as Sheffield and Surhoff, when a team’s 5 best players all don’t perform as well as they did the season before, it’s hard to avoid a decrease in the team’s win total. The Brewers improved by 9 games in 1991 and one can see the foundation here for that team, in terms of veteran contributors like Plesac and Crim in the bullpen, Bosio in the rotation and Molitor and Yount in the field. Additionally, players who would be contributors for that team got some growing pains out of the way in 1989 and 1990 and by 1991 Surhoff, Spiers, Vaughn, Hamilton and Navarro were all at least average players. The same core was around for the 1992 team, which won 92 games and finished 4 games behind the eventual World Champion Blue Jays. While the Brewers didn’t do as well as they wanted in 1990, it was a necessary year of experience and adjustment as part of the rebuilding process.
However, the 1993 team won only 69 games and the team wouldn’t reach .500 again until 2005. The players that were beginning to develop from 1989-1992 didn’t became the players the Brewers thought they would. Surhoff, Spiers, Hamilton, Navarro and Cal Eldred carved out decent careers, but they never became the solidly above-average players that they showed the potential to become. Their development stagnated and the Brewers were unable to fill the other holes on their roster.
Could the same thing happen to the Brewers again? Yes, of course it could. There are no guarantees in baseball. Rickie Weeks won the Golden Spikes Award, but so did Oddibe McDowell. Prince Fielder’s weight could catch up to him. The last good shortstop prospect the Brewers had before J.J. Hardy was Pat Listach. Carlos Lee probably won’t be a Brewer in 2007, but it will be hard for Melvin and Ash to trade him if the Brewers are within sniffing distance of their first playoff spot in years so they might lose him for nothing or for prospects who don’t develop. Geoff Jenkins could get hurt; Turnbow might pull a Billy Koch. Matt Wise is nobody’s idea of a top set-up man.
However, I don’t think the Brewers will fall that far, either this season or within the near future. While there are no guarantees in baseball, Fielder and Weeks are two of the safer bets in terms of position prospects. They’ve both produced at AAA at a young age, which is as much as you could expect from a 21-year-old. Hardy’s a bit more of a question mark, but he’s had a good half-season in the majors. Ryan Braun’s already got a polished bat and could be in the majors in 2007. A Fielder-Weeks-Hardy-Braun infield could be a mainstay in Milwaukee for 3-4 years, at least.
Ben Sheets is a proven major-league ace and while the rest of the pitching staff has various question marks surrounding it, the Brewers have one of the game’s most underrated pitching coaches in Mike Maddux. If the ownership gives the front office some money to find a good supporting cast for Sheets and a big bat for the outfield the Brewers should be a legitimate contender in 2007 and beyond. The Brewers have made good use of the waiver wire, just like any small-budget team should, but the test will come when they need to make a splash in the free agent market. They won’t be able to keep Fielder, Weeks, Sheets and company in Milwaukee forever, so their free-agent ventures could mean the difference between the 2008-2010 Brewers being a playoff team and a team with win totals in the mid to high 80’s. As for this year, they’ll win 85 games.