Overall, the performance by the Brewers in these areas was up to par in 2009. Granted, though, that “overall” rating was bolstered pretty significantly by Ryan Braun’s bat and Mike Cameron’s glove. They’re going to have some tough choices to make for 2010, because, as they say, “defense starts up the middle,” and two key parts of the Brewers defense are facing free agency.
* – lock for the 2010 opening day roster
** – good bet to be on the opening day roster
Ryan Braun* – You can talk all you want about how everyone has to be theoretically on the table as trade fodder when the Brewers are as desperate for some starting pitching as they must be this winter. Braun is one of two exceptions (Yovanni Gallardo is the other) on this roster. He’s got a contract that will last another 6 years, and since his Major League debut in 2007, he really hasn’t slowed down. Braun made his second all-star appearance this year, while en route to hitting .320 with 32 homeruns, 114 RBI, 20 stolen bases, and he was the only player in the majors to collect 200 hits (and the first Brewer to do it since Paul Molitor in 1991). To sum it up, he’s a stud. Only Prince Fielder’s amazing season keeps Braun from being the club MVP this year. One uncanny aspect of Braun’s offensive game: he still whiffs at too many pitches out of the zone and strikes out more than he should. In the field, Braun took a step backward on paper at least, committing 2 errors in left field after an errorless 2008. Fact is, though, the guy was still in just his second season as an outfielder. The fact that he plays as well as he does out there is a testament to his athleticism. He’ll continue to slowly but surely get better with the glove (look at the strides Prince made in his 4th full season in the majors), and as long as the Brewers have him, they will have a perennial MVP candidate.
Mike Cameron – Cameron continued to show why he is important to this team in 2009: his offensive stats aren’t flashy (he is downright frustrating to watch at the plate at times), but he hits from a variety of spots in the order, and beyond that, he is a great clubhouse guy and tracks down a ton of balls in center field. The knocks against him this off-season: (1) he’s a free agent who made 10 million bucks this year, (2) he’ll be 37 on opening day in 2010. But at the same time, the Brewers have nobody ready to step up and play the sort of D in center that they’ve gotten used to the last couple seasons. If the Crew lets him go and devotes that money to pitching instead, they better get themselves some strikeout pitchers, because Jeff Suppan’s 5.29 ERA would look a helluva lot worse without Cameron scaling the wall and sprinting around the gaps behind him…
Corey Hart – Corey had an up-and-down (but mostly down) season. Hitting coach Dale Sveum drilled the importance of patience into the heads of the Brewers free swingers, and for Hart, that meant a 30-point jump in his on-base-percentage and a 3-year low in strikeouts, but his average was also the lowest its been since he became an everyday player, and his homerun total took a dramatic tumble (24 in 2007, 20 in 2008, 12 in 2009). The timing of his appendectomy couldn’t have been worse; he was finally starting to string some hits together, then sat out most of August and never really bounced back. He’s definitely a guy that has showed promise from time to time, both on offense and defense. With the Brewers’ stacked farm system, though, and maybe no place but right field to stick Mat Gamel in 2010, Hart’s name is going to be tossed around a lot in trade rumors this off-season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him shipped out in a package deal, but if he doesn’t get moved, he’s probably back starting somewhere in the outfield next year.
Jody Gerut** – Right about the middle of June, swapping Tony Gwynn Jr. for this guy seemed like about the dumbest move of the season for Milwaukee. Gerut came around later when Hart went out and there was some more playing time to go around. He showed a little pop here and there, and wasn’t bad with the glove. He’s up for arbitration and probably will be an affordable backup outfielder. If they really gut the roster (dumping Cameron and Hart), it could put Gerut in the mix for starting in 2010. That scares the crap out of me.
Frank Catalanotto – ‘Cat’ was brought in as a left-handed backup outfielder when Brad Nelson and Chris Duffy, who both had nice springs, crapped out. He, too, had some decent games and collected a key hit here or there. He’s nothing special, though, and I expect disinterest in his return to be mutual. If he lands anywhere, I expect to see him back in the AL.
Corey Patterson – The one-time top Cubs prospect didn’t do much in 2009, appearing in a total of just 16 major league games. He’s 30 now, and has never hit better than .276 in a season where he played at least 100 games. This is another guy like Gerut, though, who could tumble into the Brewers plans if the incumbents are gone. It’s another situation where I’d worry about our team’s prospects if he is around and being considered for a starting job…
Jason Bourgeois – As opposed to the other three backups on the 40-man, Bourgeois is on his way up instead of down. He has bounced around the minors a lot (played with 5 organizations so far), but might finally have shown enough to stick in the big leagues. He’s got speed, and doesn’t look totally overmatched at the plate. The Brewers could end up keeping him on the 25-man if they don’t come up with any decent alternatives to backup in the outfield. Otherwise, don’t expect to see him on April 5.
Jason Kendall** – The Brewers starting catcher the past two seasons finds himself in a similar position to Mike Cameron– he has done a decent job, not a great one, at a position where the Brewers just don’t have a lot of good options to replace him. For all the people you hear saying “Mike Rivera could start,” let me say this: get your fat head out of your stupid ass. When they signed Kendall to a 2-year deal in the winter of 2007, you know they were thinking, “that’s about how long it will be until Angel Salome is ready,” and that plan has fallen through. Salome had an injury-plagued 2009 and definitely took a step back down in Nashville. It’s sounding like Jonathan Lucroy, who was the #1 catcher at AA Huntsville this year, has passed Salome on the organizational depth chart. But, odds of Lucroy being ready to be a big league catcher in 2010? Razor thin. Personally, I don’t dislike Kendall. He’s a tough guy, plays a lot at a rough position, handles the pitchers well, and if not spectacular behind the dish, he is stable. The Brewers might have to just suck it up for another year or two with the 35-year-old Kendall and wait for Lucroy to be ready. The other options, frankly, suck.
Mike Rivera** – Rivera is a decent backup catcher. That is all. He got a little more playing time this season, and his offensive numbers looked much more ordinary than in 2008, where every ball he swung at seemed to turn to gold. At 33, he has never been an everyday catcher in the majors, and he never will. He’s arbitration-eligible for the first time and should come back pretty cheap. If not, the Brewers could easily move Salome up to Milwaukee and not regard it as a loss.
Angel Salome – After a 2008 where Salome owned the Southern League with a .360 average and earned a September call-up to the playoff-bound Brewers, it was notable that he did not make it to Milwaukee in 2009. The Brewers need one of two things from a catcher: they need a guy who is going to rake at the plate, hitting in the 2, 5, or 6 hole, or a guy who is going to way above average defensively, making his offensive liabilities something they can live with. Right now, Salome is neither. He had a chance to bump Rivera off the 25-man with a great spring in 2009, but instead he was hurt and saw limited playing time. He’ll get a similar chance in 2010, but the odds of seeing him in Milwaukee seem lower right now than they were a year ago.