"Times are changing for the worse." - The Godfather
Last season, the Brewers won a franchise record 96 games and won the division for the first time since 1982. Milwaukee really "went for it" last season when they traded away Brett Lawrie for Shaun Marcum and a host of players for Zack Greinke. Those deals mean that they probably won't be bad this year, but the hole left by Prince Fielder would have been nicely filled in by Lawrie.
As of now, it's left up to Aramis Ramirez and Mat Gamel.
Okay, we know Ramirez can still play a little bit, but how long has it been since Gamel was relevant? He hit .310/.372/.540 in AAA last year, but is turning 27 years old this year and has never been able to transition that success to the majors. That's even more concerning when you consider the suspension of Ryan Braun.
When you subtract the value of Fielder, subtract a third of the value of Braun, add the value of Ramirez, and subtract the value of Gamel (because he's Mat Gamel), then you could see the Brewers closer to 85 wins this year. I've already predicted that the Reds will win the division going away, but what fantasy stars or disappointments do the Brewers have? Let's look...
Best Hitter: Ryan Braun
If Fielder was still here, I'd elevate him over Braun in this position because of the 50-game suspension. But he's not and the Brewers don't have any hitters that are more value over a full season than Braun is in 2/3rds of a season.
Rickie Weeks at 2nd base is close, but really he's not that close. Last season, Braun hit .332/.397/.597, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 33 SB, 109 R, .265 ISO, 9.2 BB%, 14.8 K%, .350 BABIP over 150 games. If he did that again, his totals would be close to 22 HR, 74 RBI, 22 SB, 73 R. Remember, you're getting that production over a shorter period of time, so he's still a top 5 fantasy player, you just have to wait for it.
Now, subtract whatever Fielder was worth to Braun and whatever residual effects there might be because of the suspension and he might not drive in quite as many as 70 RBI or score 70 R, but I still expect him to be one of the top 5 players in the fantasy game.
Best Pitcher: Zack Greinke
He was out of control during his Cy Young 2009 season (2.33 FIP, 9.3 WAR) and then took a step back in 2010, but in some ways he was better last season than he was in 2009.
His 10.54 K/9 was a career-high (a full point over his Cy Young year) and he won 16 games in five fewer starts. His 3.83 ERA isn't desirable, but his 2.98 xFIP suggests that it was ballooned, partially because of an abnormally high HR/FB ratio of 13.6%, three times as high as he posted in 2009.
I expect 200 innings, 200 strikeouts, and an ERA in the 3.20 range. On most rotations, Yovani Gallardo or Marcum would be #1, but that's how much I like Greinke.
Potential Breakout: Mat Gamel, 1B
I hate on him, but there's not much else to go on with the Brewers in terms of a breakout and Gamel is the definition of a post-hype sleeper candidate.
In 2008, he hit .329/.395/.537 with 19 HR, 96 RBI, 35 2B as a 22-year-old in AA. That prompted Baseball America to rank him as the #34 prospect in the game and the 3B of the future in Milwaukee.
However, he hit .278/.367/.473 in AAA the following year, and .242/.338/.422 in 61 major league games.
Gamel has made 44 major league plate appearances over the last two years and hit .146/.205/.195 with 12 strikeouts. That's not even a big enough sample size to call it a sample size, but he's not done anything to warrant a spot in the lineup until Fielder departed and then became the first baseman by default.
I noted his impressive numbers in AAA last year, but at age 26, that's what he's expected to do. Because of his opportunity this year, he'll have one last chance to show the Brewers that he's a major league regular and maybe he finally breaks out with nobody standing in his way. Random guess: .258/.310/.404, 14 HR and 67 RBI.
Potential Disappointment: Aramis Ramirez
He had a bounceback season in 2011, hitting .306/.361/.510 with 26 HR, 93 RBI and scoring 80 runs. He finished the season on a tear, hitting .332/.391/.605 with 21 HR over his final 81 games.
How's he going to respond to a new team and new home park? Is he going to be able to carry the offense for the first two months, along with Corey Hart and Weeks? What's to be expected of the 34-year-old?
Milwaukee gave him a 3-year/$36 million deal and that may either be a bargain or a boon, but we won't know for sure until the season gets under way. Just the fact that there are these questions, gives me pause that he may hit .241/.294/.452 again as he did just two years ago. He had a .245 BABIP that season, but he also struck out a career-high 17.8% of the time. However, with 3B being as scarce as it is, you might have to take that chance.
Rookie Watch: Wily Peralta, RHP
Rated by BA as the top prospect in the system, the soon-to-be 23-year-old Peralta made 26 starts in the minors last season and struck out 157 batters in 150.2 innings across two levels. In 5 AAA starts, he struck out 40 batters in 31 innings with 11 walks allowed and a 2.03 ERA.
Peralta has a plus-fastball and is working on improving his slider and change-up, though they aren't described as being "great" as of yet.
He'll be ready to step into a rotation spot as soon as the Brewers need him. They're very set on a starting five right now, but anything can happen and Marcum, Greinke, and Randy Wolf are all nearing free agency. That's another reason why Milwaukee drafted Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley in the first round in 2011.
All three could be above-average major league starters.
Other Players I Like: Weeks, Hart, Gallardo, Marcum, Wolf, Axford
Ones I Don't: Jonathan Lucroy, Nyjer Morgan, Alex Gonzalez, Francisco Rodriguez.