Asking the Big Questions: What Worries Us About 2011

Well, my Packers Super Bowl Euphoria is finally over (it’s hard to escape in Northeast Wisconsin), and it’s time for me to get re-focused on the important things in life: Brewers baseball.

Now as you know, I’ve made my belief in the Brewers’ potential no secret. But my father – a lifelong Cubs fan – has taught me that a healthy dose of fear and skepticism is the hallmark of any true fan. With that in mind, my esteemed colleague and I took a good, long look at the team the way you might look at a used car. While we still believe this team is built for success this year, we would be remiss if we did not voice these concerns.

So sit back and let us do the worrying for you. Believe me, I have enough for all of us.

Question #1: Who’s at Center?

Lou – “No surprise that this is my number one concern, I feel like a broken record.  This is one of the most important positions in the game and we have no clear opening day starter.  My hope is that either Chris Dickerson proves to be an everyday guy and they slide Hart to CF and put Dickerson in RF.  A potential surprise could be Gamel playing RF and Hart in CF.  No matter how you slice it, I do not believe in Carlos Gomez as the everyday guy.  Any other player vying for that spot is doomed.  Jeremy Reed, Mark Kotsay, and a couple of minor leaguers just will not happen.  Maybe one of them will surprise me and knock Car Go off the team completely.  There is no doubt that this is my number one question about this team going in to camp.”

Colin – In my opinion, Center Field has been filled with placeholders and stop-gaps since Podsednik left in ’04.  I am fairly positive it’s going to be a platoon situation in center again this season. Gomez is an aggressive base runner (he led the team in stolen bases) and his playing time should largely be determined by Roenicke’s offensive strategy.  He may end up anchoring whatever multi-headed monster ends up out there. I’m on the fence (get it?) about Dickerson, though he has shown some bright spots in his career. I think if we give him an everyday shot he will surprise a lot of fans. Short answer: I don’t know, and I’m not sure the Brewers know either.

Question #2: Will Greinke and Marcum Live Up To Expectations?

L – “I clump these two together because they were pretty much our entire off-season.  If Marcum can give us what he gave the Jays last year, the guy is going to win 18 games.  My biggest concern for him is health, if he stays healthy he is going to be everything we hoped he would be.  Greinke is a tougher nut to crack (no pun intended).  We all know about his anxiety issues, but i firmly believe that Milwaukee is the best place for him.  There are enough big name guys on our roster to divert the constant media attention.  In the Brewers locker room, there will be several other guys warranting interviews each game.  For Zach, Kansas City was a one horse town, that horse’s name was Greinke.  Hopefully, he will find it refreshing to not be the center of attention every 5th game.  His on the field performance will be solely based on his mental state.  We all know that he has the stuff to blow people away, but will his brain allow that to happen again?”

C – I know what everyone’s afraid of: Jeff Suppan and Eric Gagne. In the back of my mind, those names on Brewers jerseys linger on a list of things that upset me somewhere in between centipedes and Mind of Mencia. This is not the same situation. These are not aging vets looking for one last shot at success, or trying to cash in on hype. These were calculated decisions with (contracts permitting, of course) long term success in mind. Greinke is a bona fide stud who finally has the run support he needs. Kansas City is an unholy baseball nightmare, and Zach was lucky to escape with whatever remains of his young soul. His emotions should not be an issue, and his pitching will show that. Marcum posted solid numbers in a division that beats up on pitchers so bad they may have a better shot setting it on a Tee. In fact, I won’t be the least bit surprised if Marcum ends up being a bigger deal on this team than Greinke. But for my money, both of them have legitimate 20 win potential this season.

Question #3: …Yuniesky Betancourt?

L – “Having lived in Seattle for the past four years, I was able to see him play quite a bit.  Here is what I know about Yuni, he is inconsistent.  That pretty much sums up the dudes entire career.  Every once in a while he flashes some true power, but then it goes away for a month.  The guy will make Web Gems on ESPN for an entire week, but then the following week record 5 errors.  If the team is sold on him playing SS, then they need to work out either his bat or his glove.  I can handle inconsistency in one area, but not both.  If he starts batting a solid .280 and his glove is questionable, I can live with that.  Biggest reason Seattle traded him to KC was his work ethic.  Something tells me that Roenicke will not put up with too much of that crap.  Should Yuni start half-assing it, we will see some sort of major change in the infield landscape.  Maybe a McGehee to SS and Counsell to 3rd. Yuniesky is a huge question mark going into this season.  One last point about him, he has never played for a true “playoff contender” before, so it is possible the rest of the team could rub off on him.”

C – I don’t know a lot about Betancourt, but I do know that numbers don’t lie. And Betancourt’s numbers tell quite a story. In the last three years his batting average has been flighty and his strike outs seem to be expanding exponentially. There are a number of reasons this could happen: frustration, nagging minor injuries, offensive ideology, etc. That doesn’t explain away a negative trend of course, but I believe every one deserves the benefit of the doubt. At least for a little while. Lou makes a good point about the affect team attitude can have on a player. I can only hope that if Yuni is supposed to be “the guy” at SS that he’s right.

Question #4: Will Manny Parra Hold Up In The ‘Pen?

L – “I have always been in Parra’s corner.  You can see flashes of his talent, but it is always fleeting.  This season the Brewers are really going to need a solid long relief guy, hopefully Parra can fill that role.  However, should he be unable to fill that role, his time in Milwaukee will most likely be over.  Mark Rogers could very easily take over that relief job.  My hope is that the long reliever is not needed very often, which will take a lot of pressure off of Parra.  I figure that Wolf and Narveson will need some long relief help during the season.  I do not anticipate Greinke, Gallardo, and Marcum needing much help to get through the 5th inning this season.  Parra has some talent, but sometimes time just runs out.  Manny needs to prove that he belongs on the roster, because at this stage of his career job stabillity is hard to come by.”

C – Manny Parra is something of an enigma to me. On the one hand, I find it hard not to root for him. By all accounts he is a nice guy, and you name an operation and I’m sure he’s suffered through it. Besides that, I don’t care where you pitch it, a perfect game is a perfect game, and the one he tossed in ’07 still ought to mean something. The issues I see with him are pretty obvious: control and health. When it rains on Manny, he tends to pour out wild pitches and a high ERA. Putting him in a situation where he needs to get the team out of a jam is a serious concern for me. Hopefully the new pitching coach will be able to get inside his head and tinker a bit. At the very least, I think a few solid one-to-two innings holds will do wonders for his game. We all know he can go distance, but I sincerely worry about over pitching him, even in a relieving role.

Question #5: How Will The Crew Respond to Roenicke?

L – I will probably be more surprised if they do not respond.  From stories I have read about Roenicke, he is one of the best player coaches in the game today.  There was a story about the speech he gave after the untimely passing of Nick Adenhart, it even made the soulless Scott Boras cry.  Just based off of that story, I have every confidence that RR will command respect from this team.  The last 2 managers in Milwaukee (not including iterim Dale Sveum), were both wrong for this team. When you take a group of brutally young guys, you need a father  figure to lead the way.  Macha and Yost just did not seem to care enough, it was almost like they were afraid to call out the players for screwing up.  I would poop my pants if we saw the same type of attitude from Roenicke.  This guy is going to change the culture around the team, which is desperately needed.

C – I probably have more concern about this question than my counterpart. As it were, I am smart enough to realize that managers don’t (always) get hired for no reason. I know he comes out of the Angels system which is slowly but surely creating an army of super-managers, so that bodes well. My concern really comes from the fact that most of the guys on this team have been able – to an extent – run roughshod over management for a majority of their time in the Majors. That sort of attitude has a way of steeping itself deep in someone’s mind. Lord knows he has enough to deal with without trying to hold Prince back on another one of his vengeful visits to the opposing clubhouse. Questions about his offensive style and ability to match lineups will get worked out pretty quick in Arizona. My hope is he is at least a little more flexible than our previous two skippers.

Question #6: Can Hart, Weeks and McGehee Keep It Up?

L – “Any Brewers fan is aware that Corey Hart is Captain Streaky McStreakers.  All we can hope is that he does not tank it like he did in 2009.  Last year he was playing pissed off and hopefully Roenicke will find some sort of hot button.  Maybe having the team jingle bags of marbles at him while he is batting(see Major League 2).  Of this group of three, McGehee is the least of my concerns.  As evident by the Fansided All NL Central starting lineup, whcih includes McGehee as the starting 3rd baseman, the guy is really good.  Casey could have a little drop off, but I do not think it will be a drastic decline.  If Casey McG stays healthy he will bat in the .280’s with 20-25 HR’s and about 90 RBI’s.  I saved Weeks for last because he is one of my biggest fears for the upcoming season.  Rumors began to swirl this morning that Weeks and the Brewers have a greed to a multi-year deal.  Nothing quite like waiting until the last minute.  I am hearing a 4 year deal, with a possibility for a 5th year.  This deal is terrifying to me.  RW is an amazing talent and we are lucky to have him, but he is always hurt.  His wrists are made of balsa wood.  I commend him on making it through an entire MLB season for a change, but the odds of him suffering an injury are going to be higher than ever.  Especially when you consider RR’s new aggressive coaching style.  If Weeks can stay healthy again, I know that the numbers will be there.  Sadly, there is very little evidence to support the theory that he will make it through the season unscathed.”

C – Here’s a question you won’t stop hearing, because it just may be the most important one from an offensive standpoint. These three gentleman had career years last season. It may not be often you get to say this, but they may have come a year too early. In the case of Weeks, 160 days without a workplace accident is commendable – if not astonishing in his case. I get concerned about Rickie in the lead-off spot coming off a near 30 HR season. Mainly I worry he will start swinging for the fences again and that OBP will fall off a cliff. That combined with his brittle frame may be a recipe for disaster. For Hart, all I wish for is two consistent seasons. Everyone in baseball knows about his issues with breaking balls and his amazing disappearing glove. McGehee’s great performances in the last two years came so far out of left field you may have thought the Brewers plucked him out of the bleachers.  My hope is that when Casey’s at the Bat, he can consistently perform better than his Mudville counterpoint. So far he has, but he will have added pressure on him to perform this year. How Casey – along with Hart and Weeks – respond to that pressure could make or break more than a few games.

With any luck, the team will have these questions answered by the end of March. Feel free to post your own answers in the comment section, or send us some of your nagging fears to work out. It’s OK, we’re here to help.

Tags: Carlos Gomez Casey McGehee Chris Dickerson Corey Hart Craig Counsell Jeremy Reed Manny Parra Mark Kotsay Matt Gamel Prince Fielder Rickie Weeks Ron Roenicke Shaun Marcum Spring Training Yuniesky Betancourt Zach Greinke

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