We are only a few short days away from the biggest event in the Major League Baseball off-season: the Winter Meetings. This years, GMs and executives from every club in the Majors will meet in Nashville, Tennessee to wheel and deal their way into Spring Training and, hopefully, a winning season.
The Milwaukee Brewers are no stranger to the events of this get-together. This year, more than any other, Doug Melvin and company will be looking to be a major part of the conversation as they look to retool from a disappointing 2012 campaign and work their way back to the top of the NL Central.
The team has remained quiet thus far in the off-season, content to let rumors and second-hand stories steer the way as free agents sign and prices rise going into the home stretch of the off-season.
Will Milwaukee make a splash, or will they be priced out of crucial pieces they need?
It appears that the latter may be shaping up in the run-up to the Winter Meetings. The bigger names in the relief market have already signed high-priced contracts could put Milwaukee on the outside looking in when it comes to top-tier players.
The two most persistent – and some would say unfounded – rumors of big names to Milwaukee appear to be just pipe dreams at this point. Though Doug Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio have both stated that it would be possible for the team to ‘go for broke’ on a big name player like Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke, the club has backed off those statements, at least publicly. Milwaukee ties abound to the two players – Zack Greinke with his service time with the Brewers, and Josh Hamilton with his ties to bench coach Jerry Narron – it would look like their high asking prices will ultimately win the day.
But that aside, there are plenty of big-name free agent arms Milwaukee may try to woo. Ron Roenicke made it clear that he feels the need to add a veteran arm to the Brewers rotation – names like Ryan Dempster and Kyle Lohse are among the candidates being discussed via free agency. There are other viable options as well in Brandon McCarthy and Edwin Jackson who could fit in with returning pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada. It is highly likely that Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers will round out the 2013 rotation after impressive debuts in 2012, though questions will still need to be answered by the young hurlers.
As the market heats up, however, Milwaukee will likely need to act quickly and be resourceful before the financial end creeps out of their price range. The Brewers have been able to net talent without blockbuster contracts before, and will likely have to try that angle again in this off-season.
But free agency isn’t the only road to getting talented players to Milwaukee. The team will have to mix in prospects like Johnny Hellweg, Tyler Thornburg and others to help build a winning team, especially in a depleted bullpen. Some of those prospects may even be able to sweeten trades the club can pursue during the Winter Meetings.
Whether or not the Brewers will make any standout trades remains to be seen, but
any trade that would happen would likely be a tough pill for Brewers fans to swallow. Enticing candidates for trades out of Milwaukee would likely include Carlos Gomez, widely seen as a rising star in the outfield. It is possible, though not particularly likely that the team would look to shift Mat Gamel after Corey Hart‘s emergence as a born-again first baseman, but there are a lot of unanswered questions about Gamel’s play.
Aramis Ramirez was widely speculated as a trade candidate last season, but after a stellar 2012 performance the team would need to see immediate benefits of a trade involving him – a hard bargain for any team.
Considering the immediate need for the club – starting and relief pitching – there is more curiosity than a clear course for the Brewers thus far in the off-season. Add in the front office’s current ‘no comment’ policy about their plans and there is certainly justification about some fan’s uneasiness going into 2013.
Looking at this team’s future is not dismal at all, however. The bullpen will likely shape up with younger players and the possible free agent or trade – and with the addition-by-subtraction of Jose Veras and (in some fan’s opinions) Kameron Loe under-performing players have made way for eager newcomers with plenty of potential. The offense is unquestionably ready to make more waves as is.
The Brewers are, at least on paper, a piece or two away from being a stand-out contender. All that remains is figuring out who those pieces are. So far in the process, the Brewers are playing that close to the vest. But in just a few weeks’ time, fans will be able to see the fruits of a very quiet winter’s labor.
We can only hope that labor results in another banner to add to Miller Park.