The Milwaukee Brewers opening day roster will look a little different this year than it did last year. Of the 25 players that will line the dugout on April 6, at least 8 of them will be different from last year’s opening day roster. Some of these players already have solidified replacements, but there are still a couple spots that are up in the air.
The Brewers started the 2014 season with 12 pitchers on their 25 man roster, and Tom Gorzelanny on the disabled list. Gorzelanny signed a 1 year, $1 million contract with Detroit earlier this month. Along with Gorzelanny, Zach Duke signed a 3 year, $15 million contract with the White Sox, Marco Estrada was traded to the Blue Jays for Adam Lind, Yovani Gallardo was traded to the Texas Rangers, and Francisco Rodriguez is still testing the Free Agent market.
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Gallardo and Estrada started last season in the starting rotation, with Gallardo making 32 starts and Estrada making 18 starts, before being moved to the bullpen. As the roster stands right now, Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson are in line to be the replacements as starting pitchers, come opening day. Fiers started 10 games for the Brewers last season and really had an impressive showing. He was 6-4 in his 10 starts, with a 2.09 ERA and never gave up more than 3 earned runs in any of his starts. Nelson started 12 games for the Brewers last season with mixed results, and could prove to be a very reliable fifth starter.
Rodriguez had a successful season last year as the Brewers closer and veteran Jonathan Broxton is in line to replace him as this year’s closer. Broxton has 118 career saves and pitched 11 games for the Brewers last season. As there are not a lot of closers in free agency, and none that the Brewers will really be able to get at a reasonable price, it seems more and more that Broxton will land in this role come opening day.
Duke and Gorzelanny will be a little bit more difficult to replace. Will Smith is currently the only reliable lefty in the bullpen, as the Brewers try to ease Wei-Chung Wang into Major League Baseball. I wrote previously that the Brewers should go after Phil Coke to bolster their bullpen and replace one of these two lefties. Jeremy Jeffress stepped in very nicely last season out of the bullpen and will be a viable option out of the bullpen again this season. Jeffress did not have much success against lefties last season, however, giving up an OBP of .458 against 61 lefties in 2014. A situational lefty is something the Brewers could really add to their roster come opening day.
Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson are both coming off of injuries last season, and are expected to be on the opening day roster. Rob Wooten made 40 appearances out of the bullpen last season and will push Thornburg for a bullpen spot. Wooten started out hot, posting a 2.65 ERA in 17 appearances by the end of May. The rest of the season saw his ERA balloon to 4.72, with only 3 appearances after the beginning of August. I believe that the Brewers are going to add another arm to the bullpen, either a closer, or a lefty, which would push Wooten out of the bullpen for the opener.
So, my prediction for pitchers that make the opening day roster are:
Broxton, Smith, Wang, Jeffress, Henderson, Thornburg, Brandon Kintzler, and an unknown pitcher.
With 13 pitchers on the opening day roster, this will leave 12 spots for positional players. There will be 4 players that won’t be present this year, that were last year. Lyle Overbay just turned 38 years old and remains a free agent; the other half of last year’s first base platoon, Mark Reynolds signed a 1 year, $2 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Rickie Weeks, who made his debut for the Brewers in 2003, is a free agent for the first time after his performance was drastically below the standard that an $11 million contract carries with it. Jeff Bianchi signed with the Boston Red Sox this offseason, after making 15 starts, around the infield, for the Brewers last season.
The players that will have a spot on opening day include; catchers, Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado; outfielders, Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Carlos Gomez, and Gerardo Parra; and infielders, Scooter Gennett, Jean Segura, Lind, and Aramis Ramirez.
This will leave two vacancies that should be quite competitive. Ron Roenicke has demonstrated in the past that he is comfortable playing either Lucroy or Maldonado at first base. Lucroy started 16 games there last season and Maldonado played 2. Having these guys on the roster makes it unnecessary for the Brewers to add another first baseman.
This leaves 2 positions that should create some interesting roster battles in Spring Training. One of these positions is going to go to Elian Herrera. Herrera made 27 starts last season at 6 different positions; SS-10, RF-7, CF-4, LF-3, 2B-2, and 3B-1. Being this versatile is really going to help Herrera make the opening day squad. He batted .274/.288/.341 in 140 plate appearances and stole 4 bases. With the loss of Bianchi, the door is wide open for a guy like Herrera to step in and make an impact.
The second position is going to be a battle between Logan Schafer, Hector Gomez, and Luis Sardinas. Schafer, who was on the opening day roster last season, seems to be the odd man out in the outfield. The addition of Parra gives the Brewers the option of putting a left handed bat in the outfield, and having a left handed bat coming off the bench to pinch hit late in the game. These roles had traditionally belonged to Schafer, and having 5 outfielders doesn’t seem to make sense. Plus, Herrera has demonstrated that he can play in the outfield, which doesn’t bode well for Schafer.
Hector Gomez was a September call-up for the Brewers last season after posting .282/.325/.483 for Nashville in AAA, playing primarily shortstop. But, the 25th and final player on the roster is going to be Sardinas. As a 21 year old, he started 27 games for the Texas Rangers last season including 15 at second base, 8 at shortstop, 4 at third base, and 4 as a designated hitter. He posted .261/.303/.313 for his 125 plate appearances and had 5 stolen bases. I believe that Hector Gomez and Sardinas are going to have a battle in Spring Training that will probably come down to the final days. In the end, however, Sardinas is going to make the final cut, and ultimately challenge Segura as the shortstop of the future for the Milwaukee Brewers.