MLB Team Report - Milwaukee Brewers - INSIDE PITCH


MILWAUKEE -- For the Milwaukee Brewers to move forward and begin planning for 2015, they will need to take a look back -- a long, in-depth, maddening, disappointing and, in some cases, infuriating, look back.

For a team that wasn't expected to be much of a factor in 2014, the Brewers turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments in baseball in 2014, leading the tough NL Central for 150 days, only to fall out of playoff contention with a miserable final month.

"It's been a hard year, it has," said manager Ron Roenicke whose future is uncertain after four seasons at the Brewers helm. "It's been the hardest since I've been here. Last year, we had a lot of things that came up but this year has been harder."

Mark Attanasio, the Brewers owner, said Sept. 27 that general manager Doug Melvin would be back in 2015. But when the topic turned to Roenicke, who has a 335-313 and one playoff appearance (2011) in his four seasons at the Brewers' helm, neither Attanasio nor Melvin was ready to talk.

"There was a particular team that shook everybody up and now they had to shake their front office up," Melvin said. "You have to be careful with what you do and think through the process. We've had a lot of changes here recently. If you look back at what your team looked like four years ago -- teams are altogether different. Your roster, just through the natural causes of the system that we are in with arbitration and free agency, changes quite a bit anyways."

Should Roenicke return, he will have the benefit of bringing back his entire starting rotation -- and have some depth for the staff -- which finished third in the NL with 103 quality starts.

Pitching, though, wasn't the problem in 2014. Milwaukee quite simply couldn't hit.

While just about everybody on the roster struggled at one point or another in the course of the season, nobody epitomized the Brewers' offensive woes better than right fielder Ryan Braun, who hit a career-worst .266 with 19 home runs, though he did lead the team with 81 RBIs in his first season back after serving a 65-game suspension last year for using banned substances.

Braun spent much of the season dealing with a nerve issue in his right thumb -- an issue that dated back to before his suspension -- but he'll undergo a surgical procedure next week and both he and the Brewers are optimistic that it will help Braun, the 2011 Most Valuable Player, return to form.

"If I was relatively healthy and performing up to the standard I've set for myself, we'd be in a different place as a team," Braun said. "It makes it that much more difficult for me personally to accept the way the season went.

"I'm definitely looking forward to (the surgery). I'm excited, optimistic and hopeful that it makes a big difference."

Scooter Gennett is positioned to take over second base full-time in 2015, with shortstop Jean Segura expected to bounce back from a subpar sophomore season, but the corner infield spots remain a priority before spring camp opens next season.

The Brewers exercised their end of a mutual option on third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who hit .285 with 15 home runs, 23 doubles and 66 RBIs in his age-36 season. He also played well, defensively, and with no viable options in the farm system, would be welcomed back for one more go-round in Milwaukee.

Across the diamond may be the Brewers' biggest need. In six full seasons with the Brewers, first baseman Prince Fielder started 959 of 972 games but since he left as a free agent following the 2011 season, the position has been a revolving door for the Brewers -- often with disastrous results.

The first-baseman-by-committee approach of 2013 was shelved in favor of all-or-nothing slugger Mark Reynolds in 2014, with veteran Lyle Overbay providing a left-handed bat and defensive upgrade off the bench.

Overbay excelled as a pinch-hitter but likely won't be back and Reynolds, who was on a one-year-deal, fell off the map so mightily in the second half that September call-ups like Matt Clark played themselves into consideration.

It's no secret the Brewers have interest in the Rockies' Justin Morneau. The team won a waiver claim on the National League batting champ but was unable to work out a trade with Colorado so it wouldn't be a shock if Melvin tried again to swing a deal or kicked the tires on free agents like Adam LaRoche.

"We'll take a hard look at everything," Melvin said. "We look at players individually, we'll look at the coaching staff, we'll look at Ron, I'll look at myself to see if we can put things together to come back here and get into the postseason. It's a tough division to play in, and the Cubs are going to get better, the Pirates will be there, the Cardinals are always tough and the Reds will get healthy. I still think it is one of the toughest divisions in baseball. That's a challenge that we are all faced with."

With lots of questions facing the Brewers this winter, one thing is certain: Nobody in the organization wants a repeat of 2014.

"I wouldn't say we're quite at a crossroads, but we're at (the point) where you can take a path in the woods, and you take one direction or the other," Attanasio said. "We do have a lot of talent; we have experienced players. We need to identify what's missing. Is it more power hitters? Is it more players with an edge? Is it, I don't know. Whatever it was, it worked like gangbusters the first half of the year, and didn't work in the second half."

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MLB Team Report - Milwaukee Brewers - NOTES, QUOTES


RECORD: 82-80, third place in National League Central

TEAM MVP: Unlike just about everyone on the Brewers roster, catcher Jonathan Lucroy finished the season strong (.316 in September) and was the team's most consistent batter, batting .301 with a franchise-record 53 doubles. He's come into his own behind the plate, as well, and has established himself as one of the best receivers in the game today. How much worse would the Brewers' season have been without Lucroy?

"He had a great year," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Behind the plate, he's really developing into a guy that does everything well. The offensive part, he's really good and he's going to continue to be really good."

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: There are plenty of candidates for this award but right fielder Ryan Braun takes the crown after batting .266 with 19 home runs and 81 RBIs while facing the wrath of opposing fans who chided him all year for his 65-game suspension for use of a banned substance. Braun has been insistent that he didn't feel the pressure, but was instead bogged down by a nerve issue in his right thumb, an issue which dates back to last season. He'll undergo surgery next week and both he and the Brewers are optimistic that things will be different next season. "The majority of the season I wasn't really able to use the top hand in my swing," Braun said. "It was just about trying to make adjustments and trying to figure out a way to have success. I really wasn't able to do that. I wasn't able to do that."

TOP PROSPECT: A little more than two months ago, right-hander Jimmy Nelson would have been a lock here, but after getting called up July 10, Nelson struggled with command and consistency.

PLAYER NOTES:

--INF Jeff Bianchi, who missed the second half of the season due to a strained right elbow, was outrighted to Triple-A Nashville on Oct. 7. Bianchi, 28, appeared in 29 games for Milwaukee this year, hitting .171/.203/.186 with no homers and six RBIs.

--RF Ryan Braun underwent a medical procedure Oct. 2 to alleviate a painful and persistent nerve problem in his right thumb. In Los Angeles, Dr. Vernon Williams used cryotherapy, which involved applying extreme cold that froze the nerve tissue near the thumb, Thursday in a non-surgical attempt to treat the injury. A follow-up appointment is scheduled for Monday to assess the effectiveness of the procedure. If it is deemed successful, Braun will swing a bat to test the thumb, which has bothered him for the past two years. Braun, the 2011 NL Most Valuable Player, batted .266 with 19 homers and 81 RBIs in 135 games this year.

--C Matt Pagnozzi, one of the Brewers' September call-ups, was outrighted off the 40-man roster Oct. 1. His contract was purchased from Triple-A Nashville after he batted .215 with 11 home runs and 29 RBIs in 71 games. He appeared in one game with Milwaukee but did not have an at-bats. Pagnozzi is the nephew of former Cardinals C Tom Pagnozzi.

--2B Rickie Weeks appears to be on his way out of Milwaukee after 10 seasons. In largely a reserve role this season, he hit .274 with 19 doubles, eight home runs and 29 RBIs, mostly off the bench or in starts against left-handed pitchers. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft, Weeks collected 1,009 hits for the Brewers with 148 home runs and 430 RBIs and was named to the 2011 National League All-Star team.

--RHP Francisco Rodriguez saved 44 games for Milwaukee in 2014, his highest total since setting the major league record with 62 in 2008. At age 32, Rodriguez pitched in 69 games and posted a 3.04 ERA. He appears to have plenty of gas left in the tank and could be in a position to parlay his 2014 success into one last multi-year contract.

--RHP Yovani Gallardo should be back with the Brewers in 2014 as the team plans to exercise a $13 million option on his contract. Gallardo made 32 starts and went 8-11 with a 3.51 ERA in 2014 and finished second on the team with 146 strikeouts. Gallardo will be 29 next season.

--3B Aramis Ramirez will take some time before deciding whether or not to return in 2015. Ramirez hit .285 with 15 home runs, 23 doubles and 66 RBIs and was steady enough at third base that the Brewers exercised their end of a $14 million mutual option for next season -- his age-37 season. In three seasons with the Brewers, Ramirez has a .291 average, 54 home runs and 220 RBIs.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want to find out who cares about winning and losing in the clubhouse. If there are guys in there that don't care about winning then they probably won't be there." -- GM Doug Melvin, on his offseason mission.

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MLB Team Report - Milwaukee Brewers - ROSTER REPORT


With the team in a position to bring back almost everyone from the 2014 squad, general manager Doug Melvin planned a thorough evaluation of the roster in the hopes of finding out just how things went so wrong for Milwaukee this season.

BIGGEST NEEDS: Milwaukee hit 150 home runs, the fewest by a Brewers team since 2004, so a power-hitter is high on GM Doug Melvin's wish list -- especially one that plays first base, where there has been a revolving door since Prince Fielder left after the 2011 season. Melvin attempted to acquire NL batting champ Justin Morneau from the Rockies in August, look for him to make a few calls to Colorado again this winter.

FREE AGENTS: 2B Rickie Weeks, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, RHP Yovani Gallardo, 1B Mark Reynolds, 1B Lyle Overbay, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, LHP Zach Duke

It's safe to assume that Weeks' tenure has come to an end after 10 frustrating seasons. Gallardo, another home-grown talent and one of the Brewers' few organization-developed pitchers, has a $13 million option for next year that the Brewers are planning to exercise. Duke was a multi-role reliever early in the year but settled in as a specialist and could be invited back in 2015 while Reynolds and Overbay will likely give way to a free agent or trade to upgrade the position.

Then there's Rodriguez, who was a late signing during spring training then got delayed by visa problems and a run-in with a cactus. He wound up being named the closer on Opening Day and saved 44 games in his age-32 season. Agent Scott Boras has pulled off bigger shockers in the past, so it wouldn't be a surprise if Rodriguez lands a multi-year deal somewhere ... or ends up back in Milwaukee again at the last minute.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Marco Estrada, RHP Alfredo Figaro, C Martin Maldonado, OF Gerardo Parra, RHP Brandon Kintzler

Maldonado for sure will be back in 2015; he's been a top backup to C Jonathan Lucroy and has also been able to fill in adequately at first base, if needed. Kintzler never regained the form that made him one of the best set-up men in the NL in 2013 and recently underwent surgery on his left knee. It doesn't look like Kintzler is in the Brewers' long-term plans, nor does Figaro, who provided depth but little else in limited action this season. Estrada is the biggest wild card; he struggled to keep the ball in the park as a starter but performed well out of the bullpen, especially down the stretch.

IN LIMBO: 3B Aramis Ramirez

The Brewers exercised their end of a $14 million mutual option on Ramirez, who battled through nagging injuries but was still highly productive in 2014, batting .285 with 15 home runs, 23 doubles and 66 RBIs. With a lack of quality alternatives at the position, Milwaukee would benefit from having Ramirez back next season, even at age 37, but he plans to take some time before deciding whether to return for one more year.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--RHP Brandon Kintzler (left knee surgery in September 2014) had a patellar issue fixed.

--RF Ryan Braun (nerve issue in right thumb) underwent a cryotherapy procedure Oct. 2. Extreme cold was used to freeze the nerve tissue near the thumb in a non-surgical attempt to treat the injury. A follow-up appointment was scheduled for Oct. 6 to assess the effectiveness of the procedure.

--RHP Jim Henderson (right shoulder surgery in August 2014) missed the last five months of the season.