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."