New Brew: Fielder not only piece to replace

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Michael Hunt
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Iím not sure right now who plays first base for the Milwaukee Brewers next season, but the idea they can stick just anybody over there is almost as silly as the notion that Prince Fielder will re-sign with the Crew.

That freighter has left the harbor. He was talking about everything Milwaukee in the past tense after Game 6 of the NLCS on Sunday night. He believed he was underpaid here. Heís got the wrong agent to accept less than maximum dollar.

Anyway, it would be financial suicide for a team with an $85 million payroll to devote up to a quarter of the outlay to one player. The Brewers have always looked to the Minnesota Twins as a model for success. Maybe they should again. The Twins paid Joe Mauer and now a smallish-market franchise is stuck with a top-10 payroll and a bad team.

The $15 million that comes off the payroll with Fielder could be more wisely allocated to fill holes for a team that should remain competitive through 2012. And finding another first baseman is not the top priority. Although the new guy wonít protect Ryan Braun in the lineup as Fielder did, he has got to catch the baseball.

Fielder was a brutal defensive player when he came up, but he became slightly better than adequate. He learned how to pick balls out of the dirt and would occasionally surprise you with his range, which was limited at best.

But as poorly as the Brewers were defensively against the Cardinals in the last two games of the NLDS, they cannot afford another liability in the infield. Whether itís Mat Gamel, whom they sent to Nashville to learn how to play first base, or Corey Hart, who doesnít want to play the position again, or somebody outside the organization, a minimum of an average defensive player is mandatory.

Itís time to give up on Casey McGehee at third base. The Cubs cut him for a reason. He had one full out-of-character season and then reverted to his level this season, when the Brewers had to bench him for the entire playoffs. Bringing back Jerry Hairston Jr. seemed like an option until the 35-year-old kicked the ball all over the infield in the last two postseason games. The Brewers need to re-examine the ever-problematic position.

Iíd say goodbye to Yuneski Betancourt at shortstop, too. He wasnít the worst player in baseball as advertised when he came over in the Zack Greinke deal, but heís never going to stop hacking at first pitches, bad pitches or botching the occasional routine play. The Brewers would be better off investing some of the Fielder money in a free agent to strengthen the middle of their defense, because center field is an issue as well.

As much as Nyjer Morgan became an asset to a division-winning team, his volatile personality could swing on a whim. The Brewers have probably squeezed all the usefulness out of him. I wouldnít take the chance that he could stay the good Tony Plush for a second consecutive season. Thatís too much to expect.

Carlos Gomez isnít the answer, either. He can run íem down out there, but heíll never be able to consistently hit big-league pitching. So center is another off-season project for Doug Melvin.

Setup guy, too. Frankie Rodriguez has earned his shot to again become a closer elsewhere. The assumption is John Axford wonít suddenly lose it overnight like most closers not named Hoffman or Rivera. Melvin always turns over the bullpen, and it should be fine.

The starters were never a worry until Shaun Marcum started going down the Jeff Suppan road late in the season and especially in the playoffs, where he might as well have been throwing batting practice. He was one the best of a very good rotation. Maybe he threw too many innings and had a tired arm. There is no reason to think heís finished as a solid No. 3.

The Brewers hit their level this season. They werenít a World Series team. The Cardinals were clearly better. But there is no reason why they canít compete for the division again in 2012.

Starting pitching, catching, second base, left, right and the bullpen should the Brewers remain as a division contender. If they wisely invest the Fielder money at first, short, third and center, theyíre right there again.

Last updated: 6:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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