New formula: Brewers still expect to contend
The two names most frequently mentioned during the Milwaukee Brewers’ offseason weren’t a part of the team’s fan festival in Milwaukee.
And if that’s the way things still look at the beginning of the season, the Brewers insist they’ll be just fine.
Milwaukee doesn’t have its Prince any more—but the Brewers still have a jester in their extroverted outfielder, Nyjer Morgan. Morgan said fans should be confident in the moves general manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash have made to put the Brewers in position to keep winning.
“Basically, don’t panic,” Morgan said. “Everything’s going to be OK. We’re all professionals. Doug and Gord, they brought players in to help get us back on top and still continue what we’re doing. There’s no panic.”
The Brewers still expect to contend, even if their formula for winning likely will change.
After spending the first seven seasons of his career bashing home runs for the Brewers, Fielder recently signed a nine-year, $214 million free-agent deal with the Detroit Tigers.
“I wish Prince the best. I don’t wish him any ill will,” Melvin told fans attending the team’s “On Deck” event, who responded by applauding. “He helped turn this organization around.”
Melvin then got a laugh from the crowd when he added, “And I’m glad he and Albert Pujols are in the American League.”
Braun, meanwhile, is awaiting a decision on his appeal of a potential 50-game suspension under baseball’s drug policy. The National League MVP originally was scheduled to appear Sunday, but he withdrew a few days beforehand with his appeal still lingering.
“Obviously, people want to talk about it,” closer John Axford said. “They want to try to figure out what’s happening, what’s going on, and obviously I guess that time’s going to come soon. Being with Braunie and seeing how hard he works, I definitely have his back every step of the way.”
And while Braun’s situation was something of a curveball to the team’s front office, the Brewers pretty much knew all along that Fielder wouldn’t be back.
“Once he started saying he was going to get $200 million, I just went, ‘oops,’” Melvin said of agent Scott Boras. “That wasn’t going to work here.”
With Fielder gone and Braun potentially sitting out a large chunk of the season, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke hopes to tweak the team’s winning formula. Even with the addition of slugging third baseman Aramis Ramirez through free agency, Roenicke talked Sunday about being more “creative” on offense and playing a different type of game.
“I think some areas, we’re definitely going to focus on trying to get better in,” Roenicke said. “Some things may not be as good. But our goal is certainly to do whatever it takes to get to the playoffs.”
To Morgan, that means manufacturing runs instead of swinging for the fences.
“It’s probably going to be a little more speedy this year,” Morgan said. “You can see that we’re going to have to rely on trying to steal bags and stuff like that, and not worrying about trying to hit those gaps all the time. You can see what they brought in, and understand we still have a great team here and still got a great chance of doing what we’ve got to do.”
And while the Brewers were known primarily for the offensive exploits of Braun and Fielder in recent years, second baseman Rickie Weeks says this team has the best pitching he has seen during his time with the team.
It could be even better than last year, given that Zack Greinke should be healthy to start the season and the Brewers will have a full year with Francisco Rodriguez in the eighth-inning setup role for Axford.
“I’ve been here for a pretty long time now, and we never had pitching,” Weeks said. “Last year was the first time we had pitching. I don’t care how much offense you have, if you don’t have pitching you can’t win ballgames. We have that now still. Prince, he’ll be missed, but at the same time I think we have some pieces in place that will still keep us at that top level.”
And while the Brewers will miss Fielder’s big bat, they don’t seem overly concerned about replacing his leadership. In that respect, Corey Hart said veterans Craig Counsell, LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Kotsay will be missed more.
“It’s more of what he can do on the field for you than what he does in the clubhouse,” Hart said. “I think losing Counsell and ‘Hawk’ and Kotsay, those guys are more fixtures in kind of the leadership role. Prince is more leading by production.”