STARTING PITCHING: Stop us if you've heard this one before, but the Brewers need to bolster a starting rotation that badly let them down in 2009 to the tune of a 5.37 ERA, tied with the Orioles for the worst mark in the Majors. The Brewers already declined Braden Looper's option and general manager Doug Melvin has said he would like to add two new arms to the mix. Trouble is, the Brewers are far from the only club looking to add pitching.
MIDDLE INFIELD: The Brewers have their starters in second baseman Rickie Weeks and shortstop Alcides Escobar, but it looks like utility man Craig Counsell is testing the free-agent market and finding it to his liking. And why not? The versatile Counsell is coming off a great season in Milwaukee in which he turned 39 but batted .285 with 34 extra-base hits, a .357 on-base percentage and a .408 slugging percentage. According to one report this winter, Counsell was drawing interest from as many as a dozen teams. He lives in metro Milwaukee and is extremely popular, but the Brewers probably wouldn't be willing to match another team's multi-year offer because Melvin needs every dollar available for pitching.
Who they can or need to trade:
The Brewers already dealt the player they needed to unload when they sent shortstop J.J. Hardy to the Twins for center fielder Carlos Gomez, freeing shortstop for Alcides Escobar. So here's a look at who they could trade to satisfy other needs:
Prince Fielder, 1B: Why not start at the top? Melvin and Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash have made it abundantly clear that they do not want to trade Fielder, have no plans to trade Fielder and are certainly not shopping him around to other teams. To the contrary, Melvin has said that he would like to talk with agent Scott Boras about a contract negotiation for Fielder, probably after the New Year. But Boras is not known for giving hometown discounts, and Fielder is coming off his best season. He's also two seasons removed from free-agent eligibility and he is the one player who could bring back a quality, top-of-the-rotation starter in a trade. Melvin and Ash say that given the enormous value teams place on young, controllable pitching these days, it would be impossible to get "fair value" for Fielder. So a trade, for now, looks like a long shot.
Corey Hart, OF: Hart has been a staple of trade rumors for two years, so it seems appropriate to include him again. He had a down year in 2009, following two consecutive 20-homer, 20-stolen base, 80-RBI seasons by hitting .260 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs. He lost about a month following an appendectomy. But Hart, too, is two years from reaching free agency and could be attractive to teams looking for a right-handed outfield bat who has some speed and power. The Brewers would have a bit of a hard time replacing Hart in right field, but they will listen to offers.
Manny Parra, LHP: The danger in trading Parra is that he could be the next Jorge De La Rosa, a fellow left-hander who had a breakthrough season for the Rockies in 2009. The Brewers ran out of patience with the talented but inconsistent De La Rosa in July 2006, then watched him thrive in Colorado this season while Milwaukee's pitching staff slumped.
Casey McGehee or Mat Gamel, 3B: Melvin held tightly to Gamel through July's nonwaiver Trade Deadline, but McGehee's emergence could cause him to at least field offers.
Gamel, Lucroy, 2B Brett Lawrie, LHP Zach Braddock and RHP Eric Arnett. The next big wave of Brewers talent spent the 2009 season at Class A Brevard County, meaning it will be tough for Melvin to consider trading advanced prospects without really hurting the team's depth.
Big contracts they might unload:
Jeff Suppan is due $12.5 million in the final season of his four-year deal, but it is not a tradeable contract. The Brewers already "unloaded" Hardy, who will top $5 million for the first time next season, in a deal that also allowed them to move on from center fielder Mike Cameron ($10 million in 2009). Buying out Looper's option saved another $5.5 million.
RHP Dave Bush, RHP Todd Coffey, OF Jody Gerut, Hart, RHP Seth McClung, C Mike Rivera (first-time eligible), RHP Carlos Villanueva (first-time eligible) and Weeks.
It's difficult to predict how the Brewers will handle Gerut, McClung and Rivera, in particular. Gerut appeared on his way to a nontender, but he surged near the end of the season and was a very effective fourth outfielder. McClung missed all of August and most of September with an elbow injury, but he was very valuable in 2008 as a swingman who could pitch in relief or start. Club officials have given no indications that they view Rivera as more than a backup, but he's eligible for the first time and won't be too expensive.
The Brewers will probably begin 2010 where they began '09, in the $80 million range. Suppan and Fielder, alone, will gobble up more than a quarter of that, but Melvin has already made a series of moves to free some space to add pitching this winter.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.