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Will Brewers reap fruit of offseason labor?

Will Brewers reap fruit of offseason labor?

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Did GM Doug Melvin do enough to bolster the pitching?
This could also read, Are you tired of hearing about the Brewers' pitching? If that's the case, sorry, but Melvin and manager Ken Macha have been making it very clear that they believe the pitching, and specifically the starting pitching, will dictate the team's success in the coming season.

Here's the best-case scenario: All six of the Brewers' established starters stay healthy this spring, forcing Melvin and Macha to make some tough but welcome decisions before Opening Day. Then, Yovani Gallardo takes another step toward ace status, newcomers Randy Wolf and Doug Davis repeat their steady 2009 seasons, and at least two of Manny Parra, Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan bounce back from disappointing 2009s. If all or even most of those things happen, the Brewers should be right in the thick of the National League Central race come Sept. 1.

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2. Will Prince Fielder's contract be a distraction?
Fielder was all smiles talking about this topic on Jan. 31 at the Brewers' winter FanFest, and that was a very good first sign. Fielder will play out a two-year deal in 2010 and then has one more season of arbitration-eligibility remaining before he hits the open market in the winter of '11-12. Milwaukee would like to at least try to lock him up longer than that.

Most of the signs say it won't happen, including the fact that Fielder is represented by Scott Boras, who has no precedent of letting teams buy out free-agent seasons. If the Fielder camp views the Brewers' advance as a lowball offer, it could create some hard feelings. The team would rather keep its big fella happy and swinging the bat like he did in 2009, when he tied Ryan Howard for the Major League RBI crown and finished one shy of Albert Pujols' league-best home run total.

3. Will Rickie Weeks and Manny Parra finally break out?
Weeks was on his way to doing just that last season before he suffered a wrist injury that required season-ending surgery. Parra has shown glimpses of the pitcher the Brewers think he could be, but always seems to slip back down the ladder. But if Weeks can put it together atop the lineup and Parra, who is now out of Minor League options, can keep his ERA in check at the back end of the rotation, it would make things a lot easier for the club this season.

2009 record
80-82, 3rd place in the NL Central

Projected batting order
1. 2B Rickie Weeks:
  .272 BA, .340 OBP, 9 HR in 2009
2. SS Alcides Escobar:
  .298 BA, 76 R, 42 SB at Triple-A in 2009
3. LF Ryan Braun:
  .320 BA, .386 OBP, .551 SLG, 32 HR, 114 RBI in 2009
4. 1B Prince Fielder:
  .299 BA, .412 OBP, .602 SLG, 46 HR, 141 RBI in 2009
5. 3B Casey McGehee:
  .301 BA, .360 OBP, .499 SLG, 16 HR, 66 RBI in 2009
6. RF Corey Hart:
  .260 BA, .335 OBP, .418 SLG, 12 HR, 48 RBI in 2009
7. C Gregg Zaun:
  .260 BA, .345 OBP, .416 SLG, 8 HR, 27 RBI in 2009
8. CF Carlos Gomez:
  .229 BA, .287 OBP, .337 SLG, 14 SB in 2009

Projected rotation
1. Yovani Gallardo, 13-12, 3.73 ERA in 2009
2. Randy Wolf, 11-7, 3.23 ERA in 2009
3. Doug Davis, 9-14, 4.12 ERA in 2009
4. Manny Parra, 11-11, 6.36 ERA in 2009
5. Dave Bush or Jeff Suppan

Projected bullpen
Closer: Trevor Hoffman, 37/41 saves, 1.83 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: LaTroy Hawkins, 2.13 ERA in 2009
LH setup man: Mitch Stetter, 3.60 ERA in 2009

The new guys
LHPs Randy Wolf and Doug Davis: They're lumped together here because Melvin said at the start of the offseason that he wanted to acquire two established starters, and Wolf and Davis were the result. Wolf, in fact, was Milwaukee's top free-agent target after club officials determined that fellow free agent John Lackey was going to demand a contract out of their range. Davis was added much later, after his asking price fell and the Brewers were able to land him for a year plus a club option. Both pitchers delivered innings last season; Wolf posted 24 quality starts (defined as an outing of at least six innings with three or fewer earned runs) and Davis posted 22. Milwaukee's staff leader in 2009 was Gallardo, with just 17.

RHP LaTroy Hawkins: Like they did for Wolf, who garnered a three-year contract, the Brewers went big for Hawkins and landed him by being the only team to offer two guaranteed seasons. He will pair with durable righty Todd Coffey to form a nice setup pair in front of closer Trevor Hoffman. Hawkins also has closing experience, and is probably the top option if 42-year-old Hoffman has any setbacks.

CF Carlos Gomez: The Brewers acquired Gomez from the Twins in a trade that was at least partially motivated by finances. Gomez was arbitration-eligible but still cost significantly less than shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was shipped to Minnesota in the trade, and Gomez's arrival also meant the end of the line in Milwaukee for Mike Cameron. All told, the Brewers freed about $10 million to spend elsewhere in 2010. From a baseball standpoint, Gomez brings speed and defense but has yet to tap the offensive potential that made him a top Mets prospect a few years ago. The trade also opened shortstop for Milwaukee top prospect Alcides Escobar.

C Gregg Zaun: The Brewers would have liked to keep Jason Kendall, but not at the price he was seeking. When that became clear, they centered on Zaun, who is 38 years old and has played mostly in the Majors as a backup. The Brewers, though, will ask him to take on a heavier workload, and it remains to be seen how Zaun holds up. He's a switch-hitter, which should help balance a righty-heavy lineup.

Pitching Coach Rick Peterson: A coach makes the list because Peterson might just prove Milwaukee's key offseason addition. He'll offer a fresh start for pitchers like Bush, Parra and Suppan coming off poor seasons.

Prospects to watch
SS Alcides Escobar: September stats can be deceiving, but the fact that Escobar batted .304 in 125 late-season at-bats with the Brewers probably made the Hardy trade easier to make. He's a top-flight defensive prospect who carries the same free-swinging label as many young, foreign-born players. Listing Escobar as a prospect is deceiving since he's penciled in as the everyday shortstop, but we'll let him shed his rookie status before moving him up.

3B Mat Gamel: The Brewers might have done Gamel a disservice by messing with his playing time last season and shuffling him between Triple-A Nashville and Milwaukee. The result was a relatively disappointing year all-around, and with the emergence of Casey McGehee at third base, Gamel's immediate future is all the more cloudy. Still, he's an outstanding offensive prospect and could work his way into the Brewers' plans very soon. Whether that's at third base, his current position, or elsewhere remains to be seen.

OF Lorenzo Cain: After a promising showing in Spring Training, Cain lost much of the 2009 season to a knee injury. But don't count him out, especially since the Brewers might be thinner in the outfield than anywhere else. Cain will almost certainly go back to the Minors to begin the season, but he could work his way up if others, from Gomez to Corey Hart to Jody Gerut to nonroster invitee Jim Edmonds, falter.

LHP Zach Braddock: Braddock probably needs more seasoning, but Spring Training will offer an opportunity to impress Macha and Peterson. Braddock had a 1.79 ERA for two Minor League affiliates last season as one of the organization's top pitching prospects.

On the rebound
Bush, Parra and Suppan: Injuries dogged Bush and Suppan and Parra simply struggled, leading to a midseason demotion. Now all three are back with something to prove. Bush signed a $4.215 million contract in January to avoid arbitration, but such contracts don't become guaranteed until Opening Day, so the Brewers could release him before then and owe only a fraction of his salary. Parra is out of Minor League options, but the Brewers are trying to be very patient with him to avoid letting go too early, like they may have done in 2006 with Jorge De La Rosa. Suppan is in the final season of a four-year contract and will be the team's highest-paid player.

Weeks: The former No. 1 Draft pick seems to find himself on this list every spring, but at least this time it's because of an injury. Weeks was among the NL's top 10 in runs scored and home runs when he injured his left wrist on May 17 in St. Louis, tearing a tendon sheath and ultimately requiring surgery. He had similar surgery on the other wrist in 2006 and got off to a terribly slow start the following season. The Brewers worry that history could repeat itself, but for now, the medical reports on Weeks are positive.

OF Jim Edmonds: Edmonds didn't get a contract offer to his liking, so he sat out all of 2009, but now he's back on a Minor League contract with the Brewers. Edmonds must win a job this spring, but he's left-handed and extremely motivated to prove the rest of the league wrong, two factors that should work in his favor.

Long gone
SS J.J. Hardy: Hardy had been the Brewers' starting shortstop since 2005 but now hands the reigns to Escobar. It was probably a good time to part; Hardy harbored bad feelings since an Aug. 12 demotion to the Minors that was timed perfectly to push back his free-agent eligibility a full year.

C Jason Kendall: Brewers pitchers loved throwing to Kendall but he proved too costly. That Milwaukee replaced Kendall with a fellow veteran in Zaun should make the transition smooth.

CF Mike Cameron: The Brewers will mostly miss Cameron's power, though he is still pretty darn good in center field in his late 30s.

RHP Braden Looper: The righty led the 2009 staff with 14 wins but also ran up a 5.22 ERA and surrendered 39 home runs, most in the Majors. The Brewers picked up Davis for a similar cost and think he'll be more effective.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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