Closing the door on the 2007 Milwaukee Brewers
Okay, so I've had a few days to mull over the 2007 season for the Milwaukee Brewers and I think I've finally come to grips with the outcome. I'd like to send out a special thank you to the New York Mets. Thanks to your monumental choke job over the final two and a half weeks, it has softened the blow of the Brewers blowing an eight game lead since the middle of June.
First the good:
JJ Hardy burst on the scene to become an All-Star. He finished the season batting .277, belted a career high 26 home runs and finished with 80 RBIs. More importantly was the fact that Hardy played in 151 games. In Hardy's third full season, it was the first time he played in over 125 games. JJ is now eligible for arbitration as was the case with Bill Hall last season after he put up career high numbers at shortstop. Look for JJ and GM Doug Melvin to iron out a long-term deal this winter buying out a year or two of free agency.
It took a few months, but Corey Hart finally became an everyday starter for the Brewers in the outfield. In 140 games, Hart finished with a .295 average. He became the 5th player in Brewers history to finish with at least 20 home runs (24) and 20 stolen bases (23). Hart had 66 extra base hits including a team high 9 triples. This type of production from Corey comes as no surprise to me. There is no reason that Corey can't hit .300 and be a 30/30 player next season.
Francisco Cordero set a team record with 44 saves in 51 chances. He struck out 86 batters in 63.1 innings. Cordero is now a free agent but GM Doug Melvin has already had conversations with Cordero about a contract extension. The bullpen was the Achilles' heel of the Brewers this season. Having Cordero to close games for the team in 2008 is Melvin's top priority. The price tag won't be cheap. Look for a 4-5 year deal averaging somewhere between $8-11 million a year to keep Coco a Brewer.
Now the bad:
Bill Hall experienced a dramatic drop-off in his offensive output. His average dropped from .270 to .254, home runs fell from 35 to 14 and RBIs fell from 85 to 63. This can chiefly be attributed to Hall's move to center field. By the end of the year Hall had become an above-average fielder, but he was never able to get on track at the plate. There have been rumors of Hall being on the trading block, possibly to the Chicago White Sox.
Chris Capuano completely fell apart and was demoted to the Brewers bullpen by August. He finished with a 5-12 record and a 5.10 ERA. He did not win a ballgame after May 7th. In 25 starts, only 6 of them were quality starts. Capuano enters his second year of arbitration and could be dealt in the off-season with the emergence of lefty Manny Parra.
Ben Sheets had another injury-filled year. Sheets finished with a record of 12-5 and a 3.82 ERA. He was only able to make 24 starts due to a torn ligament in his finger and a pulled hamstring. It was the third straight season in which injuries filled Sheets' season. Since signing his 4-year $36.5 million contract in 2005, Sheets has made only 61% of his scheduled starts and have pitched more than 156.2 innings in any year.
And the AMAZING:
Prince Fielder burst on the scene in a major way solidifying himself as an All-Star and MVP candidate for many years to come. He finished with a .288 average with a Brewers record 50 home runs. He had 119 RBIs while scoring 109 runs of his own. Fielder's gaudy stats also included an OBP of .395 and a slugging % of .618 to produce a phenomenal OPS of 1.013. Prince has one more season before reaching arbitration, but I am really hoping that a long-term deal can be hammered out this winter.
Third baseman Ryan Braun had a rookie season for the ages while only playing 113 games. Braun did not play his first game for the Brewers until May 25th. He more than made up for the late start. He finished with a Brewers rookie record hitting 34 home runs. He finished with a .324 batting average, .370 on-base average and an unbelievable .634 slugging average. Add in 97 RBIs and 91 runs scored plus 15 stolen bases and you can see why Braun is a favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year award. (For fan purposes, I choose to ignore Braun's 26 errors and hope that will improve with more time at the position).
Although I am extremely disappointed with how the season ended, I am quite optimistic about 2008 and the future for the Milwaukee Brewers. With a core of Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo, and Carlos Villanueva it's hard not to be. This year should prove to be the tip of the iceberg for a franchise long on talent and pocketbooks that are getting deeper. 83-79 and being in the heart of a pennant race is the first step. Step two comes next year with winning a division and making the playoffs. From here on out, that is the goal and the focus. Thank you to the Milwaukee Brewers for a memorable 2007. I cannot wait for the next four and a half months to fly by and have pitchers and catchers report in mid-February.