Going into 2015, the Milwaukee Brewers really didn’t look all that bad. There was potential, and with the possibility of a rebound year for Ryan Braun and good performance from the rotation, they might have put together a solid, if not championship season. As so often happens in baseball, things didn’t work out that way. Milwaukee skidded to a 68-94 record. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate, because they never really reached a height to skid from.
Starting in September of 2014, when the team basically collapsed and fell out of the Wild Card race, both the team and manager Ron Roenicke seemed to be moving in a daze. Only twenty-five games into the season, in April, Roenicke was fired, leaving the already floundering team with a -41 run differential, a team ERA of 4.42 and the second-worst record in MLB.
Adding to that horrifying start were injuries to Jonathan Lucroy (first his foot, and later in the year a concussion), Ryan Braun (a back injury that required surgery over this offseason, and the same recurring thumb issues he’s dealt with in the past) and Carlos Gomez, who suffered a series of injuries that kept him in and out of form, and the lineup.
To sum it up, this season was over before it started.
One could ask why the front office brought Roenicke back at all if they would consider letting him go so early, but that’s water under the bridge. He was replaced by Craig Counsell, a former MLB infielder and World Series winner who was working in the front office at the time. The diminutive utility man spent the final five years of his 16-year career playing for the Brew Crew. Counsell attended high school in Milwaukee.
Other problems and injuries plagued the team as the season progressed. Wily Peralta was sidelined by a strained muscle. The upside of this was the opportunity for rookie Taylor Jungmann to emerge. In 119 innings, Jungmann posted a 3.77 ERA and a 3.92 FIP. Considering that his stint in the minors was a bit rougher, this was a very promising start, and bodes well for continued success in 2016.
Eventually, the disastrous season evolved into a major rebuild, seeing the departures of Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Broxton, Neal Cotts, Mike Fiers, Gerardo Parra, and Carlos Gomez in exchange for a solid package of promising prospects. Among those acquired were Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana, and Zach Davies, who was traded to the Brewers by Baltimore. Santana impressed with his bat, hitting .231/.345/.421 with six home runs. He moved from his more familiar digs in left field to play in right for the Crew, and performed well.
Zach Davies, a 22-year-old right-hander, pitched to a 3.71 ERA over 34 innings in his first MLB exposure, and his last two appearances he allowed a total of – yeah – NO runs. Davis will not blow anyone away with his fastball, but has good command and one of the best changeups in the minor leagues.
Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and General Manager David Stearns are optimistic. They know they have to develop that solid new core that will become the framework of the franchise’s future, and they are committed to it. They have only three players still under contract that might work as trade pieces, but two of them – Ryan Braun and Matt Garza – are unlikely to be easy to move – Braun due to the amount of money he is owed, plus his health issues–and Garza because he just didn’t have a great 2015 season. They do have catcher Johnathan Lucroy who, despite – a less than stellar performance in 2015–could be easier to move. Experienced catchers are at a premium, and there are a number of clubs who might show interest. Among those involved in rumors are the Texas Rangers.
Arbitration-eligible players may be moved as well, such as shortstop Jean Segura, who could make room for the Brewers’ Minor League Player of the Year, Orlando Arcia, who batted .307 with 37 doubles, eight home runs and 69 RBIs. Arcia is a smooth defender, and could make the jump this spring.
As bad as the 2015 season ended up, 2016 looks to be a lot more exciting, with a crew of young, talented rookies and a farm system bolstered by solid trades and listed as one of the most improved. If they can avoid the nagging injuries and regain their focus, this first year of the Brew Crew rebuild could be a lot of fun for players and fans alike, and speak to a very positive future.