by Troy Sparks
Life without Prince Fielder and possibly Ryan Braun (for the foreseeable future) will go on for the Milwaukee Brewers. There’s nothing to worry about because there are pieces in place to contend for another division title and a run into the playoffs.
Any of those concerns regarding those two guys were answered at the Frontier Airlines Center, Jan. 29, by the two main members of the Brewers’ brass, principal owner, Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin, during the third annual Brewers on Deck event.
The Crew has everything covered at all positions. There is enough veteran talent on this team from 1-25 that can take the National League Central division this year.
Braun was courageous to go to New York to answer questions on his positive testing for using a banned substance and accept his award for being named the NL’s Most Valuable Player for 2011. He was originally scheduled to come to Milwaukee as part of the Brewers on Deck lineup, but I understood the reason that Attanasio preferred Braun stayed away.
It was obvious that if Braun would have showed up, someone would have asked him about the alleged positive test results and his hearing and whether he believed that he would be innocent or be suspended for 25 or 50 games.
I had the feeling that question would be asked from an audience member to the panel on stage that included Attanasio, Melvin, assistant GM Gord Ash and the new special assistant to Melvin, Craig Counsell.
Attanasio was well-qualified to answer the question about Braun’s status as a member of the team. “The entire process is confidential,” he said. “And I think that it can be confusing to fans because a news leak comes out and then everyone thinks that there’s something that we’re not being told. I actually didn’t know myself that (Braun) was having this hearing. Unfortunately, we’re a little bit, or we’re as much in the dark as to what’s happening.
“Doug and I decided after we heard the news that the only way to manage through this process is to proceed that Ryan is a member of the team and whatever happens, we’ll proceed as though he’s playing. As you can see the way we put the team together, we’re building this team to win. We’re proceeding that Ryan is a part of the team until we hear otherwise.”
So when Fielder was too expensive for the Brewers to re-sign, they let him walk. The market soured on him until the Detroit Tigers scooped the big guy up for a lot of bread. I’m thinking, how can the city of Detroit, who is a city in economic turmoil, afford to pay a guy like Fielder a big salary for nine seasons to play baseball for the Tigers? When the bidding for Fielder’s services was out of the Brewers’ price range, there were no tears shed.
“When a player becomes a free agent,” Melvin said, “he has that opportunity to go out there, especially when you’re a young free agent the first time around. I respect that. That’s part of what players bargain for. Scott (Boros, Fielder’s agent) is an agent that didn’t push us to the point. He engaged us a little bit. Once he started saying he was going to get $200 million (for Fielder), I just went, ‘Oops!’ That wasn’t going to work here.”
That’s what I like about Melvin in trying to sign players without breaking the bank. He sticks to his principles and won’t commit to players unless it makes business sense and if it will help the club.
One of the new free agents, third baseman Aramis Ramirez, had clutch hits against the Brewers when he was with the Chicago Cubs. “Well hopefully, I’m a Cub killer now,” he said. But he is happy to be on our side of the state border. “When I was a Cub, I looked forward to playing at Miller Park,” Ramirez said. “I really like it. I like domed stadiums. It’s a new stadium. It was fun (visiting Miller Park).”
Just in case any of the players on the team slip up at the major league level, there will be plenty of guys at the Triple-A level who will be ready to step up. “We’re looking for a good year at Nashville,” Ash said. “And also, we’ll be providing players that will fill in, in an emergency if there’s either non-performance or injuries at the major league level.”
No one is sure about what to expect from former Japanese all-star outfielder Norichika Aoki. The Brewers know what to expect or else they wouldn’t have paid for the rights to sign him for two years.
“(Aoki) has won some batting titles in Japan and some gold gloves,” Melvin said. “He brings a different dimension to our ballclub. He gives us some depth in the outfield. Obviously we have Carlos (Gomez) and Nyjer (Morgan), Ryan (Braun) and Corey Hart. We (like) his ability. We haven’t gone down that path with a Japanese player before. He’s got some talent and skill set that we think might fit with Ron Roenicke’s managing style. It was intriguing to us. I’m looking forward to seeing him from over here and see how he contributes to the ballclub.”
Now who will play first base? Mat Gamel is the favorite to replace Fielder at that position. He spent parts of last season with the Brewers and Nashville. Gamel has a real shot of playing first all season. There were rumors of Hart playing first base because he played there in the minors. Tyler Green, another player who was up and down with the club, is also an option.
Pitching is good to go. There are enough arms to keep the opponents’ run totals down and learn from the mistakes made in their playoff run last year. The fans are excited to enter the turnstyles and watch the Crew do their thing once again.
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