Ryan Braun is still around ... and that's about where the good news ends.
Justin K. Aller
By Chris Bahr
Each weekday between now and the end of spring training, we'll analyze one team's keys for success (or keys to avoid complete irrelevance) in the 2016 season. Today, we try (unsuccessfully) to ease the pain of Brewers fans, who endured a 94-loss season in 2015 and hardly recognize the team's roster thanks to an ongoing rebuild.
1. There's a Jonathan Lucroy trade coming. Lucroy can make a legitimate case that he is even more underpaid than Royals catcher Salvador Perez, so he obviously won't be dealt for financial purposes. But a former All-Star catcher who is about to turn 30 is much more valuable to a team deep into a rebuilding process for the prospects he can net in a trade than anything else. And Lucroy has made no secret about the fact that he'd rather catch for a contender.
Jonathan Lucroy could be the next veteran player to go.
Lucroy, who finished fourth in the NL MVP voting in 2014, is coming off a 2015 season ruined by broken toe and a late-season concussion. Once he proves he is past the concussion, he should have several serious suitors. As much as Milwaukee's young staff could benefit from his knowledge and pitch-framing skills, Lucroy should be working with another team's staff soon.
2. The pitching. As contenders continue to announce their Opening Day starters, other teams aren't as fortunate to have that clear-cut No. 1. Milwaukee, for example, must choose from among Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann and the 2016 version of Matt Garza. So many options. And those are the top-of-the-rotation names.
Wily Peralta was a 17-game winner in 2014 but won only five games last season.
With closer Francisco Rodriquez now with the Tigers, lefty Will Smith is the leading candidate to handle the ninth-inning duties after two solid seasons in a setup role (11.8 K/9 ration in 2014, 12.9 K/9 in 2015). Jeremy Jeffress is the top eighth-inning option, but the middle innings figure to get quite dicey.
3. The unknowns. As in, every player in the lineup not named Lucroy or Ryan Braun. Among the departed just since the end of the 2015 season: Khris Davis, Adam Lind, Rodriguez and Jean Segura. If the most die-hard Brewers fans and manager Craig Counsell were ruled ineligible, a $1 million reward for anyone who could correctly fill out projected batting order would go unclaimed.
Craig Counsell's lineup card will look a lot different in 2016.
The good news is that it's not just a collection of Double-A prospects being rushed to the majors; the bad news is that it is a collection of veterans who have been jettisoned from elsewhere. Aaron Hill is at third base, Kirk Nieuwenhuis is in center field and Chris Carter is at first base.