Judging whether the 2012 was a success or failure for the Milwaukee Brewers is all about perspective.
Some people would look at the 83-79 overall record and be disappointed, as the Brewers were expected to contend for the National League Central Division title. Others may see a team that was 12 games under .500 at one point during the season, and see that final record as an encouraging sign.
The Brewers head into the 2012 offseason with some holes to fill, especially on the pitching staff. The almost guaranteed exit of starter Shaun Marcum leaves the Brewers with Yovani Gallardo and a host of talented, but unproven, starters.
Gallardo went 16-9 last year with a 3.66 earned run average in 204 innings and was the steady workhorse the Brewers expected him to be.
But what comes after Gallardo is up for debate. Youngsters Marco Estrada, Michael Fiers, Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers and Tyler Thornburg — as well as the recovering Chris Narveson — also could figure into the 2013 rotation plans.
Four of those six arms could figure into the rest of the 2013 rotation, but given their youth and lack of track record, the Brewers would be better served finding a veteran No. 2 pitcher to slot behind Gallardo and ahead of whichever three others grab rotation spots.
That pitcher come come either via free agency or trade, general manager Doug Melvin suggested recently that it may be the later that lands the Brewers a starter.
The list of 2013 free agent starting pitchers has some high-priced hurlers that may be out of Milwaukee’s price range (Zack Greinke), so the Brewers will probably look at a more thrifty and shorter-term option.
Names like Ryan Dempster, Dan Haren, Kyle Lohse, Jeremy Guthrie, Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy and Anibal Sanchez are among those that could be attached to the Brewers in the upcoming weeks.
Back to the topic of those youngsters.
Estrada, Fiers and Peralta showed the ability to get the job done as rotation members in 2012. They each had ERA’s under four and worked their way into contention for 2013 rotation plans.
Estrada was prone to giving up home runs (1.17 per 9 innings), but also was a strike thrower who showed the ability to the punchout (9.3 K/per 9 compared to 1.89 BB/per 9).
Fiers started out red hot before fading down the stretch. Not overpowering by any means (average fastball clocked at just over 88 miles per hour), Fiers went from afterthought to front runner for a 2013 rotation spot.
Peralta, the top pitching prospect in the Brewers organization entering 2012 according to Baseball America, struggled at AAA Nashville before improving those numbers to decentness (4.66 ERA in 146.2 innings). He was promoted to the Brewers later in the season and made five starts, four going at least 5.1 innings while allowing three earned runs or less). He brings high velocity (Average fastball of 95.6 MPH, fifth highest in MLB according to FanGraphs) but also has struggled at times with control.
Thornburg turned 24 at the end of September and has abbreviated experience about AA, so he could end up at AAA next year for one more year of seasoning. Rogers, Milwaukee’s 2004 first round draft pick, has been plagued by injuries in his career. Any production from here on out could almost be considered a plus for the Brewers, who could put him in the rotation but could also slide him into relief, where his lack of secondary pitches wouldn’t be as much of a concern.
Narveson’s on the comeback trail from a rotator cuff injury, but is targeting spring training to return. The lone lefty in the conversation, Narveson has been effective for the Brewers in their rotation in the past. However, it remains to be seen how he will recover from the major injury.
The Brewers rotation figures to look much different than the one that opened the 2012 season. Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf almost surely won’t be there and Chris Narveson’s status is unclear. But the young pitchers that stood out for Milwaukee this past season gives the Brewers reason to believe that the immediate future of the rotation isn’t as bleak as some may think.
Similar results from those youngsters, to go with a veteran addition behind Gallardo, could give the Brewers an effective rotation for the 2013 season to pair with what was a top-tier offense (1st in the NL in runs scored).