For four months, the Brewers were one of 2012's bigger disappointments. They fell of the pace in the National League early in the season, they traded Zack Greinke, and they hit their season low of 12 games under .500 on August 19th. Then, like a light switch, the finished the season playing like their hair was on fire. From August 20th onwards, the Brewers went 29-13. That tied them for baseball's best record in that span with Oakland's improbable playoff run, putting them a half-game ahead of the newly crowned world champion Giants. They still came up five games short of a wild card spot, but it sure wasn't for lacking of trying. So where do the Brewers go now?
After two years of Greinke, Gallardo, and Marcum, the Brewers' "need" column goes back to where it was stuck in perpetuity: pitching. Greinke is already gone and the disappointing Marcum will almost certainly be allowed to walk in free agency. Francisco Rodriguez is a free agent, too, while Jose Veras and Manny Parra could be non-tendered this winter. That means that their needs aren't just limited to starting pitching; the Brewers need all kinds of pitching this winter.
The conventional wisdom is that Greinke is too expensive for the Brewers, which means that their targets will be located pretty firmly in the second tier of free agent pitchers. That's not the end of the world, really. Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada both had strong seasons and should be pretty reliable middle-rotation guys behind Yovani Gallardo, who's firmly established himself as an upper-middle rotation kind of guy if not quite an ace. If the Brewers can bring in one more pitcher in the same tier, the rotation could be in pretty good shape. A rotation of, say, Gallardo, Fiers, Estrada, and Edwin Jackson or Anibal Sanchez might not have a real "ace," but four #2-#3 range starters should be more than enough to give the Brewers' explosive offense a chance. Of course, the Brewers might be willing to spend even more money than that; someone with the club told Jon Heyman that they're thinking of making a run for Josh Hamilton. That means that they're certainly thinking of opening up the checkbook.
A lot of this depends on how the money is spent in free agency, probably. If the Brewers go out and sign Josh Hamilton, they can probably afford to shop Carlos Gomez to a team looking for a center fielder. If they sign more than one starting pitcher, they can shop either Fiers or Estrada around to clubs looking for cost-controlled starting pitching. They do have quite a few arbitration-eligible players this winter, so it's possible that they could ship a player like the aforementioned Veras, Parra, or even Nyjer Morgan out before the arbitration process begins. They made a similar deal with the Pirates last winter, swapping Casey McGehee for Jose Veras in a deal of arbitration eligible players that both had more value to other teams.
My hunch is that if the Brewers are willing to open the checkbook for Hamilton or for starting pitching, that they'll probably pursue relief help through the trade market. That was how they acquired Veras last year, and they could try to look for a similar deal again. Joel Hanrahan will be available on the trade market, though he'll probably be pricey and chances seem good that the Pirates will want a starting pitcher in return. Since that's also one of the Brewers' needs, the two clubs may not be a good match for each other. Really, the Brewers have a bunch of money to spend this winter and so it seems likely that they'll trade to address their needs via free agency, turning to trades to shore up whatever problems they can't throw money at.