For better or worse, the Brewers are tied to Ryan Braun. They’d love to see him return to the levels he was at prior to his suspension, but even if he doesn’t, they at least have a young core of players that can help carry the team into an era where Braun is no longer the focal point. Add in a big splash in free agency, and there are plenty of Brewers to choose from here.
All eyes are going to be Braun this season. With Alex Rodriguez suspended for the entire year, Braun becomes the face of last year’s Biogenesis scandal — sure, attention will be paid to the likes of Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta, too, but this is the first time a former MVP has returned from a PED suspension. This isn’t the first time Braun has had to deal with added pressure to perform, either. After escaping suspension the first time in the winter of 2011, Braun was under the microscope to start the 2012 season. He responded by arguably having an even better year than 2011.
If there are questions about Braun’s ability to return to that level with added scrutiny and without any added help, the Brewers are hoping that 2012 season is proof he’s capable of doing it. While the Brewers’ offense last season was actually more productive without Braun than with him (thanks to Khris Davis’ second-half hot streak), that won’t be the case over a full season. The Brewers need Braun to play at that upper-echelon level if they’re going to be playoff contenders and not just middling around .500 all year.
It took Gomez nearly six years and three organizations to put it all together, but he’s finally started to look like the guy everyone thought he would be when he was the centerpiece of the Johan Santana-to-New York deal. While 2012 was Gomez’s true breakout season, he took another step forward last season, hitting 24 home runs, stealing 40 bases in 47 attempts, and winning his first Gold Glove. He could’ve been a free agent this past winter, but the Brewers locked him into a 4-year, $28.3 million deal last year before he put up those numbers, saving themselves tens of millions. Now not only is he one of the Brewers’ key players for 2014, but he’s one of the new faces of the franchise as the team not-so-subtly starts to draw back the attention on Braun and focus it more on other players. As much as the Brewers would love to see another 20 home run, 40 stolen base year from Gomez, his defensive contributions will be much more important as he tries to cover for two subpar defenders in the corners in Braun and Davis.
The Brewers have marketed Segura as one of the top young shortstops in the game, although he hasn’t gotten the same amount of attention as someone like Andrelton Simmons. While he may not be quite at that level, it’s easy to see why the Brewers are excited about him — they haven’t had a shortstop like Segura since running J.J. Hardy out of town following the 2009 season. Last year’s second-half splits were alarming, but there’s enough there to suggest that it was just fatigue and not something more alarming. He’s never been the most patient hitter, but he makes a lot of solid contact and has the speed to turn weakly-hit balls into infield hits. His first-half power surge was likely at least a little flukey, as he’s more of a line-drive hitter than anything. Even if Segura never hits like he did in last year’s first half again, he’s easy to appreciate after watching the likes of Yuniesky Betancourt, and he’ll have a chance to score plenty of runs hitting ahead of Braun, Aramis Ramirez and the rest of the Brewers’ strong lineup.
You don’t get the largest free agent contract in franchise history and not end up on this list. Prior to signing Garza, the Brewers’ rotation had some questions about depth, or at least what to expect from the younger pitchers at the back end. Not only does Garza give the Brewers another very good starter at the top of the rotation, but it gives them more time to figure out whether or not Tyler Thornburg is actually a starting pitcher and means they don’t have to rush Jimmy Nelson, Johnny Hellweg or Taylor Jungmann to the majors. While Garza may not be a true “top of the rotation” guy, adding him to a couple other solid #2 types in Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo gives the Brewers a solid rotation, even if upside is slightly limited. The fact that he’s a strikeout pitcher shouldn’t be overlooked, either, given Milwaukee’s shaky defensive play and Miller Park’s homer-happy tendencies. Of course, the big question is whether or not he can stay healthy. The Brewers are taking a risk by signing him to a four-year deal, but have deferred the money in a way that won’t cripple them financially if he can’t pitch, and his option for a fifth year will be nearly impossible to vest if he gets hurt at any point during the deal. Even if Garza gets hurt later in the deal, the Brewers are pretty clearly trying to win in the next year or two, and if he helps them get to the playoffs during that time, they’ll likely feel like the deal was worth it.