There are a lot of questions you could ask about the Brewers, and a decent amount of them wouldn’t actually have anything to do with what will happen on the field. We’ll keep those to a minimum here, but there is one nagging question that will hang over the team’s head, at least for the first couple months of the 2014 season.
How will the fanbase react to Ryan Braun?
We know how most fans on the road will react to Braun following his 65-game suspension — they’ve booed him before, and they’ll continue to boo him now. Braun himself has acknowledged this, adding “now they have more things to boo me for.” But how will his own fans in Milwaukee react when he walks up to the plate for the first time on Opening Day? Braun made an appearance at the Brewers’ winter Fan Fest and was met with a mixed reaction — quite a bit of support, but there were some hecklers, too. There may be a bit of a “fool me once/fool me twice” dynamic going on with a portion of the fan base, and those people will be hard to win back. For some, all it will take to win them back is a bunch of homers and runs driven in. Others don’t care either way about what he may or may not have done or whether he lied in the past, they’re just happy to see him back in the lineup. Even if Braun is greeted with a lukewarm home reaction, most will come around by the end of the year if he puts up the numbers they’re used to and he helps the Brewers win games. Some fans may like moralizing, but they’ll always like winning more.
Is Khris Davis a legitimate starting outfielder?
Davis made last year’s team out of spring training thanks to a power surge in the Cactus League, but struggled in limited playing time as a pinch-hitter to start the year. He was sent back to Triple-A Nashville by the beginning of May, but when the hammer fell on Braun in mid-July, it was Davis that got the call-up. As Braun’s primary replacement in left field, Davis hit .292/.363/.633 in the second half, hitting 11 home runs in 120 at-bats.
Davis is a someone the Brewers have liked for awhile, but never made the top prospect lists, likely due to his shaky-at-best defense. He’s done nothing but hit despite the poor glovework, though, owning a career .288/.392/.506 line in the minors and setting Single-A Wisconsin’s single-season home run record. Davis’ second half in 2013 was all the validation the Brewers needed to move Norichika Aoki to Kansas City and Braun to right field to get him into the everyday lineup.
The Brewers know his defense isn’t going to be pretty. Thankfully, Carlos Gomez is able to cover more ground than most centerfielders and should help Davis cover the gaps. They’re just betting on his bat outweighing his glove.
Who’s the real Jean Segura?
You’ll have to look hard for a player with greater first half/second half splits than Segura had last season. He bolted out of the gate with a .367/.418/.567 line in April, and rode a .325/.363/.487 first half line to an All-Star appearance in his first full big league season. Regression and fatigue hit Segura hard in the second half, though, as he hit just .241/.268/.315. The huge disparity is making negotiations difficult as the Brewers try to sign him to a long-term extension, and makes it hard to figure out what to expect from him in 2014. Is he a perennial All-Star? Or just another infielder with poor plate discipline that hits too many groundballs? The answer is likely somewhere in between, but the 2014 season should help the Brewers figure that out. If they’re going to contend for a playoff spot, though, they’ll need him to play near that All-Star level as their likely #1 or #2 hitter.