Hey Milwaukee- guess who?

After a lengthy and VERY well deserved winter break, everyone’s favorite wannabe baseball writer is back for Season Four of The Sunday Cycle- a collection of my weekly ramblings about our beloved Milwaukee Brewers. What began as a once-a-week Facebook post has blossomed quite nicely into a recurring column read by 10-20 strangers and a couple of my aunts. After Season Three brought me my very first vanity license plate (nobody knows what SUNCYL means…), I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve promoted myself to the Squeaky Curd’s Senior Baseball writer; twitter and website bio updates forthcoming.

For those followers of the Curd who are new to the Cycle, I couldn’t be more excited to have you along for the ride. You’ll quickly find that this column is unlike most of the “real sports journalism” that will circulate through the web over the course of the next seven months. I’m the ultimate millennial; I tend to ditch the sabermetrics in favor of gut feel… and I overuse semicolons.

If you’re looking for some hard core statistical analysis, you’ll likely be disappointed. There’s plenty of professionals tasked with putting that together on a daily basis. What you’ll get from me instead is this: biased and unfounded opinions, irresponsible optimism followed by month long spells of doom and gloom, and quite a few reminders that even in my fourth season as the Squeaky Curd’s second most tenured writer, my only payment comes in the form of an annual Holiday Gala that anyone in Milwaukee can attend by writing a single measly article for the Curd. I’m going to have my fair share of hot takes and predictions, and I’m going to be proven wrong on multiple occasions, but I promise you this- you’ll be hard pressed to find someone in this city that loves the Brewers more than me. I promise to let that often irrational passion come through in my writing every single Sunday – except when I’m hungover.

We’ve got quite a bit to cover and not a whole lot of real estate left to do it in; the Curd frowns on articles longer than 414 words, but being a Senior writer has it’s perks. Let’s hit on a number of different and unrelated topics, and wrap it up with some predictions.

I’m most excited about…

The Brewers’ well overdue $20 million dollar overhaul of their concessions operations. Okay, not really… but kindof…

We’re rebuilding! I mean we’re really really rebuilding. If you want proof, consider this: with the somewhat surprise departure of Scooter Gennett last week, Domingo Santana became the second longest tenured position player on this roster behind Ryan Braun. That’s the same Domingo Santana who arrived in Milwaukee in August of 2015. In just one and a half years, all but one member of the offensive half of this roster has turned over.

I’m excited about the urgency. I’m also excited that we’re no longer starting a rebuild like we were at the end of the 2015 campaign. It’s Opening Day in 2017, and we’re officially in the middle phase of the rebuild. While it’s still an agonizingly long process, enough deals have been made for the fans to watch this young talent start to develop and make their way towards the major league level.

I’m most depressed about…

Two things.

  1. Because we’re in the middle of a rebuild, that means we can’t expect the Brewers to play winning baseball. I mean, Mark Attanasio said it himself- he’s focused on the process, not wins and losses. Hilarious, considering he refused to utter the word “rebuild” until David Stearns was hired in Milwaukee. I’ll outline my predictions for this team below, but I’ll give you a teaser: not good.
  2. Even if I wanted to double down on an overly optimistic prediction that the Brewers could compete for a Wild Card spot this year, that’s almost impossible to do, considering the Brewers are returning all five members of their underwhelming starting rotation from last year.

While I refuse to take anything away from Opening Day starter Junior Guerra, who stormed onto the major league scene last year as a 31-year old rookie, do we really think he can do it again? Zach Davies is my favorite of the group, but he lacks the velocity of a true ace and relies almost entirely on flawlessly commanding his pitches. Jimmy Nelson took a massive step backwards last year that left most fans scratching their heads (or clawing their eyes out), as he struggled mightily with giving up runs in the first inning. Chase Anderson (still don’t know who that is) and Matt “#theworst” Garza carry up the rear (although Garza will begin the season on the DL). Is there anyone in Milwaukee who’s legitimately fired up about this rotation?

Notables:

  • The Brewers have the number one ranked minor league system in all of baseball. And while much of that talent is still in the single and double A ranks, they’re going to start knocking on the major-league door in the next couple of years. It’s going to be interesting to see how the promise of young talent weighs on the decision making at the major-league level, particularly with newcomers like Orlando Arcia, Keon Broxton, etc. Competition is a good thing- it’s up to the major leaguers to justify their roster spot, and it’s up to the prospects to make their case to steal one.
  • The Brewers will begin their 2017 campaign with the lowest payroll in baseball. This will mark the second straight season that the Brewers have been below the $75 million-dollar mark, after topping out around $110 million in 2014. Mark Attanasio is first, and foremost, a rich guy, who got really really good at turning small piles of money into big ones. I truly believe (and desperately hope) that Attanasio is banking that $35 million per year in preparation for the last phase of the rebuild: paid superstars. Unfortunately, we won’t find out if that’s the case for a couple of years.

A couple of newcomers to keep an eye on:

  • Neftali Feliz will likely close games for the Brewers, fresh off a nice comeback season in 2016 where he appeared in 62 games, posting a 3.52 ERA. Feliz is a solid veteran that will be asked to anchor a bullpen that will feature a bunch of relievers nobody has ever heard of.
  • In one favorite off-season move of the winter, the Brewers elected to part ways with Chris Carter in lieu of Eric Thames, the bearded wonder with an incredible backstory. After having very little success at the Major League level in 2011 and 2012, Thames moved to South Korea in an attempt to resurrect his career. The results were staggering: in three seasons in South Korea, Thames batted .348 with a .449 OBP, and hit 124 home runs (an average of 41.3 per year, #math). Those numbers are absurd! Whether or not he’ll be able to replicate these numbers in the MLB has yet to be seen, but I can promise that I’ll be cheering for him. He’s a well-spoken and charismatic player who took a gamble on himself, and is seeing it pay off in the form of a three year / $16 million dollar contract. So long as he doesn’t take after Chris Carter and lead the major leagues in strikeouts, I’m a fan of the move and expect it to be an improvement over last year.

And finally… Predictions:

Record: 69-93, 4th NL Central… a disappointing step back, but the official “bottoming out” of the rebuild.

Team MVP: Ryan Braun – (.310 BA, 21 HR, 31 SB)

Team Cy Young: Zach Davies- (13-5, 3.30 ERA)

Team MDP (Most Disappointing Player): Jimmy Nelson (4-11, 4.85 ERA), ends up on another team next year and starts to post career best numbers. Call it a hunch, but I just don’t get the sense Nelson wants to be in Milwaukee.

Biggest Surprise: Eric Thames (.265 BA, 31 HRs, < 180 strikeouts)      

To Brewers fans everywhere- Happy Opening Day 2017! Respect the process, be patient, and continue to get out and support the Brewers. A rebuild is an agonizingly slow process, but it’s the only way for a small market team like the Brewers to compete. We’ve still got a long way to go, but at least we’re past the beginning, and despite what any Senior Brewers writer says to the contrary, never forget: this technically could be Our Year.

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