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Brewers brace for Braun ruling after losing Prince

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports
Brewers brace for Braun ruling after losing Prince
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Outfielder Corey Hart is the longest-tenured player on the Milwaukee roster

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Milwaukee Brewers.

2011 record: 96-66
Finish: First, NL Central
2011 final payroll: $83.6 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $100 million
Yahoo! Sports' offseason rank: 17th
Hashtags: #byebyeprince, #brauns50, #boredbernie, #tplusharghh, #thegamelgamble

Offseason action

When the inevitable struck – Prince Fielder became someone else's first baseman on Tuesday and wore Detroit Tigers colors by Thursday – the Brewers long before had moved on.

True, the news that Fielder had found a new home made Brewers general manager Doug Melvin wistful. Fielder wasn't just their 1A or 1B player, as the order changed with Ryan Braun depending on the night. He was their competitive spirit. He lugged them into games, and through August, and just four months ago, into the postseason.

Among current Brewers, and that included Melvin, only Corey Hart had been around longer.

But the organization raised an NL Central title banner at Miller Park without Fielder, or any hope of Fielder, or – really – any real hope of replacing him.

For the moment, the depth chart at first base begins with Mat Gamel, who, at 26, or a year younger than Fielder, is 225 home runs behind Fielder. After Gamel? The rookie Taylor Green. Beyond that? Maybe some Hart.

Indeed, faced with a winter in which he would have Prince carved from his lineup, Melvin chose to fortify other parts of his roster and hope the time had come for Gamel and/or Green.

[ Related: Prince Fielder found his perfect fit in Detroit ]

He signed third baseman Aramis Ramirez, the former Chicago Cub, to a three-year, $36 million contract. He traded third baseman Casey McGehee to the Pittsburgh Pirates for right-handed reliever Jose Veras. And he signed shortstop Alex Gonzalez, utility man Cesar Izturis, first baseman Travis Ishikawa and Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki.

Along with Prince, gone are Yuniesky Betancourt, Jerry Hairston Jr., Craig Counsell, Mark Kotsay and LaTroy Hawkins.

Reality check

Yeah, it's a heck of a time to be a Brewers fan.

The thrill of a franchise-best 96 wins and a season that ended closer to the World Series than the Brewers had been in nearly 30 years, well, that's over.

What we have now is Prince pangs, along with the possibility Ryan Braun will miss the first 50 games of 2012 for using performance-enhancing drugs. Additionally, there's whatever happened in the NLCS to a starting rotation that was dependable for long stretches, then disintegrated at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals and, to some degree, the Arizona Diamondbacks in the division series.

Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum – for whom Melvin had traded away a good portion of his farm system last winter – were awful in both series, and Yovani Gallardo joined them in their ineffectiveness for the NLCS. Presumably, this was little more than October weariness. Neither Greinke nor Marcum had pitched in the playoffs and Gallardo hadn't for three years.

Having lost their cleanup hitter, however, and with the potential of Braun (their No. 3 hitter) being out for the first third of the season, the Brewers must pitch well again if they are to contend. Nearly all the Brewers' pitching is back, including the five starters, closer John Axford and setup man Francisco Rodriguez.

[ Fantasy: Four Pressing Questions for Milwaukee Brewers ]

Even if Braun is exonerated, the complications of Fielder's departure run deep. Ramirez is not Prince. Neither is Hart. And while Gamel will get first shot at Prince's old position, he's not proven his grand minor league numbers will translate in the big leagues. Also, he's been called out by the organization for his immaturity in the past, a personality flaw that won't play in Fielder's old clubhouse.

Savior

Shyam Das.

If you're not familiar with Das, he is the 67-year-old, Ivy League educated baseball arbitrator who stands between Major League Baseball and the players' union during conflict, judges the merit of each argument, and renders binding decisions.

In his latest case, Das will decide whether the Brewers will be competitive during the 2012 season or not competitive, which is to say, whether Braun will start his season April 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals or, barring rainouts, May 31 at the Los Angeles Dodgers.

MLB hasn't yet had a drug suspension appeal overturned. NL MVP Braun says he is innocent, and that he can explain why, according to reports, synthetic testosterone was discovered in his urine.

And while Das actually sits on a three-person panel, representatives of MLB and the union occupy the two other seats, which means he nearly always casts the decisive vote.

In a softer NL Central, the Brewers' season rests on it.

Brewers in Haiku

Prince said his farewell
Only time will tell if it
Leaves Brewers paupers

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