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.
2008 record: 90-72, wild-card berth
Finish: Second place in National League Central, 7½ games behind the Chicago Cubs
2008 opening-day payroll: $80.9 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $79 million to $82 million
The loss of CC Sabathia left more than an empty pair of XXXL pants in the Brewers' clubhouse. The 290-pound pitcher carried the team to its first playoff berth in 26 years by winning 11 games after being acquired from the Cleveland Indians on July 7. He also carried himself with a swagger. The unmistakable scent of the big leagues was present when Sabathia took the mound, a small-market team suddenly elevating itself on the strength of one man.
Now he's gone. Nobody in Milwaukee seriously believed he would return, even though he professed his love for the city and affection for the fans. It all seemed genuine, just not as genuine as the 161 million U.S. dollars tossed his way by the New York Yankees.
So the departure was to be expected. But the double whammy is that right-handed starter Ben Sheets, an eight-year Brewer veteran who on a given (healthy) night was as effective as Sabathia or anyone else in baseball, also left via free agency. Nobody has taken their place and nobody is expected to do so, leaving Milwaukee with a rotation headed by the decidedly average likes of Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra.
They signed all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman to replace closer Solomon Torres, who retired. Hoffman was alarmingly vulnerable at times in 2008, so the ninth inning could be dicey even with "Hell's Bells" ringing through Miller Park.
The only other recognizable new face is manager Ken Macha, whose four seasons with the Oakland Athletics were marked by overachievement and the heavy imprint of general manager Billy Beane. The A's were 88 games over .500 and extremely consistent under Macha, and the Brewers fancy themselves as the same sort of plucky, find-a-way-to-win franchise.
Life without Sabathia could be a struggle in a division where the Cubs are the clear favorite again, the Astros finished strong and the Cardinals are usually a threat the year after not being one.
The Brewers' exceptionally tight clubhouse, led by center fielder Mike Cameron, should remain that way since a trade that would have sent him to the Yankees fell through.
All the camaraderie in Wisconsin won't help when the starting rotation lacks a stopper, however. Suppan will be followed by the high-ceiling Yovani Gallardo, who is coming off knee surgery; left-hander Manny Parra; and right-hander Dave Bush. The fifth spot is up for grabs, the Brewers praying Chris Capuano can somehow regain the magic or Seth McClung can take the step from swingman to rotation fixture.
The same eight starting position players return. The Brewers added only utility player Mike Lamb when they needed a lion.
Offensively, the Brewers are something of an all-or-nothing proposition, which Macha should find familiar. They don't hit for average but do hit home runs. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are a tremendous middle-of-the-order combination, but the table-setters don't reach base enough. The Brewers badly need bounce-back seasons from Bill Hall and Rickie Weeks.
Because when Sabathia said goodbye, it also meant bye-bye complete games, bye-bye 2-1 victories and hello .500.
Next: Detroit Tigers