For a team coming off a 74-win season and a fourth-place finish, the 2014 Brewers actually don't look so bad on paper. It's not difficult to imagine a path to a successful year, as long as a few details fall into place.
If Ryan Braun doesn't fall completely off a cliff, and if Yovani Gallardo is less bad, and if both Aramis Ramirez and Matt Garza stay healthy, and if Khris Davis wasn't a fluke, and ... well, OK, there are a few ifs here, no question. But there's also reason for optimism. Or semi-optimism. Or at least something better than whatever Cubs fans are feeling.
[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Let's begin today's Q&A with one of the biggest unknowns facing the fantasy community...
Q: What the heck should we do with Braun? Ignore? Embrace? Downgrade? What's the plan, expert?
A: Yeah, we obviously have to deal with the possibility that Braun's fantastic six-year run was fueled, to some extent, by various performance enhancers. We know he was using something in 2011, because he told us about it (eventually, after first telling us a different story.) We have no idea what he might have been doing prior to 2011. It might have been nothing; it might have been vet-grade chemicals made for livestock. I have no idea. You have no idea. We can't say.
We also can't say to what degree the stuff that he may or may not have taken might have impacted his performance. And if you assume Braun has been PED'ing since 2007, you have no idea if he's stopped. In fact, if you think he's been juicing throughout his pro career, it's kind of ridiculous to assume he's completely clean today.
So we're dealing with a bunch of unknowns. But we can say with absolute certainty that Braun hit a bomb deep into the desert in his first spring at-bat, so the power hasn't completely vanished. We should also note that this guy's average season from 2007 to 2012 looked like this: 102 R, 34 HR, 107 RBIs, 21 SB, .313 AVG. Even if he only delivers, say, 80 percent of that production in 2014, you'll still get 27 homers and 17 steals, with 80-plus runs and RBIs. Not too shabby.
Braun has recovered from last year's thumb issues, so there's no injury to worry about here. I continue to view him as a high-floor/high-ceiling fantasy commodity, worth a late-ish first round pick. Fantasy is a numbers game, and Braun has been an exceptional five-cat asset for multiple seasons. I'm buying.
If you're looking for skepticism then click the video, listen to Funston...
Q: Are you buying Gallardo, too? Because he was painful in 2013.
A: Well, he was at least less painful in the second-half, right? Not that anyone noticed, because by then he'd torpedoed your pitching stats. But after the all-star break, Gallardo gave us a 3.09 ERA over 67.0 innings, which is certainly tolerable if not special. The man has given us four 200-K seasons and he's only 28 years old. His resume is solid, though it's cluttered with too many walks (leading to the 1.30 career WHIP).
Gallardo's most worrisome trends are his multi-year declines in swinging-strike rate (from 9.0 in 2011 to 6.9 in 2013) and velocity (from 92.6 to 90.7). His strikeout percentage, perhaps not surprisingly, has been dropping steadily since 2009. Basically, nothing here is headed in the right direction, and Gallardo's fantasy ratios have never been great, even in his best years. So I'm out on Gallardo this season in all likelihood. His Yahoo ADP is a dirt-cheap 202.0, but you'll be terrified to start him, even in the ostensibly friendly matchups.
Q: What's the scoop on Khris Davis? Will he start for Milwaukee this season? Was he a total fluke?
A: Not a complete fluke, no. Davis hit 13 home runs for Triple-A Nashville last season, then another 11 with Milwaukee. His career minor league slash is .288/.392/.506, so he definitely has on-base skills and respectable pop.
Davis now has a clear path to playing time for the Brewers, because the team flipped Nori Aoki to KC in the offseason and Braun is transitioning to right field. I'm not expecting a stellar batting average from Davis, necessarily, but he shouldn't be a liability in any category. He's a strong candidate for 20-25 homers and 8-12 steals. With a decent spring, Davis should hold off Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl for the starting left-field gig. He looks like a sneaky-good outfield value at the moment, with a Yahoo ADP of just 250.9. That's Rasmus-Span-Quentin territory.
Q: And who's closing for this team? Is it K — ?
A: No, it's not K-Rod. It's clearly Jim Henderson. He's unchallenged, and he was outstanding last season: 2.70 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 28 SV, 75 Ks in 60.0 IP. He's the guy.
Q: What's the scoop at first base for this team? Platoon?
A: Appears so. Juan Francisco, Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay and Hunter Morris are all involved in a position catfight at the moment. Those first two dudes are notorious K-machines, Overbay is your dad's age, and Morris is coming off an unimpressive season at Nashville (.247/.310/.457). So this is really a rogues gallery, a situation to avoid in all but the deepest N.L.-only league. We're probably headed for a Francisco-Reynolds platoon, which should produce something like 28 homers and 400 strikeouts.