SI picks Brewers 2nd for NL Central

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman is picking the Milwaukee Brewers to finish 2nd in the NL Central again, according to an advance copy of their MLB preview issue that hits newsstands on Wednesday sent to me a moment ago.

Besides predicting that Brad Nelson bucks the odds and makes the 25-man, Heyman goes on to write:

Still, youthful optimism pervades a clubhouse populated by the young stars plus respected veterans such as Hoffman, Kendall, Looper, Mike Cameron and Craig Counsell.  Braun allows that the Cubs are the NL Central and pennant favorites, but he believes the Brew Crew will be playing games in October again this year.

Heyman squarely puts the load on Yovani Gallardo:

Milwaukee’s new front man is Yovani Gallardo, of whom Braun says, “If he’s healthy, he’s at least as good as Sheets.”  Catcher Jason Kendall takes the discussion a step further: “Barring injury, he’s going to win the Cy Young.”

Only 23, Gallardo throws a low-90s fastball with movement and an excellent curveball. The 6′ 2″, 220‑pound righthander struck out nearly one batter per inning in a strong rookie season in 2007, and he appeared headed for an even better year in ’08 (1.88 ERA in four starts) before suffering a torn ACL in his right knee. Beyond that, as first-year manager Ken Macha rightfully notes, depth is a big concern.

As part of the two page write up, SI writer Joe Sheehan pens that the “one move” that the Crew could take right now to catch the Cubs is to trade Prince Fielder to upgrade their rotation, and promote Mat Gamel, also left-handed, to the everyday first baseman.  Sheehan suggests that Gamel could hit as well as Fielder and is as suspect defensively at third base, his current position, as Ryan Braun was.

The Prince deal has been thrown out before and with good reason–Prince seems to want to become an unrestricted free agent in 2012, is not a particularly great glove, and is a relatively slow base runner due to his 250+ pound frame.

That said, the Brewers will not trade him–at least not in 2009–due to the same two reasons as last year: Prince is the only proven left-handed bat on the team (so is Gamel, but not quite proven as of yet) and fans adore Prince.  Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin understands that incremental ticket sales would likely suffer a bit if the fan base starts re-adopts the mentality that the Crew will never contend, as it trades it’s proven talent for prospects.

Additionally, the move would require 1) a team in need of a first baseman, and 2) a team with an excess of pitching talent.  I can only think of two teams that fall into both categories–the Blue Jays and the Diamondbacks, both of which have a history of trading with Milwaukee.  Trading Prince to the D-Backs for Dan Haren is feasible, but the D-Backs would be hesitant as it would decimate their rotation, forcing former Brewer Doug Davis up to the #2 spot in the rotation and having them to rely on a rookie or acquire a free agent for the #5 spot.

The Jays would never part with their ace, Roy Halladay, leaving only their #2 starter, Jesse Litsch, who only has two years of MLB experience and a 20-18, 3.67 lifetime stats.

The Mariners also need a first baseman (funny how the two teams that received Prince’s predecessors are both in need of an upgrade), but only their ace, Felix Hernandez, would be of interest to Melvin.

While trading Fielder for the right starting pitcher would help the Crew, it doesn’t appear such a match exists.

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