Gregg Hoffmann

Midwest Diamond Report - 9/29

This is the last weekly MDR Blog for the 2014 season. Let’s review the season for the four MDR teams and give some ideas on what they have to do to improve. We’ll also pick a MDR All Star team and give some season honors.

Season reviews

Brewers (82-80)

For 150 days, the Brewers stayed in first place in the NL Central, but a couple weaknesses were percolating and eventually did in their pennant chances. First, they had an erratic offensive attack, too dependent on the home run. Second, manager Ron Roenicke burned out his relievers -- Tyler Thornburg, Will Smith, Brandon Kintzler, Zach Duke, etc.

In the last month of the season, the Brewers could not hit homers, and therefore had an overall anemic attack. Carlos Gomez slumped, in part due to nagging injuries, but in part because he was never the superstar caliber he played at earlier in the season. He’s come a long way, but not that far.

Aramis Ramirez,  Khris Davis and others also cooled off. Then, there is Ryan Braun. The former MVP was said to be suffering from a hand injury which cut his production, but you also have to question whether this is Ryan Braun post-steroid era.

Braun allegedly took steroids in 2011 to help recover from an injury. This time, he couldn’t do that. Also, it just might be that his bat is not as explosive without some chemical help.

So, that’s the No. 1 decision the Brewers brass will have to eventually make -- do they want to pay MVP level salaries to what could be an injury prone outfielder, who while still productive is not as good as he once was? Don’t expect them to address that over this off-season, but they might have to down the road.

There has been some discussion about moving Braun to first base and going with an outfield of Gomez, Davis and Gerardo Parra next season. That’s more likely than Braun being sent elsewhere.

Some decisions should not be as complex as that on Braun. Rickie Weeks, Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay should be gone. Thanks for your contributions, but adios. Then, there are some interesting possible scenarios.

Ramirez and Yovani Gallardo have option years on their contracts. This writer says exercise Ramirez’s option. There is no internal option available yet at third base, with the exception of prospect Jason Rogers. Despite his annual injuries, and his age, Ramirez still is productive at the plate and while he has lost a step in the field can still provide good defense.

Let Gallardo go. He has turned into a .500 pitcher who can look brilliant in some games and not so much in others. Another option would be to exercise the option and then use him to go after a first baseman -- most notably Justin Morneau of the Rockies.

The Brewers reportedly went after Morneau in August, after the waiver deadline, but couldn’t offer enough and the Rockies withdrew him from waivers. Maybe without the pressure of the season, the two teams now can work something out.

Milwaukee can’t go with Reynolds and Overbay at first again, and if you deal Gallardo you have a place for Mike Fiers in the rotation with Marco Estrada and Jimmy Nelson as possible fifth starters. Another trade possibility could be Matt Garza, although his salary and general inconsistency might not make him that marketable.

Even without Gallardo or Garza, the Brewers would still have a good rotation as their core. They need to add more consistent offense if they want to contend in 2015.

Cubs (73-89)

The Cubs started addressing their rebuilding process in 2014 with the additions of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Kendricks and others.

Look for the possibility of Kris Bryant joining the group next season, and there are others waiting in the wings.

Probably the biggest challenge for the Cubs will be to add pitching. Jake Arrieta, Kendricks, Hector Rondon and others could end up key cogs on the mound, but the club needs to add a No. 1 and perhaps No. 2 starter.

Welington Castillo is inconsistent at catcher, but provides some offense and could remain the starter. Anthony Rizzo had a fine season before he was slowed by injuries. Chris Coghlin, a one-time Rookie of the Year, played well and demonstrated he could be a regular in the outfield.

The Cubs will have to decide what they do with Starlin Castro, one of their All Stars. Baez could remain at second base, with Castro remaining at shortstop. Castro also could be traded, perhaps for a pitcher, and Baez could move to short.

Don’t look for the Cubs to contend in 2015, but they started their rebuilding process in 2014 and should show improvement next year.

Twins (70-92)

The Twins went after starting pitching last off-season and with the exception of Phil Hughes did not show much improvement. Look for them to go after pitching again this off-season.

Glen Perkins, their All Star closer, had arm problems at the end of the season, but should be mended by spring and provides a solid performer at the end of the bullpen.

Brian Dozier had a nice season at second base. Trevor Plouffe did the same at third base before suffering a season-ending injury.  Oswaldo Arcia showed some pop in the outfield, and there are other candidates out there that show promise.

Joe Mauer once again had nagging injuries slow him. The Twins can only hope Mauer still has a season or two of health and production left.

In addition, to starting pitching, the Twins desperately need more offense. They have candidates who could help in that area, but none have become clear solutions to the problem. In fact, in some ways, 2014 was a season of spinning wheels for the Twins.

Ron Gardenhire has survived a couple horrible seasons as manager. The Twins’ brass obviously doesn’t believe he has been part of the problem. But, the team made little progress in the rebuilding process this year, so you could see Gardenhire go.

White Sox (73-89)

Like their crosstown rivals, the Cubs, the White Sox started their rebuilding process in 2014. Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham and others went elsewhere. Paul Konerko retired.

In their place are Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia (once he came off the DL), Tyler Flowers, Conor Gillaspie and other young players.

Chris Sale had another good season on the mound. There are other promising pitching candidates too.

That’s not to paint too rosy of a picture for the Sox. They still finished second to last in the AL Central. And, these young players might not develop into players that can make the Sox contenders again.

The Sox also face decisions on Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo. Can they help the club rise in the standings or would dealing them help more? Second base is wide open, with several possibilities.

But, especially when you compare them to the Twins, the Sox made more progress in starting a rebuilding process in the ALC.

MDR Season Honors

Player of the Year - The White Sox’s Jose Abreu, who finished at .317 with 36 homers and 107 RBIs, a OBP of .383 and OPS of .964.

Pitcher of the Year - The Sox’s Chris Sale, who finished 12-4, with a 2.17 ERA, 208 strikeouts and 39 walks in 174 innings.

Rookie of the Year - With Abreu picked the Player of the Year, we looked elsewhere for our Rookie of the Year selection. The Cubs’ Kyle Kendricks, who wasn‘t as highly touted as some of the other team‘s rookies, but went 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA after he was called up from the minors. He gets the honor.

No manager of the year was selected. Ron Roenicke would have been the pick, but could not be selected after the Brewers’ collapse. In fact, he could end up a casualty of that collapse.

All Star Team

Despite their collapse at the end of the season, the Brewers dominated the MDR All Star team selections:

Catcher - Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

First base - Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

Second base - Brian Dozier, Twins

Shortstop - Alexei Ramirez, White Sox

Third Base - Aramis Ramirez, Brewers

Left field - Chris Coghlan, Cubs

Center field - Carlos Gomez, Brewers

Right field - Ryan Braun, Brewers

DH - Jose Abreu, White Sox

RHP - Phil Hughes, Twins, and Wily Peralta, Brewers

LHP - Chris Sale, White Sox

Reliever - Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers

Selig Farewell

Commissioner Bud Selig visited the ballpark he helped get built last Friday when he met the media at Miller Park as part of a farewell tour that included every park in the big leagues. For some comments on Selig’s tenure as commish, check out a section of the first monthly MDR Blog in November.

Pompous Prognostications

Providing proof that even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in a while, this writer last spring picked all the NL playoff teams -- the Nationals in the East, Cardinals in the Central, Dodgers in the West and the Pirates and Giants in the Wild Card.

In the AL, I had the Angels winning the West, and the Royals, Tigers and Orioles getting into the playoffs -- but not in the right order of finish. I picked the Rays in the AL East, which did not happen.

As for the MDR teams, I correctly had the Brewers third and Cubs fifth in the NLC. In the AL, I had the Twins fourth and Sox fifth. Those teams were switched in the actual final standings.

We’ll check how my picks for MVP and other awards turned out when the MDR Blog returns the weekend of Nov. 1. It will run monthly until spring training and then go back to weekly.

Until we return, enjoy the playoffs and World Series.

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