Here's a brief interview with Brewers blogger Kyle Lobner of Brew Crew Ball in time for the Pirates/Brewers series that starts tomorrow. I did the same for him, and my answers to his questions will be up there shortly.
How do you think the Brewers stack up against the Reds, Cardinals and Cubs this season, and what are their chances of winning the NL Central?
I'm not sure this Brewer team is good enough to be considered a lock to win the Central, but I do think there's good reason to believe it's the most likely team to emerge at the top. Getting swept on Opening Weekend in Cincinnati was a pretty unfortunate setback, but this team bounced back pretty nicely, with a 5-2 homestand to put themselves back at .500.
It's possible April will be the Brewers' worst month. With Zack Greinke, Corey Hart and Jonathan Lucroy missing time, the Brewers have had to give a lot of playing time to guys like Marco Estrada, Mark Kotsay and Wil Nieves. As this team gets healthy (and Lucroy just rejoined the team today), it's possible they could phase out some of their weaker links and really become a strong team going forward.
The Brewers have sustained $80 million - $90 million payrolls for the past several years. How have they managed this in such a small market, and do you expect them to continue to do so?
When Mark Attanasio acquired the team from the Selig family in the mid 2000's, he took a somewhat calculated risk. The Brewers had a relatively new facility and a fair amount of young talent working their way up in the system, but their payrolls had consistently been very low and the results on the field had reflected it. Attanasio changed things by investing the money to build a winner around his young talent, and the results have been immediately apparent. $90 million is probably the most the Brewers can reasonably afford to spend on talent, but they've been rewarded with around three million tickets sold each of the last three seasons, and franchise value has nearly doubled during the Attanasio years.
In many ways, the current-era Brewers are a fair projection for the upcoming years for the Pirates. Like the early 2000's Brewers, the Pirates have a fair amount of talent coming up but a culture of losing and an owner with a reputation for being cheap. If they can generate some fan interest via regime change or some other method, things could snowball pretty quickly.
How is our old friend Nyjer Morgan working out for the Brewers so far, and what will his likely role with the team be for the year?
At the moment, everyone loves Tony Plush. Between his hot start (his OPS is currently over 1.200), his defensive abilities and his fascinating eccentricities, he's quickly become one of the fan favorites on this team. Obviously he's not going to hit .500 all year, but I think he's done a fair amount to earn a shot to play consistently, and he's proven he can help this team if used correctly.
It's going to be interesting to see what happens when Corey Hart gets back. A lot of people will probably want Morgan to replace Carlos Gomez as the regular center fielder at that point, but I'm not sure the organization is willing to give up on Gomez.
As random minor-league veterans go, Thursday starter Chris Narveson appears to be a very good one. What does he bring to the table, and why was he so successful in his first two starts?
Narveson's had a pretty fascinating career, as the road that's brought him here has twisted all over the place. He was a top prospect in the Cardinals organization for a number of years before suffering a torn labrum. He eventually resurfaced in the Brewer organization, but wasn't seen as much of a major league candidate: Scouts don't really like his stuff, and it's possible he's living the top of his upside at this point as a No. 5 starter.
With that said, it's hard to argue with his results. Narveson posted a 4.22 FIP last season and hasn't allowed a run yet this year. Early numbers would suggest he's throwing his changeup a little more and getting great results with it so far this season. He's also throwing a lot of strikes: He's only walked four batters in 13 innings.
After having traded a number of prospects this offseason, where do you see the Brewers heading after this year? How long can they sustain their current run of competitive baseball?
I think a lot of people have labeled this Brewer team as "going for it," and seem to imply that there's going to be a long stretch of rebuilding after this season is finished. That's really not the case, though. Both of the starting pitchers acquired this offseason (Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum) are under team control through next season, and Marcum may be open to an extension beyond that. In fact, Prince Fielder is the only really significant contributor to this year's team who isn't under organizational control through at least 2012.
The end of next season will present an interesting challenge, as three fifths of the starting rotation (Greinke, Marcum and Wolf) will all be eligible for free agency at the same time. But with Yovani Gallardo, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and others locked up long term, this team shouldn't fall very far out of contention anytime in the near future.