It's that time of year again

Now that Suppan has signed, the Brewers roster is pretty much set.  There's plenty of stuff that can still happen, and of course the starting lineup is far from set, given that we have about eleven outfielders for five roster spots.  But for the most part, the changes are done, and we can start looking toward 2007.

Which means that the optimism shall now be unleashed.  Case in point: Adam McCalvy's article today on MLB.com:

"We're really close right now," ever-optimistic manager Ned Yost said at the Winter Meetings. "We need health. We need J.J. [Hardy] to stay healthy, we need Rickie [Weeks] to stay healthy and we need Benny [Sheets] to stay healthy. The pieces are starting to add up to a pretty nice sum."

To be fair, Adam is hardly proclaiming the Brewers the champions of the NL Central.  Ned is being kind of careful too; mostly covering his own you-know-what.  

Of course, the health is very important: this team isn't going to contend unless we get far luckier with injuries.  We might be able to withstand one of the losses we had last year, but certainly not four.  On the other hand, the 2007 squad is much better prepared to deal with one or two (or even four) such losses than last year's team.

Last year at this time, I was excited about the Brewers depth: we had Billy Hall entering the season as supersub, and Corey Hart out of the starting lineup.  The rotation looked at least seven or eight deep and there were plenty of bullpen options, though none of them were spectacular.

As you all know, way too much went wrong.  But look at what's happened: it's easy enough to joke about having double the number of outfielders we need, but how about that flexibility?  While Doug Melvin really wants a centerfielder, we have Hall, Brady Clark, Tony Gwynn, Laynce Nix, as well as Hart and Gabe Gross.  We're four deep at every infield position: if Hall is starting elsewhere, he'll be number four on that list, but Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell can play any infield position.  First base is protected: Hart can fill in there; catcher is particularly deep, with Mike Rivera, Vinny Rottino, and perhaps JD Closser slated to start the year in Triple-A.

We're not as deep in pitching, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's where Melvin focuses for the remainder of the offseason.  The rotation has six somewhat proven MLB guys, with Zach Jackson and (sorry, gotta list him) Ben Hendrickson right behind them.  By mid-season, maybe Yovani Gallardo will be ready.  The bullpen, as usual, will be a mish-mash, but it'll only be unclear after the first three or four spots: a lot of teams will enter the season with more question marks than we have.  

Does this mean I'm on board with the optimists?  Well, not quite.  I can see this team winning 85-87 games.  (I said that last year, too.)  If the injury bug strikes again, we're better protected, but that just means we win 81 games instead of 75.  That doesn't guarantee any important games in September, but it will make me a little happier to be a Brewers fan.

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