Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  By Stan McNeal  |  Last updated 12/31/13
No team is poised to rise in the NL Central standings more than the Brewers. Yes, part of that is because they are coming off such a lousy season; Milwaukee never came within 10 games of first place after May 19 en route to a 74-88 finish that was the club's worst since 2004. But there's another reason the Brewers could be one of the NL's most improved teams in 2014. They're loaded with talented players who should be with them for the entire season. Shortstop Jean Segura and center fielder Carlos Gomez enjoyed breakout seasons in 2013, the Brewers' rotation performed well after the All-Star break and the team got as much out of its rookies as any team north of Busch Stadium. Plenty of work remains, though. The Brewers have a couple of sizable holes to plug before spring training. How they fill them will go a long way in determining how much they close the gap on the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds. Notable losses Milwaukee won't be missing much. Right fielder and leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki was traded but that's about it, at least in terms of productive players. First baseman Yuniesky Betancourt remains a free agent but finding a replacement to better his .595 OPS shouldn't be too tough. The biggest loss might be the departure to Seattle by first baseman/right fielder Corey Hart, but he missed all of last season because of knee surgery. Lefty starter Chris Narveson, best known to Cardinals fans for slicing his left thumb while working on his glove during a game at Busch Stadium in 2011, signed to pitch in Japan but he worked only two innings for the Brewers last season. Right-handed reliever Burke Badenhop was traded for a Red Sox minor-leaguer and lefty reliever Michael Gonzalez is a free agent and isn't excepted back. Key additions Big lefty Will Smith, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, arrived from the Royals in the Aoki trade to bolster the pitching staff. Smith pitched well out of the bullpen in seven call-ups -- yes, seven -- last season for Kansas City but could get a shot to make Milwaukee's rotation. The Brewers took a chance on another lefty, 21-year-old Wei-Chung Wang, in the Rule 5 draft. Wang will be trying to stick in the majors after not pitching above rookie ball for the Pirates last year. The Brewers' biggest boost should come from the return of PED-scorned Ryan Braun, who remains under contract for seven more seasons at $123.5 million. Of course, Braun has to prove he can be the same impact player he was before his fall from grace. Adding to his challenge will be a position change from left to right field. What's next The search for a first baseman has not gone well. The Brewers were hoping to bring back Hart and were interested in James Loney until he re-upped with the Rays. About all that remains on the free-agent front are retread veterans who have been unable to find work, with Kendrys Morales at the top of the list. His leverage is limited, though, because of the draft-pick compensation that comes with the Mariners giving him a qualifying offer (Turning it down could be Scott Boras' biggest mistake of this off-season, depending on what happens to Stephen Drew). Juan Francisco is the best internal option at first but his chances to be the regular were best summed up by GM Doug Melvin after after the Brewers lost out on Hart and he told reporters, "We'll get someone." As usual, the Brewers remain in the market for pitching. If they are serious about contending, they need to bring in a proven starter to slot behind Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo. They also are looking for experienced relievers to relieve some of the pressure from closer Jim Henderson, who went 28 for 32 in save chances as a 30-year-old rookie. They say Manager Ron Roenicke: "We've got a nice, solid team. We were talking about how you need to be strong up the middle. We're certainly really good behind the plate (Jonathan Lucroy). We'€™re good with Segura (at shortstop) and Carlos Gomez had a great year in center field.  Then it comes down to our young pitching and how they do. The starters have shown that they can pitch really well in the majors. But can they do it over a six-month period and then hopefully in the playoffs?" We say They have their share of "ifs," including "if Aramis Ramirez is healthy" and "if youngsters such as Scooter Gennett can build on encouraging rookie seasons," but the Brewers have a chance to return to contention. To do so, they need an upgrade at first, which has proven more difficult to find than it should be. One option that could solve a couple of issues would be moving Rickie Weeks from second base. Owed $11 million for the coming season, he is without a position after losing his job to Gennett. The Brewers want to try Weeks at other positions but first things first. "We've got to get Rick back to where he was," Roenicke said. "When I came over in 2011, before he hurt the ankle, he was a tremendous player, leading off and driving the ball, getting on base, stealing bases. Hopefully we can get him back." Coming Thursday: Reds You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter (@stanmcneal) or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.  
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Cam Newton explains why he did not dive on fumble

George Karl’s agent rips Kings, wants broadcaster reprimanded

WATCH: Popovich has funny reaction to New Hampshire results

Suns vets pull packing peanut prank on rookie Devin Booker

Teammate gives Manning final completion ball from Super Bowl

Report: Ole Miss Football cited in 13 of 28 department violations by NCAA


Larry Sanders to consider NBA comeback after other interests stabilize

The NCAAB power rankings

SEC begins crying foul over Jim Harbaugh’s spring break plans at Michigan

Marc Gasol reportedly out indefinitely with broken foot

Patriots waive Montee Ball despite never officially re-signing running back

Chicago White Sox: Impact of Mat Latos signing

Clemson LB has great response to NFL draft analyst's criticism

Former Aggies QB Kyle Allen reveals culture problems at Texas A&M

WATCH: Roy Williams collapses during game vs. BC

Panthers TE Greg Olsen shaves off his playoff beard

Derek Fisher thanks Knicks in statement

Miami Heat to honor Shaq by retiring his number 32

Oakland Raiders release Nate Allen

B.J. Penn announces he will return at UFC 197

Bring back the Dunk Contest

Michael Jordan’s rep comments on the crying meme

10 NBA teams that could be active at the trade deadline

‘The X-Files’ takes a shot at the Philadelphia 76ers

Ranking the top 50 NFL players slated to become free agents

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The NCAAB power rankings

Report: Kings to keep coach George Karl

Was Alain Vigneault right about NHL's lack of punishment towards Wayne Simmonds?

Report: Knicks fire coach Derek Fisher

The best and worst commercials from Super Bowl 50

Best and worst from Super Bowl 50

Six best plays from Super Bowl 50

Eli doesn't look thrilled as Peyton wins Super Bowl

Did Beyonce almost fall down during Super Bowl halftime show?

Curry to serve as drummer for Panthers

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker