The Milwaukee Brewers’ offseason has been dominated first by wondering where first baseman Prince Fielder would end up and how the team would replace him, and then moved to wondering if left fielder Ryan Braun would be suspended for steroid use. In the midst of it all, the Brewers have a third star that is ready for another season and crucial to their success. No player on this team gives Milwaukee the kind of competitive advantage as second baseman Rickie Weeks.
Weeks has been steady offensive performer since 2005, save for his injury-ruined 2009 campaign. Though his batting averages seem pedestrian on the surface, ranging from .260 to .270, he draws walks at a sufficient rate to make him a major asset to the offense. Weeks’ on-base percentages are never worse than .340, and have gotten into the .370s. And while he’s certainly more table-setter than power, he does have some muscle to the alleys. Furthermore, he plays an important defensive position extremely well on the field. Finally—do we need to say more? He does it for a $4.5 million a year, which for a middle infielder with an All-Star bat, isn’t a bad price to pay.
By comparison, consider the unsettled situations the rest of the NL Central deals with at this spot…
St. Louis: Skip Schumaker is the best of the rest, as he hits close to .300, though a lack of plate discipline leave him behind Weeks in getting on-base. The bigger immediate problem is that he just tore an oblique muscle and won’t be ready for Opening Day.
Cincinnati: Brandon Phillips comes to the closest to matching Weeks, and in fact last year I’d see Phillips did just that, having the best year of his career. He hit .300 and got his on-base percentages up to where Weeks usually hovers. If we’re just talking about 2011, we can even give the Reds’ second baseman the nod as best in the NL Central. If we’re talking about the future, the fact Weeks has been doing this since 2005, while Phillips usually has much OBP that are close to a liability has to be taken into account.
Chicago Cubs: Darwin Barney is 26 and maybe he’ll develop into something. But we haven’t seen anything to suggest that he will.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Neil Walker—after a good all-around offensive year in 2010, he declined last season. This is a big year for Walker, as his team has high hopes and is counting on him, and 2012 will tell us whether ’10 was a one-year wonder.
Houston: Jose Altuve: A young prospect who hit .276 in extremely limited time a year ago, and needs a lot of work on plate discipline in any event.
Milwaukee remains hopeful of competing in, and winning the NL Central, in spite of the tumultuous offseason. A big year from Rickie Weeks is essential to that effort.