The Milwaukee Brewers find themselves in odd straits. On one hand, they're coming off a season in which they barged to 96 wins and a division title. Their chief rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, lost their franchise player. On the other hand, however, the Brewers are poised to lose Prince Fielder to free agency, and reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun may be facing a 50-game suspension.
So what to make of this diminished team in this diminished division?
In 2011, the Brewers notched an offensive WAR of 32.9 and a pitching WAR of 18.1. Add that to the replacement-level estimate of 43 WAR, and you get 93 wins for the Brewers last season, which, of course, is close to their actual total. Still, their starting baseline is a bit lower than their 96-66 record would suggest.
The most obvious consideration is the pending loss of Fielder. Fielder, who's been linked in recent days to the Washington Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners, figures to be a five- to seven-win player in each of the next few seasons, so his absence will be damaging. Mat Gamel will likely take over for Fielder next season, and Gamel's recent strong showing at Triple-A suggests he can at least tread water. Still, a loss of about four wins seems likely.