In 2011. Milawaukee managed to come within two wins of a World Series berth despite playing a massive black hole in the left side of their infield. Yuniesky Betancourt manned short, and somehow managed to get penciled in for 152 games while owning an underwhelming .271 on base percentage and .381 slugging percentage, numbers completely unacceptable for a player who isn't Ozzie Smith in the field (and Betancourt is an average defensive shortstop at best). Luckily for him, he redeemed himself in October by hitting .310 with fove extra base hits and 13 runs+RBI over 11 games to give the Brewers some return on his $4.3 million paycheck before skipping town as a free agent. And while his teammate at the hot corner, Casey McGehee, only made one tenth of that, he struggled even more. Afer enjoying a nice breakout in 2010 with 23 home runs, 104 RBI and 38 doubles, McGehee fell apart in 2011. His walk and strikeout rates held steady, but he regressed in every other category and actually cost the Brew Crew a win with his meager .223/.280/.346 rates in 155 games. Not surprisingly, he rode the pine during the postseason while midseason import Jerry Hairston Jr. took over, denying the incumbent third sacker the chance to make up for his brutal season.
Things haven't gotten much better for the Brewers since they were eliminated from the NLCS: slugging first baseman Prince Fielder hit the open market and franchise player/NL MVP Ryan Braun failed a drug test, meaning he could face a 50 game suspension in 2012. So Milwaukee needed some help, and yesterday they made two moves to bolster the left side of their infield. They signed one-time All Star Alex Gonzalez to play short on a one year deal with an option for 2013. Even though the journeyman will turn 35 in a few months and his on base skills are just as bad as Betancourt's, he's much more reliable in the field and is a safe bet to replicate his predecessor's 15 long balls.
So while the sure-handed Venezuelan marks a slight upgrade over Betancourt, he pales in comparison to Milwaukee's newest addition, Aramis Ramirez. A-Ram has bashed all of his 315 career big flies during his 14 year career in the NL Central with the Pirates, Cubs, and now the Brewers, for whom he provides a legitimate middle of the order bat. His durability is always a concern (he's appeared in more than 150 games just twice during the past ten seasons), he's a defensive liability and at 33 the two-time All Star is no spring chicken, but when healthy he's a top five third baseman who can threaten 30-100-.300 in his sleep. Ramirez undoubtedly benefitted from playing half his games at Wrigley Field, but his career numbers in Milwaukee project to a 50 double, 30 homer, 120 RBI season, which the Brewers will take everyday and twice on Sundays. He can't replace Fielder, but unless you have Evan Longoria or Adrian Beltre you can't get much more out of your third baseman.
Ramirez expects the reigning NL Central champs to contend again next year, but he'll have to be at the top of his game in order for that to happen. Milwaukee can't afford another disappointing year from its third baseman.