Braun's brawn, Counsell's counsel sum up Crew's '15

Braun's brawn, Counsell's counsel sum up Crew's '15

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers began the year with hope and ended it with a new general manager, a new field manager and a new direction. For the first time since Mark Attanasio purchased the team from the Selig family during the 2004-05 offseason, the Brewers have shifted away from "go for it" mode and into a process of restocking the farm system for the future.

How did they get from there to here, all in a matter of months? Here are five storylines that defined a trying 2015:

5. Lohse, Garza struggle from the start
In January, the Brewers traded Yovani Gallardo to the Rangers to clear a rotation spot for Jimmy Nelson, believing that if Nelson could come close to equaling Gallardo's production, the team could compete with a starting rotation that had ranked right in the middle of Major League Baseball with a 3.69 ERA the year before. Nelson succeeded -- and still the plan fell apart.

The problem was two other veterans at the top of the rotation, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza. Both ranked among the worst pitchers in the Majors in 2015 -- Lohse went 5-13 with a 5.85 ERA and Garza 6-14 with a 5.63 ERA before each was removed from the rotation (Lohse in calm fashion, Garza less so). Those were the third- and fourth-highest ERAs in the game for pitchers with at least 140 innings. They were not the only players who faltered during the team's challenging season, but comprising about a quarter of the Brewers' payroll, Lohse's and Garza's puzzling seasons hurt.

4. Braun bounceback
A bright spot of the season was Ryan Braun, who finally found a solution to the thumb injury which had sapped his power the past two years. In October 2014, and again in early June, Braun underwent a cryotherapy procedure, which effectively dulled the pain in his hand and allowed the right fielder to enjoy a renaissance in his age-31 season. Braun led the team with 2.8 wins above replacement, topped 20 home runs for the first time in three years and made the National League All-Star team. With Braun entering his five-year, $105 million contract extension beginning next season, he'll be counted on to provide pop for a rebuilding ballclub.

3. Counsell takes over
It wasn't just the Brewers' 7-18 start which cost manager Ron Roenicke his job. It was that poor start coupled with the team's collapse in the waning weeks of 2014, a span of more than 100 games during which then-Brewers general manager Doug Melvin and Attanasio believed the team underachieved.

Stepping in Roenicke's shoes was Craig Counsell, who grew up in Milwaukee and played for the Brewers. He had also spent the past three years as a special assistant to Melvin, learning every aspect of the front office -- and realizing that his true fit was back on the bench.

"It's an honor and it's humbling, but I feel like this is what I was meant to do," Counsell said before the Brewers won his managerial debut. "I think I'll be better at this than I was at playing."

2. A new baseball boss

After 13 years as Brewers GM, and with team at the beginning of a long-term rebuilding project, Melvin and Attanasio announced jointly in early August that the team was launching a search for a new leader. About six weeks later, the team introduced 30-year-old David Stearns as baseball's youngest general manager.

Stearns had spent the previous three seasons as assistant to Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, who oversaw a long-term rebuilding project that took Houston back to the postseason in 2015. His young age made all the headlines, but Stearns downplayed it.

"Throughout my career, I've always been on the younger side for positions I've held," he said. "It's never proven a hindrance for me, and I certainly don't anticipate the youthful appearance to hurt me in this one. Trust me, I've had plenty of text messages in the last 24 hours to tell me that I will age tremendously over the next couple of years."

1. A rebuild begins

When the Brewers traded Gallardo to Texas, they weren't thinking rebuild. But that had changed by July, when Melvin began peeling veterans from the roster in exchange for prospects, from Aramis Ramirez to Carlos Gomez (who essentially was traded twice, first to the Mets in a deal scuttled at the last moment, and then to the Astros along with Mike Fiers) to Gerardo Parra. Stearns continued the sell-off by trading Francisco Rodriguez and Adam Lind. By the time Lind was shipped to the Mariners for a trio of teenage pitching prospects, the Brewers had traded away nine established Major League players in 2015, all for young prospects.

That process will continue into what could be a challenging 2016 for the players left on the roster.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.