The GM meetings started today and already there are trade rumors circulating. Earlier Monday morning Joel Sherman reported that the Rays were "moving closer" to trading pitcher Jeremy Hellickson to a National League team. To be very clear, I have no reason believe that team is the Brewers. Sherman doesn't mention which NL team is working to acquire Hellickson. But that doesn't stop me from asking if the Brewers might be a fit.
First let's figure out what Jeremy Hellickson is. Depending on how you want to look at it, Hellickson is: A former top prospect; a failed starting pitcher; a buy-low opportunity. Before the 2011 season MLB.com rated Hellickson as the Rays top prospect and the top pitching prospect in the minor leagues. Since arriving at the MLB level his results have been mixed.
In his first two seasons he started 29 and 31 games producing a 2.95 and 3.10 ERA respectively. However that is a far cry from his 4.44 FIP and 4.60 FIP. His third full season was a meltdown. He made 31 starts but produced a 5.17 ERA to go along with a 4.22 FIP. In 2014 he only made 13 starts due to surgery he had in the offseason to clear up loose bodies in his right elbow.
By now one might be wondering why anyone would want Hellickson with that track record. Sometimes prospects fail. Sometimes prospects take a long time to fully realize their potential. Hellickson has the pedigree of a top prospect and that can't be completely ignored.
There's also the elbow injury to consider. On the one hand, it might mean he's at a higher risk for injury. On the other hand, he might be completely over the injury. If that's the case and the injury is partly or totally responsible for his 1+ seasons of poor production, he could be due for a rebound.
In context of the Brewers, I think there's an argument to be made that he could make sense as their long reliever/swing man. The Brewers traded their previous long man Marco Estrada. It's possible that Jimmy Nelson could fill that role. However, if the Brewers prefer to have him remain stretched out as a starter, or want him to get more seasoning, they could send him to AAA Colorado Springs instead.
Actually, Jeremy Hellickson reminds me of Marco Estrada quite a bit. Both pitchers had (have?) home run problems. Hellickson has a career 1.17 HR/9. They both throw fastball, curveball, change-up (though Hellickson throws 3 different FB while Estrada throws only 1) Both throw their 4-seam around 90 mph (though Estrada had lost some of that velocity). Both rely heavily on change-ups.
I know fringe-average fastball velocity and HR issues are not incredibly compelling traits, but it's Marco Estrada's success out of the bullpen in 2014 that gives me hope for Hellickson in that same role. As a starter (107 IP) Estrada had a 246 BAA, 311 OBP-against, 498 SLG-against, 354 wOBA-against, 1.27 WHIP, 4.96 ERA, 5.73 FIP, and 4.23 xFIP. As a reliever (43.2 IP) Estrada had a 217 BAA, 261 OBP-against, 350 SLG-against, 269 wOBA-against, 1.03 WHIP, 2.89 ERA, 2.81 FIP, and 4.03 xFIP.
We do run into a bit of a small sample size issue with Estrada's innings as a reliever and we can't assume Hellickson will succeed because Estrada did. But it's not like Estrada is the first failed/mediocre starter to succeed as a reliever. For other examples see: Tom Gorzelanny, Zach Duke, Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, etc.
There are logical reasons why a mediocre starter could see an increase in effectiveness out of the bullpen. It's often the case for velocity to tick up a mile or two when switching from the rotation to the bullpen. Relievers typically only face batters once instead of three times. Because use of that they can ditch a pitch that isn't very good, if they throw such a pitch.
Hellickson is under team control for two more years. MLB Trade Rumors projected his arbitration salary to be $3.9 million. That might be a tad much for the role he'd play, but even with the Brewers likely nearing their payroll limit, that should still be within the range they can spend. Theoretically they'd probably still have another $4-5 million to spend in the bullpen or on the bench.
If the worst happens and the Brewers fall out of contention mid-season, having Hellickson through 2016 could make it a lot easier for the Brewers to trade one or both of Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo. If he rebounds, Hellickson could even be a valuable trade piece next winter or mid-2016.
So, is Jeremy Hellickson a fit for the Brewers? In my opinion that answer is absolutely yes. The next question is: What would it take to get him? Unfortunately that is something I can't even begin to guess at. Then of course we must ask: Might the Brewers actually be interested in him? My gut tells me they're not, but a trade like this does seem right out of Doug Melvin's playbook. Joel Sherman says a trade is likely to happen this week so we won't have to wait long to learn who this mystery team is.
What do you think?
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs