Ed. Note: This was written before the Brewers released Chris Perez.
In a somewhat surprising move Sunday afternoon the Brewers optioned Brandon Kintzler to AAA Colorado Springs. After avoiding arbitration and agreeing to a $1.075 million contract it seemed as though the reliever's spot was guaranteed. Now the Brewers have 2 vacancies to fill and 4 candidates were identified by Tom Haudricout: Chris Perez, Michael Blazek, Rob Wooten, and Tyler Thornburg. Let's take a look at each of them
Pros: Blazek is relatively young having turned 26 just two weeks ago. He's had a mediocre minor league career but saw somewhat better results when the Brewers converted him to starting mid-season last year. He's had solid if somewhat erratic K% while in the minors and can hit the mid 90s with his fastball. Missing bats is something he seems to know how to do as evidenced by his mostly good BAA. He's performed well this spring if that's worth anything.
Cons: He's had 8 years in the minors and hasn't seemed to really figure it out yet. He has solid K%, but his BB% has been quite poor. He did show marked improvement last year (9.7 BB%) but it's hard to dismiss the previous 4 seasons of double digit walk rates. Part of that low walk rate could be due to his high (.264) BAA. It's hard to walk/strike-out people when you're giving up tons of hits.
Likelihood: Assuming Thornburg is healthy he's the better option in relief and in starting. I'd want to start Blazek out at AAA and see if the improvements he made last year are real. Let him be the 7th starter. In my opinion, Blazek's shot at the major league roster depends on how worried the Brewers are about Thornburg's elbow. So hopefully, mostly for Thornburg's sake, that means Blazek's chances are slim.
Pros: The advanced metrics seem to like Rob Wooten. In 27 innings in 2013 he produced a 3.19 FIP and with 34 innings in 2014 a 2.69 FIP. His BB% is really good. He induces a lot of ground balls which is a good thing and he doesn't give up a lot of home runs with is a great thing. He is capable of serving as a long reliever.
Cons: Unfortunately all of that hasn't exactly translated to real world effectiveness. In he produced a 3.90 ERA and last year a 4.72 ERA. He doesn't strike guys out a lot but his biggest issue has been allowing base hits. In 2014 he had a .255 BAA and last year a terrible .304. In part that could be due to his below average velocity. He sits 88-89 mph. He's a junk baller, but his stuff might just be too junky.
Likelihood: His chances probably hinge on how the Brewers treat Tyler Thornburg and Michael Blazek. They're the other two relievers capable of long relief. They're also the next 2 starters in line after Taylor Jungmann. At least one of them will have to be a starter in AAA. If the Brewers decide they want both of them starting there, then Wooten gets the nod as the long man in the pen.
Pros: Thornburg has 3 major league average or better pitches and can throw 93-94 mph late into games. That's enough to start games. He probably would be starting if the Brewers didn't have the top 5 that they do. Before he got hurt last year he was the most dominant reliever in what at the time was an unstoppable force.
Cons: He did get hurt though. It was a scary injury too. He partially tore is UCL and nearly required Tommy John surgery. Instead he receive PRP injections and opted the therapy route. All signs point to him being ready for the season, but PRP injections are no guarantee and his elbow could still be at risk.
Likelihood: It feels like too much of a backwards step to send Thornburg to AAA as a starter. He's got a much higher ceiling than any of the other 3 relievers in competition. If he does get sent down I have to wonder how much of a role concerns about his elbow contributed to the move. Personally I think it would be a mistake, but I think chances are 50/50 right now.
Pros: If closing experience is your thing you might be drawn to Chris Perez. He was Cleveland's closer for 4 years accumulating 123 saves during that time. Even though he's had some rough times recently he's still only 28 and throws in the mid-90's.
Cons: If actual performance/effectiveness is your thing you might run screaming from Chris Perez. In the last two years his ERA has been over 4.33 and 4.27 respectively. His FIP suggests he was worse with a 5.08 and 5.07 over the same time span. Even when he was racking up saves his FIP ranged from average to below average suggesting a fall was due.
Likelihood: Earlier in Spring Training I would have said the chances were slim or none. However there have been two developments. First of all there are now 2 bullpen spots open. Second, Jim Henderson Henderson's velocity has not returned. Instead of optioning him to AAA like they have with Kintzler, the Brewers have kept Henderon in major league camp while only allowing him to pitch in the minors. This keeps back-dating him on the Disabled List an option. Should they decide to put him on the 60-Day DL, it will open a spot on the currently full 40-Man roster which is necessary should the Brewers want to put him on the active roster.
I'm still not convinced it will happen but I think the chances of Chris Perez making the team have skyrocketed. We will find out soon too. The Brewers are required to put him on the 40-man roster by March 31st or give him a $100,000 retention bonus. If he's not on the roster by April 1st, he's not making the team.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs