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Brewers Offseason Update: The Bullpen

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One of the league's best relief corps lost it's controversial leader. Is Will Smith ready to lead the Milwaukee bullpen?

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Happy Tuesday, Brewers fans, and welcome to part two of our mid-offseason series as we break down the roster at and near the major league level. You can check out our Micro Brewers series to see the prospects broken down by position, but this week we're focusing on the cast of characters you're likely to see on the field this year in Milwaukee. We tackled the starting pitchers yesterday, so here's a look at the projected bullpen, along with their 2016 Steamer projections:

1. Will Smith (26) - 2.95 ERA, 65 IP, 31.1 K%, 8.9 BB%, 28 SV, 1.0 fWAR

2. Corey Knebel (24) - 3.28 ERA, 45 IP, 27.9 K%, 9.6 BB%, 1 SV, 0.5 fWAR

3. Jeremy Jeffress (28) - 3.55 ERA, 65 IP, 22.5 K%, 8.7 BB%, 6 SV, 0.6 fWAR

4. Michael Blazek (27) - 3.97 ERA, 55 IP, 21.0 K%, 8.9 BB%, 2 SV, 0.2 fWAR

5. Tyler Thornburg (27) - 4.36 ERA, 55 IP, 19.4 K%, 8.5 BB%, 3 SV, -0.1 fWAR

6. Ariel Peña (27) - 4.12 ERA, 67 IP, 22.8 K%, 10.4 BB%, 5 GS, 0.4 fWAR

7. Zack Jones (25) - 4.00 ERA, 10 IP, 24.6 K%,12.1 BB%, 0.0 fWAR

As you can see, Steamer is pegging the lefty Smith as the Brewers closer, as they predict he'll collect the most saves, which is a meaningless stat a person made up in 1969. The poor projection for Thornburg may come as a surprise to some, but he's actually been a negative fWAR player in two of his four major league seasons, including a -0.3 mark last year. For his career, Thornburg's ERA is almost a run and a half lower than his xFIP, so Steamer is predicting a regression to the mean. At the back of the bullpen are Peña, who is out of minor league options, and Jones, who is a Rule 5 pick and must remain on the 25-man roster or be placed on waivers and made available to the rest of the league.

Several of the starting pitchers mentioned in Monday's article are candidates for spots in the bullpen in case of injury or poor performance, especially Tyler Wagner, Tyler Cravy and Pat Misch. Late September waiver claim Junior Geurra could factor into the mix, as might Yhonathan Barrios, acquired in the Aramis Ramirez trade, and the two relievers that were added to the 40-man roster after their solid performances in the Arizona Fall League, Damien Magnifico and Jacob Barnes.

Along with corner outfield and shortstop, the bullpen is one of the places of organization depth at the major league level from which the Brewers might still make a trade. Milwaukee had a top ten bullpen last season (by ERA) and have a number of players that competing teams might pay a king's ransom for at the deadline. Chief among them is Smith, who Austin Yamada at Beyond the Box Score just pointed out is quietly among the league's best relievers. Smith is entering his first year of arbitration and if he indeed does stick as the team's closer he could be in line for a sizable raise in 2017, which might increase David Stearns desire to move him despite multiple remaining years of team control. A move like that could open the door for Knebel, who many tabbed as the team's closer of the future following his acquisition in the Yovani Gallardo trade last winter.