The Brewers have eight players up for arbitration this winter as they continue their rebuild. We'll take a look at each one, make the case for tendering that player a contract and the case for cutting ties, and try to figure out what the Brewers should do before the non-tender deadline.
Back-of-bullpen guys get all of the glory, but a bullpen is only as good as the pitchers who cover the middle innings - especially in a year that saw several starters struggle to go deep into games. Today we take a look at the unsung hero of the 2016 Brewers' bullpen.
RP Carlos Torres
2016 Salary: $950,000
Estimated Arbitration Cost (via MLB Trade Rumors): $2 million
The Case for Tendering
Torres avoided arbitration with the Mets last year by signing a $1.05 million deal, but was designated for assignment a week later and chose free agency. He spent most of spring training with the Braves before being cut loose once again, and then the Brewers signed him just days before the start of the regular season. After struggling through the month of April, Torres rebounded to become one of the most stable members of the pen.
He simultaneously served as the guy to get out of a middle-inning jam -- he stranded more than 83% of the baserunners he saw, the best rate on the team among those with more than 30 IP -- and the guy to soak up multiple innings. 19 of his 72 appearances were multi-inning affairs, and 12 of those saw him on the mound for two full innings. He's not exactly Andrew Miller out there, but there's a great deal of value in a guy who can go multiple innings and be effective doing it.
Once Jeremy Jeffress was traded, Torres was the second-most valuable reliever the Brewers had (behind Tyler Thornburg) in terms of both WAR and Win Probability Added. Torres' 1.3 WPA made him the Brewers' third-best pitcher overall post-Jeffress, trailing only Thornburg and #2016BrewersAce Junior Guerra.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Relief pitching is weird. There's no doubt Torres was a valuable piece for Milwaukee in 2016, but there's a reason the Mets DFA'd him when they needed roster flexibility. He basically served as the Mets' mop-up man in 2015 and carried an ERA of 4.68. Torres proceeded to put up the best season of his life at age 33 after being a career journeyman.
That makes for a good story, but it probably wouldn't be wise to count on that kind of performance going forward. Torres may have carried a sub-3 ERA in 2016, but it probably should have been about a run higher -- FIP says that ERA should have been closer to 3.75, instead of the 2.73 he was credited with.
His career numbers would also seem to indicate that's roughly his true talent level. Since re-emerging in the majors in 2012 with Colorado, Torres has had FIPs of 3.70, 4.30, 3.86 and 3.53 before getting to Milwaukee. Those are fine, but relievers with 3.50 ERAs in small sample sizes are pretty replaceable, especially on rebuilding teams where relievers are more luxuries than necessities. Is that something worth spending $2 million on? Or could someone like Jacob Barnes do the same job for a smaller cost?
What Should Happen?
As unpredictable as reliever performance can be, it's hard to cut bait on a player that was so successful the previous year. As mentioned in the Chris Carter decision post, the Brewers don't have a ton of high-salary commitments coming up for the 2017 season, so they could carry a $2 million reliever without much of a problem.
If anything, the Brewers could play this similar to the way the Mets did last year, in that tendering a contract doesn't mean he's on the team on April 3rd. Salaries decided in an arbitration hearing aren't fully guaranteed until Opening Day, so if the Brewers are taken to arbitration and are told they have to pay Torres $2 million-plus, they could get out of most of that commitment with relative ease if they get to spring training and decide there are 11 or 12 other pitchers they'd rather carry.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference