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.
Today we take a look at the guy who could be considered the best in the Brewers' bullpen -- even before trades made him the team's closer.
RP Tyler Thornburg
2016 Salary: $513,900
Estimated Arbitration Cost (via MLB Trade Rumors): $2.2 million
The Case for Tendering
With apologies to Junior Guerra (and Kyle), there might not have been a better pitcher on the Brewers in 2016 than Tyler Thornburg. He led the team in K/9, WHIP, FIP, ERA and ERA+. He allowed an inherited runner to score just five times all year. Among the team's relievers, he was second to only Jeremy Jeffress in Win Probability Added. Before Jeffress and Will Smith were traded, Thornburg locked down the 7th or 8th inning before handing off to those two. After those deals, he was just as untouchable in the 9th.
In a time that's seen more career relievers who spent their entire professional careers in the bullpen, Thornburg is more of a traditional case. After trying (and failing) multiple times to make him a starter, the Brewers have finally allowed him to flourish as a reliever. While it may feel like a waste of time, there's a chance his time as an attempted starter has helped him in the bullpen, and the Brewers don't have to worry about his ability to go multiple innings. If the Brewers think of giving the 9th to someone else and want to try the Andrew Miller/fireman role in a rebuilding year, Thornburg might be the ideal candidate.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Let's be real here. There's no sound argument to toss Thornburg out without getting anything in return. So let's just take this opportunity to talk about the possibility of him posting a career year in 2016 and having some trouble duplicating that kind of success.
He's always had pretty solid strikeout stuff when working as a reliever, but I'd be extremely leery of expecting him to post a 12.09 K/9 again. That put him in the top 10 in all of baseball, among guys like Dellin Betances, Miller, Ken Giles and Kenley Jansen. He improved his K% by almost 12% in one year, and his 34.2% K% also put him in the top 10 in that category. Even I, someone who's been a fan of Thornburg's since he was drafted, don't think it gets much better than that for him.
What Should Happen?
Don't overthink this. You tender the contract, stupid, and hope he gots off to a hot start to the year to possibly increase his trade value. We saw how seemingly insane the trade market was for relievers this year, and then saw how important good relievers were for the two teams that made the World Series. If Thornburg keeps putting up numbers like he did in 2016, someone will come calling for him in July.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference