Brett Cecil is the best mere human left handed reliever available. Certainly he won’t get a contract the other-worldly lefty reliever Aroldis Chapman will get (which figures to set some kind of a record), but early estimates of three years/$18 million seem soft to me.
Cecil has already garnered at least one offer, from the team that drafted him in the supplemental first round in the 2007 Amateur Draft (38th overall). He has been a Blue Jay ever since, and has posted some solid numbers over the past four seasons out of the Jays’ pen. He started games early in his career, but has been exclusively a reliever since 2013.
Cecil suffered a torn calf muscle in the ALDS against Texas on October 9th, 2015. He was coming off a string of scoreless innings that dated back to June of that season. It appears that the injury hampered him in 2016, as his innings pitched dropped from the 50s and 60s from 2013-2015 down to 36.2 in 2016.
While he maintained a fine 39:8 K/BB ratio, Cecil allowed 6 home runs in those 36.2 innings. He had allowed just 10 over the previous 3 seasons, spanning 170.1 innings. After seasons with ERAs of 2.82, 2.70, and 2.48, Cecil saw his number balloon to 3.93. His FIP was at 3.64, and xFIP was 2.87 - so it wasn’t terrible. Just not what he was used to.
The main issue seems to have been that his groundball rate fell from the low 50% range for 2013-15 down to 42% in 2016. At the same time, his HR/FB rate climbed from between 7% and 10% all the way to 20%, so it was not a good time to be giving up more flyballs.
Over his career, Cecil has been effective against both righties and lefties. He shows a career 1.20 WHIP against lefties, giving up 5 homers the last four seasons in 369 plate appearances. His career WHIP against righties is a bit higher at 1.46, with 7 homers allowed over the same span facing 486 batters. His K/9 rate is over 11 against righties in the past 4 seasons, and is slightly lower against lefties. So he isn’t necessarily just a situational pitcher.
So the question for prospective suitors is: was Cecil’s season an aberration due to lingering issues in his push-off leg, or is this the pitcher that you will be signing? It seems that most teams think that his more effective second half, topped off by a very strong September, means that he will be back to form in 2017. He only worked 8.2 innings in that last month, but allowed only 5 baserunners, 1 run (a homer, of course), and fanned 14.
So, how many years - and how much money - should the Brewers be willing to spend on a probable 60 inning reliever? I certainly wouldn’t balk at the 3 years/$18 million projection. The Brewers can certainly afford that right now, with nothing really beyond Ryan Braun’s contract on the books after this season. In a few years one hopes that they will be looking to add that solid piece to put them over the top, though, and if Cecil is ineffective (it happens), we might be regretting the dollars spent.
I also believe that the Brewers have a pitcher in their system who could fill this role, if not next year then soon. It seems to me that Josh Hader could be extremely valuable as a mid-late inning reliever, with possible closer potential. I know that he is seen as a starter right now, but these things can change over time.
Whatever the Brewers have in mind for their pen, my instinct tells me that there are teams that might very well be willing to go 4 years, $25 plus million for Cecil. That would in all likelihood price the Brewers out of the market for the left hander.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs