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Brewers Free Agent Targets: RHP Koji Uehara

Time to shop for some insurance...

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
How old is too old?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sold on Tyler Thornburg as the closer for the Brewers in 2017. I wouldn’t mind being pleasantly surprised, but Tyler has a history of injury and periods of ineffectiveness, so I’m looking elsewhere. When I look internally I don’t see ‘that guy’; at least not yet.

So I’m looking at the FA market for somebody that is effective but would be available for a short term deal. And lo and behold, there is the former Red Sox closer who has been solid for the past four years (at times unhittable), but will be 42 when the ‘17 season starts. I don’t know that a closer job will be available to him, but a one year deal with an option for 2018 in Milwaukee might be enticing to him.

Uehara could be slotted in as the 8th inning set-up man, and would provide that insurance I’m looking for. Would he be available for $8 million with an option and buyout for ‘18? It seems reasonable.

Koji has worked just 40.1 and 47 innings the past two seasons, after going 74.1 and 64.1 in ‘13 and ‘14. His HR/9 jumped from 0.67 to 1.53 last year, but his WHIP held at 0.96. He still struck out batters at a 34.2% rate, which is great and his best since his insanely good 2013 season. BABIP was a good .260 last year, though his hard-hit ball % of 30.6% was up a bit from his career number of 26.9%.

Uehara was tougher on lefties in 2016, with a WHIP of 0.72 vs. 1.18 for righties. He stirkes out righties at a higher rate, though, (12.93/9 against 11.19/9 for lefties).

Gauging interest in Uehara is difficult. The big name relievers will need to shake out first, and Koji is unlikely to be any of the big market teams’ first or second choice. It seems the Red Sox are not expressing interest in a return, but that could change.

Would the Brewers and David Stearns have interest in Uehara as I have described? My guess is no. But the further we get into the free agency process, the more that younger arms fill available slots, the better an actual opportunity to set up and occasionally close in Milwaukee might look for Uehara. And the price might just go down a bit. Perhaps letting the Uehara camp know that there is interest in Milwaukee (if indeed there is any) would keep the option open for later on in the winter.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs