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 it's a starting pitcher who may be on his last chance with the Brewers, even after finishing 2016 on a high note.
SP Wily Peralta
2016 Salary: $2.8 million
Estimated Arbitration Cost (via MLB Trade Rumors): $4.4 million
The Case for Tendering
His end-of-season numbers were never going to look great after an almost historically bad start to the year, but Peralta was one of -- if not the -- best starters the Brewers had after his return from Colorado Springs in August. From that point on, he put up a 2.92 ERA and struck out 51 in 61.2 innings while only walking 16. He also allowed less solid contact upon his return, seeing a line drive rate of 26% as opposed to the 31% he was seeing before his demotion. Not surprisingly, that also led to a much more normal batting average on balls in play. It was a total change from what we saw in the first half, when he looked more like Second Half Jimmy Nelson and gave up hits at an alarming rate.
He'll still only be 28 in 2017, and showed flashes of the Very Good Peralta we saw in 2014 that made us think he was the next Brewer rotation mainstay. Even with a million-and-a-half dollar raise, a back-of-the-rotation starter that can occasionally turn in a very solid making less than $5 million is still a good piece to have around.
He hasn't lost any of the stuff that made him successful two years ago. He hasn't lost any ticks on his fastball, his slider returned to 2014 levels this year, and he started mixing in a two-seamer. Like Nelson, much of his future success will depend on keeping that stuff down and repeating the mechanics that once made him so successful. As a former top homegrown prospect, he's likely earned a longer leash.
The Case for Non-Tendering
It might seem like a weird thing to say about a rebuilding team that struggled at times to get consistent starting pitching, but there actually may be a bit of a numbers crunch when it comes to the Brewers' 2017 rotation. In addition to Peralta, Junior Guerra, Matt Garza, Jimmy Nelson, Zach Davies and Chase Anderson will likely go into spring training looking to make the starting rotation. That list doesn't include Taylor Jungmann or Brent Suter, who made starts for the team last year and could also fill back-end spots. Teams can never have enough pitching, but we don't have a ton of evidence that Peralta could effectively work out of the bullpen (he has one career relief appearance, and it did not go well).
It's hard to understate just how bad Peralta's first half was (13 starts, 66 innings, 97 hits allowed, 12 home runs, only 42 strikeouts combined with 27 walks), and it came off the heels of an equally bad second half of 2015. In the scope of a full season of god-awful, among-the-worst-pitchers-in-baseball performance, how much credence do we give his second half turnaround this year? Was it a return to form, or a small-sample last-gasp bounce?
The three-year trend isn't very comforting, either. His ground ball rates have gone down, the home run rates have gone up and he's gotten worse at escaping trouble -- after stranding 76.1% of baserunners in 2014, it's fallen to 72.9% this past season.
This is his second go-around with arbitration, when mistakes can quickly get expensive. Having a solid back-end starter for $5 million is one thing, but having $5 million trying to figure out mechanics while stuck in the pitching purgatory of Colorado Springs is another.
What Should Happen?
Peralta probably ends up being tendered a contract for 2017, but both sides likely understand this is Peralta's last chance to show something. If he puts up another widely-varied mixed bag year like he did in 2016, the Brewers likely cut bait a year early. If he goes back to being one of the team's more dependable starters, a trade for prospects or even an extension to buy out some free agency years isn't out of the question, either.
The talent and stuff is there to be an effective groundball pitcher, and if the left side of the infield will contain some combination of Orlando Arcia, Jonathan Villar and Hernan Perez, he should be in a position to succeed. With nothing to lose in 2017, the Brewers will likely give him another shot to show why he was once one of their most-hyped prospects.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs