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Brewers Free Agent Targets: Tyson Ross

Can the Brewers afford a gamble on the oft-injured rightie?

MLB: Spring Training-San Diego Padres at Seattle Mariners Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres decision to non-tender Tyson Ross spiced up the tepid starting pitcher FA market last Friday. It doubled the “Intriguing Starters Coming Off Of Injury category from one to two (joining the Dodgers’ Brett Anderson).

Is the Padres’ move related to money, lack of need, bad news on his injury, or something else? Probably a combination of the above. Ross was a very good starter in 2014 and 2015 for San Diego, but a shoulder injury caused him to miss all but one start in 2016 and he eventually underwent Thoracic Outlet surgery in October. Ross has previously missed time with other injuries while with Oakland and San Diego, most notably a left shoulder injury that happened while hitting with the A’s. (Ross isn’t a bad hitter, actually.)

Ross made $9.6 mil last year with the Padres. His inclusion as a FA has every team still seeking starting pitching checking in. He will be 30 in April of 2017, by which time he should be fully recovered from October’s procedure; he is a groundball pitcher, his 6’5”, 240 lb frame fits the “power pitcher” model so many teams look for, and his ‘14 and ‘15 season totals both approached 200 innings. So the price might be higher than a player that basically missed last year would typically command, but it sure would seem appropriate for a team like the Brewers to see how much it would cost (and how many years it would take) to bring him to Miller Park.

It makes sense to look at Ross’ ‘14 and ‘15 seasons as the relevant data in determining his worth. That’s certainly what his agent will concentrate on, anyways. Over those two seasons, Ross worked 391.2 innings, allowing 337 hits and 156 walks fora a WHIP of 1.26. He is known as a control pitcher, so the 3.6 walks per nine seems high. He also had 26 wild pitches over those two years, probably owing to his hard slider and cutter ending up in the dirt quite a bit. Ross had a 9.4 K’s/9 rate for the two years.

The most important number is probably his 60% groundball rate in those two seasons. That would be a welcome number in Miller Park. He allowed only 22 homers over those seasons, although that low number is no doubt due in part to pitching in San Diego. His FIP was 3.24 in 2014 and 2.98 in 2015, and he accumulated a 5.1 WAR over those two seasons. All of this fine pitching resulted in a 23-26 won-loss record, which we all know is the most important stat there is...

Teams like the Cubs, the Yankees, the Rangers...pretty much any contending team - could very well have interest in Ross. A solid top-to-middle rotation starter would go a long ways towards solidifying any top tier team’s chances for making the post season. But the uncertainty involved in Ross’ health would make such a move possibly detrimental to a team’s chances (compared to adding a more “safe” piece), and might make a team like the Brewers more palatable to a pitcher needing to prove his worth - they could pay a little more, go a year or so longer, and tolerate a rehab period better than a potentially contending team. (Not to say that the Brewers can’t contend next year, but their expectations are certainly less than the above mentioned teams.)

So I expect that the absolute minimum that Ross could expect would be a one year, $10 m prove it deal. The Brewers could afford a little more than that (say a two year, $12 m per year, with a third year option/buy-out). Will that be enough? I’m stumped. It only takes one team to decide that Ross is healthy and will contribute to jump those amounts, and even though the Brewers have a very low payroll for 2017 they can’t afford to start piling up dead money for the near future - that would surely hamstring any attempt to compete in ‘18 and ‘19. Looking at the moves made so far this off season by Brewers’ GM David Stearns, it appears that the Brewers don’t consider ‘17 to be a viable contending season, but we may think differently once the winter meetings are done at the end of the week.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs