The Brewers bullpen is a bit overworked so far this season. They have had to cover a lot of innings this season, enough that they are 3rd in the majors in innings pitched this season. Last night, both Neftali Feliz and Corey Knebel were unavailable, increasing the pressure on the bullpen as they tried to close out last night’s game. With a fresh arm needed in the bullpen, the Brewers brought one up today, though cut into their outfield depth to do it.
This afternoon, the Brewers designated outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis for assignment. Nieuwenhuis had been struggling at the plate so far this season, putting up a batting line of .080/.233/.240 in 30 plate appearances. His only two hits have been a home run and a double, and while he has drawn four walks, he’s also struck out fifteen times. His home/road splits have been well-documented, but with the Brewers needing a bullpen arm and outfield depth as strong as it is in the minors, this was the move for the Brewers.
As a corresponding move, the Brewers recalled Brent Suter from Colorado Springs to help bolster the bullpen. Suter pitched in three games earlier this season for the Brewers, posting a 10.80 ERA in 3.1 innings in his first stint with the team. With the Sky Sox, he had made one start, allowing four hits and two walks with three strikeouts and no runs allowed. Bringing Suter up returns a left-handed pitcher to the bullpen, as well as gives them some much needed depth to handle some of their longer days.
It’s worth noting that the Brewers have a split contract with Nieuwenhuis, meaning that he will earn only $257,000 while on his minor-league contract. However, should he clear waivers and be outrighted, he will have the option to refuse the assignment (he was outrighted once with the Mets in 2015). If he does accept the assignment, it’s likely that he will spend the rest of the season in the minor leagues, and potentially at Double-A Biloxi to not interfere with the outfielders in Triple-A Colorado Springs. With the Brewers outfield depth where it is at, adding Nieuwenhuis back to the roster seems remote at best.
One problem that does emerge from designating Nieuwenhuis is the Brewers’ outfield depth. While some of the Brewers position players can play in the outfield, there is no true backup center fielder on the roster now. The only true center fielder on the roster is Keon Broxton. That means whenever Broxton needs a day off, the Brewers will have to place someone in center field that is not experienced there. The Brewers managed this in the past with Domingo Santana in center field, and Hernan Perez can help there as well. However, both are not great at defending the position, which could translate to problems whenever Broxton has a day off.
The Brewers also currently have a bench with no flexibility for roster moves. Of the three players on the bench, (Jesus Aguilar, Nick Franklin, Hernan Perez) all are out of minor league options, meaning they would have to be exposed to waivers as well to bring someone else up. The chances of Eric Thames getting more outfield time could go up from this, allowing both Thames and Aguilar to be in the lineup at the same time. However, it’s still not an optimal solution for the team.
Should the Brewers need some outfield help, they do have options available in the minors. Lewis Brinson is the most likely option, as he plays center field and is the Brewers top prospect. At some point this season, Brinson should be up with the team. However, it’s still a bit early for Brinson to be promoted. With the Super Two deadline to consider, Brinson likely won’t be up before June, unless it was necessary to get someone up quicker. Brett Phillips could also be called up in a pinch, but he doesn’t have a full year in yet at Triple-A, so he could be farther behind as well.
There’s another possibility to consider for the Brewers. JP Breen suggests that Kyle Wren could get a look in center field should the Brewers need one. With a space now open on the 40-man roster, Wren could take that space and be a backup option for the Brewers if needed. Wren doesn’t figure in to the plans as much as Brinson or Phillips, so concern over his major-league service time isn’t as high. Wren has put together some good numbers in the minor leagues (.322/.412/.412 last season, .283/.349/.333 this season) and could be a valuable bench bat and center fielder in the interim.
This will likely not be the only roster move the Brewers make this weekend. Matt Garza will be activated at some point, and it was a little surprising that he wasn’t activated with this move. The Brewers will have to make another roster move to activate him, and with the bench already shortened, a pitcher is going to be off the roster soon.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.