The Brewers announced the results of Jimmy Nelson's shoulder surgery on Wednesday, and while his timetable for return depends on his rehab, the initial news isn't great.
From GM David Stearns, as told by Adam McCalvy:
"The best-case scenario Jimmy told you guys was the doctor goes in there and it's a relatively minor procedure, and he has the potential to be back at the front end of next year. Obviously, we don't think that is going to be the case. We do think he is going to miss a chunk of next year."
As Stearns told reporters, it's not the best news, but it also isn't the worst news. Most pitchers who go down with a torn labrum have been pitching a long time, and it's the result of years of wear and tear before the shoulder ultimately breaks down. Nelson's injury came in a freak accident, so there's some hope that he won't encounter as rocky of a road as some others who have tried to come back.
Still, it's a long road back, and even if Nelson is able to pitch for the Brewers in 2018, he may not be the Jimmy Nelson we came to know this year.
So, where do the Brewers go from here?
While the temptation will be there to plug a hole in the rotation in free agency this winter (especially considering the Brewers' league-low payroll, the money is there to spend), it may not be a route General Manager David Stearns has to go down to find Nelson's replacement.
It feels a little weird to say after all these years, but the Brewers have quietly built up some organizational depth when it comes to starting pitching, and there are actually quite a few internal options the team could consider, especially if they think Nelson could be back in the second half of the season.
The most obvious option would be Josh Hader. The team's top pitching prospect has excelled in the bullpen this year, and that might actually make the decision a little more difficult than some may think. As Kyle pointed out the other day, Hader's electric fastball but spotty command could make him a more useful weapon out of the bullpen, pitching in big spots in 60 games rather than making 30 starts. He's a definite high-risk, high-reward option -- at his best, he could replicate what Nelson was doing on his best days, piling up the strikeouts and the zeroes on the scoreboard. On the other hand, he could also turn in his fair share of Yovani Gallardo outings, where he struggles to go 5 innings before hitting 100 pitches.
Even if the Brewers decide to stick with Hader in the bullpen for another year, they have a few other options to fill out the back end of the rotation. Brent Suter has shown he can be a capable 5th starter this year, as long as Craig Counsell limits his exposure to the third time through the batting order. Aaron Wilkerson's debut on Wednesday night wasn't great, but it's too soon to make judgments on his big league future, especially considering his minor league success.
Taylor Jungmann is still on the 40-man roster (at least for now) and put together a nice bounceback season in Triple-A. After nearly having his confidence (and career) destroyed by Colorado Springs, Jungmann made 17 appearances for the Sky Sox this year, putting up a 2.59 ERA and cutting his walk rates to a more manageable level. In a similar vein, Junior Guerra pitched well after being sent down to Triple-A and is holding a 40-man spot. And yes, Matt Garza's $5 million option could be picked up. Not many fans would be excited about another year of the Count, but that's a tough price to beat for a league-average back-end starter.
If those names don't excite you, there's always the chance that the organization's next-best prospects after Hader -- Luis Ortiz and Corbin Burnes -- bypass the harsh pitching environment in Colorado Springs and are given a chance to make the team next spring. If you want to think really outside the box, Freddy Peralta could even be a possibility somewhere down the line in 2017.
If the team truly expects Nelson to be back sometime in 2018, it might make some sense for the team to essentially hold that 5th spot in the rotation for him for a good part of the year, possibly shuttling a few of the names mentioned in and out of that spot. It's not ideal for a possible postseason contender, but the Brewers have been thinking outside of the box to plug holes in the starting rotation for much of 2017. At this point, Stearns and Craig Counsell might've earned some benefit of the doubt.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference
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