The Brewers have until the end of November to decide what to do with the 13 remaining players they have on the roster that are eligible for salary arbitration. They’ve already taken care of a couple of cases, picking up a team option for Jeremy Jeffress to avoid arbitration and outrighting Stephen Vogt off the roster.
For the remaining players, we’ll take a look at what they did during the 2018 season, what they’re expected to make in a hypothetical arbitration hearing, and whether the Brewers should tender them a contract or non-tender them. Today it’s a former key cog in the starting rotation who may soon be passed up on the depth chart.
RHP Zach Davies
2018 salary: $572,000
2019 projection: $2.4 million
Difference: +$1.828 million
Similar to fellow first-time arby guy Domingo Santana, if we were to tell you the Brewers were going to make a deep postseason run in 2018, you likely would have assumed Zach Davies would have been a major part of that, serving as one of the more important parts of the Brewers rotation.
Instead, it was an incredibly disappointing year. Trying to get ahead of his usual early-season struggles, Davies decided to ramp up his throwing earlier in spring and got hurt instead, putting him behind schedule for the start of the season. That led to another April with some disappointing outings before the nagging injuries finally caused the team to shut him down for much of the month of May. Davies returned to make two more bad starts before he landed back on the DL, and after some ineffective rehab assignments, he was ultimately shut down until September.
The Case for Tendering
Davies will never be an overpowering arm, but he’s proven to be a solid -- and still cheap -- mid-rotation guy who plays well into the Brewers’ run prevention philosophy. He’ll give up contact, but when you have guys like Orlando Arcia and Lorenzo Cain up the middle and a Gold Glove finalist in Travis Shaw at third base, many of those balls in play end up turning into outs. Even with missing most of the season, Davies was still able to show why he’s a valuable part of the team’s plans going forward in September when he made 5 starts and gave up 2 runs or less in 4 of them. Overall, he only gave up 4 or more runs in just 4 of his 13 starts, with his April numbers being inflated by just two poor starts in 6 outings that month.
He may not have the command necessary to become the Next Kyle Hendricks like some had hoped a season or two ago, but before this year he had been consistent in his production, with back-to-back years of ERAs in the 3.90 range and being worth between 2.5 to almost 3 wins depending on your WAR metric of choice. Even with a raise to a projected $2.4 million, that’s still well worth 2.5 WAR when he’s healthy.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Before this past season, Davies had been remarkably durable for a guy who’s (probably generously) listed at 6 feet tall and 155 pounds. If you’re the worrying type, you may be concerned with Davies’ injury-plagued season a year after he threw a career-high 191.1 innings. He’s never thrown hard, but there’s a reason scouts don’t like small, slender pitchers -- even when you’re working in the mid-to-upper 80s, innings can take a toll.
There’s also a chance Davies -- despite his success in recent years -- could end up being a victim of a logjam of MLB-ready starting pitchers. While the Brewers will likely continue to blur the line between starters and relievers, someone’s going to be the first pitcher up every night, and be asked to go at least 5 innings on most nights. Aside from Davies, the Brewers will also have Chase Anderson back on the extension he signed last winter, Jhoulys Chacin on the second year of his deal, Junior Guerra and then the stable of young arms that includes Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta -- all before you start to think about the possibility of Jimmy Nelson returning.
What Should Happen?
Even if Davies has been leapfrogged on the organization’s depth chart -- and I’m not so sure he has been -- you generally don’t just cut young, affordable pitching, especially when you’re the Milwaukee Brewers.
If David Stearns does decide to move on from having Davies as one of his 12 or 13 out-getters, including him in a trade to address a need elsewhere is much more likely than just releasing him for nothing. While he was left off the playoff roster until an injury to Gio Gonzalez, Davies did show he can still be a valuable piece when he returned in September, and leaving him off the October roster was more a function of being cautious with his health and being mindful of his possible rustiness than not thinking he’s worthy of a chance.
Davies is likely a no-brain contract tender, with eyes on him joining Chacin as one of the few “sure things” in the rotation to start next season.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs