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 the former #Ace whose future may no longer be in the starting rotation.
RHP Junior Guerra
2018 salary: $554,800
2019 projection: $2.7 million
Guerra bounced back from a subpar 2017 season to put together a solid year in 2018, albeit still short of his incredible 2016 performance. You could make a case he was actually the Brewers’ best starting pitcher in the first half of the season, until a forearm injury caused his production to fall off a cliff. He eventually lost his spot in the rotation, but did perform well out of the bullpen in September and in the playoffs.
The Case for Tendering
Few pitchers on the Brewers have been as versatile -- and productive in different roles -- as Guerra during his three years with the team. As disappointing as his 2017 season was, he still finished that year fairly strong when he returned to the big league team in September. After the Brewers let him return to pitching in winter leagues after 2017, he was much sharper to start 2018, putting up a 2.79 ERA in his first 17 starts.
He eventually lost his rotation spot but showed he could still be plenty valuable in the bullpen, putting together a couple of exceptional 2-plus inning relief outings in September before the incredible 3.2 innings with just 2 hits allowed in the marathon Game 4 of the NLCS.
In some ways, that could have saved Guerra’s future with the Brewers. There’s always the chance Guerra returns to a starting role in 2019, at least to start the year, but at the very least he showed he can be very valuable in a different way. It’s one thing to try to project which former starters could excel in a relief role (say, when we were trying to talk ourselves into still believing in Wily Peralta), but we’ve actually seen Guerra perform well in that capacity. In that way, it’s pretty clear he can help as in some way as a member of the pitching staff.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Guerra has been a big bargain for the Brewers over the past few years, at times pitching like a staff ace for the league minimum. Part of this decision, though, is where the Brewers see him fitting into their plans in 2019. As we noted with Zach Davies and others, there’s a chance Guerra could be on the outside looking in when it comes to the starting rotation mix.
Guerra’s shown his stuff can play up in a multi-inning relief role, but his effectiveness as a starter fell off when the forearm pain caused him to stop throwing his best pitch, the splitter. His arm may hold up better in a relief role throwing fewer innings (and therefore fewer splitters, which puts strain on the forearm and elbow), but part of his arbitration figure is his prior success as a starter. There’s no question Guerra could have great value in the bullpen pitching multiple innings -- especially on days where Josh Hader is unavailable -- but if he ends up being Just An Average Reliever, or his elbow finally breaks down, would that be worth paying him close to $3 million?
What Should Happen?
Regardless of where Guerra ends up fitting onto the roster, there’s really no question he’s one of the 12 best pitchers the Brewers have on their 40-man roster as of now. That would make him a pretty easy tender decision, no matter what role he ends up playing.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference