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Milwaukee Brewers “intent” on adding starting pitcher; have reportedly explored deal for Jharel Cotton

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He’s a 26 year old who just finished his first full season in the big leagues.

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Brewers lost out on the Yu Darvish sweepstakes yesterday, as the starter spurned their reported nine-figure contract offer and elected to sign a six-year pact with the division rival Cubs. GM David Stearns once again expressed confidence in his current group of pitchers upon hearing the news, saying that “we are always on the lookout for ways to improve the team but I anticipate we will go with the guys we have” and “we remain comfortable with our current group.”

As things stand, Milwaukee projects to have a decent rotation but one that is lacking in upside. Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Jhoulys Chacin are the known starters, with Brent Suter, Junior Guerra, Aaron Wilkerson, Brandon Woodruff, and Yovani Gallardo set to do battle this spring for the fourth and fifth slots. There’s reason to believe that the Brewers could squeeze some decent production out of that batch of arms, but at this point it doesn’t stack up closely to Chicago’s projected line up of Darvish, Quintana, Lester, Hendricks, and Chatwood. Slingin’ Stearns may be publicly downplaying the need for his club to find another pitcher, but he’s still reportedly working the phones pretty hard behind the scenes:

Milwaukee has been linked to a myriad of different pitching options, and Heyman indicates that the club continues to have active conversations on a number of fronts. Free agent Jake Arrieta and trade target Chris Archer of Tampa Bay are true difference-makers in the rotation, while the other options he mentions - Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi - are more along the lines of floor-raisers for the starting five.

While each of the players Heyman referenced have been discussed as options throughout the winter, Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic throws a new name into the mix - a controllable right-hander who currently pitches in Oakland. From Rosenthal:

Brewers general manager David Stearns keeps saying he is comfortable with his group, but that’s GM-speak for, “We’re not going to compromise our leverage by acting desperate.” The Brewers’ offer to Darvish was not as competitive as reports indicated, one source said; their presence in the negotiations might have been more of a ploy to jack up the price for the Cubs.

So, would the Brewers actually spend for Jake Arrieta, or drop down a level for Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn? Remains to be seen. The team also has explored trades for lesser pitchers, including the Tampa Bay Rays’ Jake Odorizzi and Oakland Athletics’ Jharel Cotton.

Ken reiterates Milwaukee’s interest in reuniting with Odorizzi, but this is the first time that Jharel Cotton has been mentioned as a Brewer target this winter. The recently turned 26 year old was originally a 20th-round pick by the Dodgers back in 2012 but was dealt to Oakland at the trade deadline in 2016 as a part of the Rich Hill deal. He debuted in the big leagues that September and tossed 29.1 innings with a 2.15 ERA across five starts, though FIP- (90) and DRA- (100) saw some luck involved in that level of run prevention.

The 5’11” Cotton posted a 3.65 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 during 468.1 innings pitched coming up through the minors and after his terrific run down the stretch, he entered 2017 ranked as a top-100 prospect by both Baseball America and Fangraphs. He features a mid-90s fastball that averaged 93.6 MPH in 2017 along with a cutter, curveball, and his bread-and-butter pitch - a plus-plus changeup.

Cotton spent most of last season as a member of Oakland’s starting rotation, but his first extended trial in the big leagues did not go very well. He made 24 starts and logged 129.0 innings with a 5.58 ERA, 7.3 K/9, and 3.7 BB/9. His 2.0 HR/9 rate no doubt played a significant role in his bloated earned run average and led to a putrid DRA- of 151. If wins above replacement is your thing, only five pitchers posted a worse WARP than Cotton’s -2.2 last season. PECOTA has him pegged for a 4.87 ERA and 0.4 WARP in 115.0 innings for 2018.

The A’s were said to have had interest in Domingo Santana earlier this offseason but those talks cooled after Oakland acquired Stephen Piscotty, at least publicly. Still, the club could use another addition in the outfield as they transition Khris Davis to more of a full-time DH. Though he endured plenty of struggles last season, Cotton has the tools to be a useful MLB pitcher and comes with five years of club control remaining. He wouldn’t be an immediate upgrade to Milwaukee’s current starting rotation group, but given Cotton’s control, upside, and remaining minor league options, it’s not difficult to see why he might appeal to David Stearns and his front office.

In a vacuum, Jharel Cotton would be a nice get for the organization. But against the backdrop of Milwaukee’s other moves this winter, acquiring Cotton instead of a true front line-type pitcher may not be the best use of resources. His league-minimum salary certainly wouldn’t prevent them from making additional moves, however.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs