Speculation has been rampant regarding possible additions to the Milwaukee Brewers’ pitching staff since the franchise acquired Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain on January 25th. The Brewers still have a plethora of top prospects within their farm system and haven’t yet crossed the $90 mil threshold in terms of projected payroll for 2018, giving David Stearns the option of pursuing an upgrade to the rotation via trade or free agency, or both. But even in the face of an endless amount of rumors, Slingin’ Stearns is downplaying the urgency of adding to his pitching staff:
Despite all the speculation, doesn't sound like #Brewers are close to signing FA pitcher or trading for pitcher. In fact, GM David Stearns just told me, "At this point, I anticipate going (to camp) with our current group."— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 3, 2018
More Stearns on search for pitching: "If the right opportunity presents itself, we are open to acting. But we have a high level of confidence in our current group, so it needs to be the right opportunity."— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 3, 2018
As things stand right now, the manager Craig Counsell has identified Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Jhoulys Chacin as the three arms already bookmarked for spots in the Opening Day starting rotation. According to CC, the “next group” of hurlers includes Brandon Woodruff, Junior Guerra, Aaron Wilkerson, Brent Suter, and Yovani Gallardo. So if the team does indeed enter head to Maryvale in 11 days with just the current group of in-house arms, those five pitchers would be competing for the fourth and fifth spots in the starting five. Between Anderson, Davies, and Chacin, there’s good reason to believe that the team should be able to get somewhere around 500 innings of league-average production. There’s plenty of uncertainty in those final two spots, though.
Woodruff is still considered a back-end top-100 prospect after debuting in the big leagues last season, but after posting a 4.81 ERA/120 DRA- in 43.0 innings last season he’s no sure thing in 2018. Suter pitched to a 3.42 ERA last season in 81.2 innings, but his struggles during the third time through the batting order may make him better suited as a swingman. Aaron Wilkerson compiled a 57 DRA- in 24 starts in Biloxi and looked solid in three big league appearances down the stretch, but he’ll be 29 next season after beginning his career in the independent leagues. Gallardo is one of the best pitchers in franchise history but has fallen on hard times since leaving Milwaukee and has posted ERAs above 5.40 in each of the last two seasons. His peripheral numbers ticked up in 2017, at least. Finally, Guerra got injured during his Opening Day start and pitched his way out of the rotation after his return, but he is just one season removed from a posting 2.81 ERA/88 DRA- in 20 starts and performed well while pitching in winter ball in Venezuela.
Jimmy Nelson could return from his shoulder surgery as early as June, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how effective he’ll be. If one hopes for the best out of Jimmy and squints hard at the rest of the arms that figure to fill out the rotation depth throughout the season, maybe it could shake out to be about a league-average group overall. As I wrote back in December after the Gallardo and Chacin additions, the staff should have decent floor but is lacking in terms of ceiling. It would be extremely beneficial for Milwaukee to bring aboard another pitcher or two - preferably of the front-line variety. And with the offseason that Milwaukee has had to this point, there’s little reason to rule anything out for now:
Because Stearns and Co. cast wide net at all times when searching for right opportunity, it gets reported that they have interest in this FA or that FA, or that they have reached out to team about this player or that player. Doesn't mean deal is imminent.— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 3, 2018
Having said that, it also doesn't hurt to play coy and let the market come to #Brewers, especially this winter when no other team is doing much. That way, better chance of "right opportunity" coming along. So, stay tuned.— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 3, 2018
General Managers are always trying to use the media to their advantage so it’s certainly a possibility that this is all just posturing from Stearns. He’s been reported to have been in continued contact with Yu Darvish and the rest of the top free agent starters still out there, as well as exploring trade targets like Chris Archer and Danny Salazar. After dishing out $80 mil for Lorenzo Cain and shipping four prospects to Miami for Christian Yelich and his ~$45 mil in future commitments, why should we believe that the Stearns and company are going to stop now in their quest to build up a contending roster? He could just looking for a way to get the prices that he wants.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus