There are a myriad of different factors that will go into how the Milwaukee Brewers choose to fill out their starting rotation this spring. Beyond Spring Training performance, the club will have to consider the reports of their scouts, health, prior track record, contract situation, and minor league options, among other aspects when making their making their final decision on those two open spots behind Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Jhoulys Chacin.
With six pitchers currently battling for the #4 and #5 slots, it would appear on the surface that the Brewers have a difficult decision facing them as Opening Day approaches. If the front office chooses to simply preserve as much depth as possible at the beginning of the season, however, arriving at a resolution may not end up being all that tough for David Stearns and company. It was confirmed yesterday that one of the competitors, #2016BrewersAce Junior Guerra, actually has a fourth option year remaining.
Players are typically given three minor league options upon being added to the 40-man roster for the first time, which Guerra was when he resurfaced in affiliated ball in 2015 with the White Sox. He spent more than 10 days time on optional assignment that year as well as in 2016 and 2017 as a member of the Brewers, so most everyone - writers included - assumed that he was out of minor league options by this year. But Guerra has had anything but a typical path to the big leagues, never reaching higher than Class-A Advanced during his five seasons coming up in Atlanta’s system (Oct 2011 - Mar 2007) before getting released, or in his one full season with the Mets (Oct 2007 - June 2009, with no appearances in 2009) before failing a PED test and getting cut loose. He then pitched in unaffiliated leagues all over the world from 2009 until signing a minor a league contract with the South Siders in 2015.
According to The Cub Reporter, this is the language regarding a player who can qualify for a fourth minor league option:
Most players get only three minor league options, but a player who has accrued less than five “full seasons” is eligible for a 4th minor league option.
For the purpose of determining eligibility for a 4th minor league option, a player accrues a “full season” when he spends at least 90 days on the Active List of an MLB and/or minor league club or clubs in a given season, or (in seasons prior to 2012) spends at least 60 days but less than 90 days on the Active List of an MLB and/or minor league club or clubs followed by a Disabled List assignment where the combined time spent on the Active List and Disabled List equals at least 90 days or (beginning with the 2012 season) spends at least 30 days but less than 90 days on the Active List of an MLB and/or minor league club or clubs followed by a Disabled List assignment where the combined time spent on the Active List and Disabled List equals at least 90 days.
If a player qualifies for a 4th minor league option year, the 4th option is available during Spring Training and for the entire MLB regular season.
Now that we know Guerra still has an option left, that means only two of the six hurlers battling for the starting final rotation openings (and potentially one of the two remaining spots in the bullpen) will not be able to begin the year in the minor leagues. They are Wade Miley (Article XX(B) free agent with more than six years of MLB service time) and Yovani Gallardo (non-guaranteed deal, 10+ years of service and can refuse assignment to minor leagues). Under league rules, the Brewers can offer Miley a $100K retention bonus to start the year in the minors with a June 1st opt-out, but it seems unlikely that he would accept those terms if he continues to pitch as he has so far this spring.
Guerra’s option certainly lessens the urgency for him to make the rotation, as he could start the year down in the minor leagues without Milwaukee having to place him on outright waivers as was previously believed. (This comes as a bit of relief to me personally, as well, as it makes it much more likely that Guerra stays in the organization throughout 2018, at the very least).
With all of that in mind, lets take a brief look at how each of Milwaukee’s in-house starter candidates are performing statistically thus far in Cactus League action:
Early Spring Rotation Candidates
Statistics courtesy of MLB.com