Well, it didn’t take the Brewers long to make a change to their Opening Day roster. In fact, they didn’t even make it to game 1.
Earlier tonight, news came out that the Brewers have signed reliever Dan Jennings to a contract. Jennings had been released at the end of spring training by the Rays, who elected to pay him a portion of his non-guaranteed contract instead of keep him on the roster. Jennings was due to make $2.375 million, but the Rays will only pay a portion of that on his release. Financial terms are not available yet, but it’s likely that the Brewers won’t be paying more than that.
Jennings has spent parts of six different seasons with three different teams in the majors. He began his career in Miami, then was traded after the 2014 season to the White Sox. He was traded again last season at the deadline to the Rays. Over the course of his six seasons, he has recorded a 2.90 ERA and 3.77 FIP, along with a 7.3 K/9 rate and 4.1 BB/9. Jennings relies mainly on two pitches: a sinker and a slider, which he threw about evenly last season (52% vs. 48%), though he did favor the sinker more after being traded (60.3% to 39.7%). His numbers did take a hit as well, as he recorded a 3.45 ERA and 4.72 FIP in 2017, which may mostly have come from a jump in his home run rate (1.15 HR/9 in 2017).
With Boone Logan starting the season on the disabled list, the Brewers only had two left-handed pitchers on their staff: Brent Suter (who is in the rotation) and Josh Hader. Adding Jennings will allow the Brewers to have another LHP in their bullpen, though, as Tom Haudricourt points out, Jennings likely wouldn’t be a situational pitcher. His stats facing RH and LH batters are close, but results are slightly better against left-handed batters (3.44 FIP vs. LH, 4.04 FIP vs. RH), even though the adjusted rate is about the same (4.06 xFIP vs. LH, 4.05 xFIP vs. RH). Last season, his FIP has better against LHP (4.56 vs. 4.87), but his xFIP was better against RHP (4.50 vs. 3.82).
Our own Brad Ford also looked deeper into Jennings’ stats, and here is what he found:
Jennings has posted a 2.90 career ERA and a 55% GB rate since 2012 with three major league teams. Strikeouts are not his specialty as shown by his 7.3 K/9 and the career 4.1 BB/9 shows issues controlling the ball, which is typical for relievers. FIP and DRA are not fans of Jennings performance. The lefty’s career FIP is 3.74 with a 4.65 DRA.
Jennings is likely a good cheap signing who can fill Boone Logan’s role in the pen while he recovers from injury. The back of the pen is mostly secure, so Jennings will likely be asked to fill the middle innings more than anything else.
The Brewers will have to make a move to add Jennings to the 25-man roster, though it may not come until after the Brewers play their first game. Ji-man Choi is the likely odd man out, since he has an option available, and the Brewers are carrying four different players who can play first base right now (Ryan Braun, Eric Thames, Jesus Aguilar, Ji-Man Choi). Plus, with the Brewers only carrying 11 pitchers to start the year, it makes more sense to move a position player.
This is also the third time in David Stearns’ three offseasons as Brewers GM that he has made a roster move for a reliever on the eve of the regular season. Adam McCalvy points out the moves that were made in recent years:
Of the possibility of an 'pen addition a'la Torres at the end of '16 Spring Training and Hughes in '17, David Stearns said, "I do think we’re getting some traction in that area."— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) March 29, 2018
Just not in time for Opening Day this year.
With teams releasing players and putting players through waivers, it is a good time to pick up another player. Both of Stearns’ previous moves worked out quite well for the team that season. Carlos Torres posted a 2.73 ERA/3.75 FIP in 2016, and let the bullpen in innings pitched and appearances (82.1 IP / 72 G). Jared Hughes posted a 3.02 ERA/3.93 FIP in 2017, and had the third most appearances on the staff (67 games). Time will tell if Dan Jennings will be another solid addition to the bullpen at the end of spring training.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.