For the first time in nearly forty years, the Milwaukee Brewers made back-to-back playoff appearances when they qualified as one of Wild Card entrants in 2019. Unfortunately the team was quickly eliminated in the do-or-die game, getting dispatched by the eventual National League champion Washington Nationals. The World Series began last night between the Nats and Houston Astros (with Washington winning 5-4), and shortly after the conclusion of that best-of-seven matchup, the offseason will begin in earnest. Five days following the end of the World Series, both major and minor league players who are eligible can file for free agency.
Milwaukee has five players who are set to become MLB free agents, including several of the central figures during the team’s white-hot September run that clinched the postseason:
RHP Matt Albers
Albers had stretches of success during his two seasons with Milwaukee, but the free agent deal he signed will ultimately go down as a ‘miss’ on the part of David Stearns. The veteran right-hander got off to a hot start with the Brewers in 2018 before a shoulder injury derailed his season, and he was an important set-up man for the club during the summer months this year before his effectiveness and usage waned down the stretch. When it was all said and done, Albers finished with an ugly 5.94 ERA in 101 appearances and 94.0 innings pitched with the Brewers for an ERA+ of 73. Soon to be 37 and now with more than 600 appearances under his belt, Albers won’t be back next year and might soon be facing the end of his career.
RHP Jay Jackson
A surprising name among the departing free agents, Jackson signed a minor league deal prior to this past season after spending the previous three years in Japan. He made 28 appearances for the Brewers while bouncing back and forth from Triple-A and has less than one full year of MLB service time, but he apparently had a clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent after the end of the year. His 4.45 ERA in 30.1 innings is a bit misleading, because after he was called up for good in the second half, he posted a 3.21 ERA with 44 strikeouts versus 17 walks and a .184 batting average against. The slider-first, soon to be 32 year old can generated better than a 17% swinging-strike rate in 2019 and finished with an 81 DRA-. He might be a low-key breakout candidate heading into 2020.
LHP Gio Gonzalez
For the second straight year, Gonzalez proved to be a savior for Milwaukee’s starting rotation. In 2018, he delivered five clutch September starts after coming over via waiver trade. This season, he helped steady what was a quickly sinking ship when he signed in late April. Gonzalez sat all winter on the free agent market before agreeing to a minors deal with the Yankees in Spring, only to opt out on April 22nd. He inked a $2 mil pact with the Brewers two days later and delivered 19 appearances (17 starts) and 87.1 innings of 3.50 ERA baseball, which was the lowest earned run average of any starter on the staff not named Jordan Lyles. His year was interrupted by a dead arm (perhaps due to not signing until mid-March) and his stuff is pedestrian, along with his K/BB numbers. But Gonzalez thrives at suppressing exit velocity (89th percentile), limiting hard contact (88th percentile), and a DRA- of 90 suggests that he is still quite capable as a mid-to-back end starter. He is a respected veteran in the clubhouse and shouldn’t command much on the open market heading into his age-34 season.
LHP Drew Pomeranz
This southpaw figures to be a hot commodity as a more prominent breakout relief candidate on this year’s free agent market. The main character within Milwaukee’s most significant trade of the summer, Pomeranz began to shine when the Giants transitioned him to relief beginning on July 22nd. From that day through the end of the season, Pomeranz tallied 31.2 innings with a 1.99 ERA and a Hader-esque 15.06 K/9 to go along with a 2.56 BB/9 rate. Pomeranz might have actually broken Deserved Run Average, which suggests he was worthy of a perfect 0.00 mark during his tenure in the Cream City. He quickly ascended to a high-relief role for Craig Counsell, locking down 12 holds and two saves. The soon to be 31 year old saw a sharp increase in his velocity upon moving to the ‘pen and he’ll have no shortage of suitors willing to bet on his repeat success in 2020.
RHP Jordan Lyles
No one expected Jordan Lyles to become the latest incarnation of CC Sabathia after the Brewers picked him via trade on July 29th. But that’s exactly what happened as he became the surprise ace for the Menomonee Valley Nine in the second half, delivering 11 starts and 58.2 innings with a sparkling 2.45 ERA. In terms of bottom-line results, he was arguably the NL’s best starter in the second half and Baseball America deemed him as the most impactful trade deadline acquisition. Yes, there was some good fortune involved as he benefited from a .225 BABIP, but a DRA- of 78 during his run with Milwaukee also suggests that his actual performance on the mound was well above-average nonetheless. Lyles only just turned 29, and it seems like there’s something about pitching with the Brewers that might make a reunion worth exploring.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball Savant