Over the past few years, the Brewers have taken a non-traditional approach to starting pitchers. They leaned heavier on their bullpen and limited their starters, and the approach worked for them. However, with the minimum time in the minors returning to 15 days, and rosters being limited to 28 players in September, the Brewers may not be able to employ that strategy as easily in 2020. Getting a strong starting pitcher will help with that.
Following the trade of Chase Anderson, the starting rotation for next season is a big question mark right now. Brandon Woodruff will lead the rotation, and Zach Davies and Adrian Houser should also be in it. After that, there are two spots to be figured out, as well as the pitching depth. Freddy Peralta and Brent Suter are options, but both pitched well out of the bullpen. Corbin Burnes had a rough year, and Jimmy Nelson struggled in his return from shoulder surgery. The Brewers are going to add at least one starter in free agency, it’s just a question of how much they want to spend.
Since there are so many starting pitchers, let’s look at them in different groups, based on their projected contracts.
5+ Year / $30+ Million Per Year Contracts
Two free agents will lead the free agent market among starting pitchers this offseason. The top free agent this offseason is Gerrit Cole. At 29, he is set for a big payday this offseason. He began his career in Pittsburgh, but really flourished after being traded to Houston. Over the last two seasons, he’s posted a 13.4 fWAR, 2.67 FIP, and 2.68 ERA. He’s a top-3 Cy Young vote-getter for 2019 and finished fifth in 2018. As a result, he will likely be far out of the Brewers price range. Both MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs see him getting at least a 7-year contract, with a yearly value around $32 million per year.
The other main candidate this offseason is Stephen Strasburg. He’s spent 10 years in Washington, coming out of college and rocketing up almost immediately to the majors. His worst ERA in a single season was 3.74, and his worst FIP was 3.62 (both in 2018). In 2019, he pitched 209 innings and posted a 3.32 ERA and 3.25 FIP. He’s a bit older at 31, but should still draw a considerable contract this offseason. FanGraphs has him getting a 5-year contract, and MLB Trade Rumors puts him at a 6-year contract. Both also place him around $30 million a year, which also likely puts him out of the Brewers range.
3-5 Year / $15-20 Million Per Year Contracts
While this group of pitchers is still high for the Brewers, this would at least be in the Brewers range for a top-level contract. There are three main candidates in this range.
First up is Madison Bumgarner. Similar to Strasburg, Bumgarner got to the majors quick and has spent 11 seasons with the Giants. He’s received Cy Young votes in five different season, and was the MVP for the Giants in a couple of their 2014 postseason series. However, he’s been trending slightly the wrong way, posting career highs of 3.90 ERA and 3.90 FIP in 2019, though should still be a reliable starter for any team that signs him. He should still get a good contract this offseason, with both MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs putting him around 4 years and $18 million per year.
Zach Wheeler doesn’t have the same consistency as Bumgarner, but still should receive a strong contract this offseason. He missed two and a half years following Tommy John surgery, but has come back strong over the last two seasons, posting a combined 3.65 ERA and 3.37 FIP, as well as a 8.9 fWAR. He’s a bit younger at 29, and there’s a bit of disagreement on his value. MLB Trade Rumors predicts a 5 year deal at $100 million, while FanGraphs has him around 4 years at $18 million per year.
Finishing up this category is Hyun-Jin Ryu. He’s a bigger injury risk than the other pitchers, but also carries plenty of upside as a left-handed pitcher. Over his last two seasons, he posted a 2.21 ERA and 3.07 FIP. He’s among the top-3 vote getters for the NL Cy Young Award after a strong season for the Dodgers. He was a free agent last season, but took the qualifying offer from the Dodgers and won’t have that attached to him this offseason. At 33, he won’t get the same length of contract as the others, but should still draw a good value per year. Both FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors see him getting a three-year deal, with a yearly price in the $16 to $19 million range.
2-3 Year / $10-15 Million Per Year Contracts
This group of pitchers aren’t as strong as the above pitchers, but will still provide some good value for their price. They aren’t the same commitment, which can also be a positive if the contracts don’t work out. Let’s take a quicker look through these pitchers:
- Dallas Keuchel (LHP): After having to wait out the qualifying offer to sign, he took a one-year prove it deal with the Braves in 2019. Unfortunately, the year with the Braves didn’t really help his case. His ERA was steady at 3.75, while his FIP increased to 4.72. His K/9 rate also increased, but so did his BB/9 and HR/9.
- Kyle Gibson (RHP): While his 4.84 ERA and 4.26 FIP in 2019 doesn’t look too good, there’s plenty of reason to think he’ll bounce back. His K/9 rose to 9.00 and BB/9 fell to 3.15. He’s also been a stable pitcher, making at least 25 starts in each of the last six seasons (and at least 29 in five of those six).
- Jake Odorizzi (RHP): At 30 years old entering 2020, Odorizzi is hitting the free agent market at the right time. He was an All-Star in 2019 and had a 4.3 fWAR for the Twins, as well as a 3.51 ERA and 3.36 FIP. His K/9 was a career best 10.08 as well. He’s a stable pitcher, making at least 28 starts a season in the last six season. However, in the last three seasons, his top innings in a season was 164.1 IP, and in 2019 he only had 10 starts of at least 6 innings.
- Cole Hamels (LHP): While Hamels has also been consistent, he’s also getting older and will be 36 in 2020. He did post a 3.81 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 2019, but also was dealing with an oblique injury and shoulder fatigue. Though his stats have been consistent, he also fell from 32 starts & 190.2 IP in 2018 to 27 starts and 141.2 IP in 2019. He could be a good addition if he can stay healthy, though he’s not as much of a workhorse as he once was.
- Michael Pineda (RHP): MLB Trade Rumors actually predicts that the Brewers will be the team to sign Pineda this offseason. Pineda returned this season from Tommy John surgery, and did provide some good stats, posting a 4.01 ERA (along with a 114 ERA+) and a 4.02 FIP, but that improved to a 3.10 ERA after returning from the IL in June. However, he was hit with an 80-game suspension near the end of the season, though it did get shortened to 60 games. He will miss the first month and a half of the season for any team that signs him.
- Tanner Roark (RHP): Roark signed a one-year deal with the Reds to start 2019 before getting traded to the Athletics at the deadline. Roark started out well with the Reds, but in his last 10 starts with the Athletics, he struggled a bit. He allowed 28 home runs in 2019, 14 of those happening in 110.1 IP with the Reds, and the other 14 happening in 55 IP with the Athletics. He’s made 30 starts a year the last four years, so he’s at least a reliable pitcher.
- Rick Porcello (RHP): Though Porcello had some career worst numbers in 2019 (5.52 ERA, 4.76 FIP), his consistency keeps him in the conversation. In every one of his 11 seasons, he’s made at least 27 starts a season. He could earn a multi-year deal, but could also end up on a one-year deal to prove himself.
1-2 Year / Under $10 Million Per Year Contracts
As usual, the Brewers will likely be looking through the pool of pitchers here looking for some players for next season. They’ve had some success, so they’ll continue to look here for a bargain pitcher or two. Here are some of the players on this list.
- Brett Anderson
- Homer Bailey
- Gio Gonzalez
- Rich Hill
- Josh Lindblom
- Jordan Lyles
- Wade Miley
- Ivan Nova
- Drew Smyly
- Michael Wacha
- Adam Wainwright
- Alex Wood
- Kwang Hyun Kim (Korean Pitcher)
The starting rotation will be a main point of focus for the Brewers this offseason. They could choose to make a big splash with one big signing, or sign a few pitchers in the mid to low range to get some depth. GM David Stearns has made some good moves over the past few years, and he likely has some good plans on who to target this offseason as well.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.