The Milwaukee Brewers have signed a trio of relievers over the past few days since learning that they would start out the season without two-thirds of the so-called ‘electric dudes.’ Both Corey Knebel (UCL) and Jeremy Jeffress (shoulder) will begin the 2019 season on the Injured List, with Jeffress unlikely to return until at least mid-to-late April and no definitive timetable on Knebel while he and the org continue to gather opinions about how to proceed with his ailing right elbow.
Update on the Knebel injury: It will take a week or so to set a plan. He has pitched with a compromised UCL for the past four years, so multiple specialists will take a look to determine what was there and what is new, and whether rehab or surgery is the best course of action.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) March 22, 2019
None of Josh Fields, Alex Wilson, or Michael Tonkin figure to provide the same level of production that we have come to expect from Knebel or Jeffress, but there is one relief pitcher that is still available who would fit that bill — future Hall of Famer Craig Kimbrel. The 30 year old right-hander has been connected to the team through a series of rumors over the past several days, and according to the Braves beat reporter for The Athletic, Kimbrel is now down to choosing between two final suitors:
#Braves are still in on Kimbrel. From what I hear, it's between Milwaukee and Atlanta barring a late entry. If Braves could get him, their bullpen would from major question mark to solid in a hurry.— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) March 22, 2019
O’Brien suggests that an addition of Kimbrel would turn the Braves ‘pen from a question mark to strength rather quickly, and the same could easily be said for Milwaukee. What was once seen as the team’s greatest asset now stands on tenuous ground, with Junior Guerra, Matt Albers, Alex Claudio, Chase Anderson, and Alex Wilson set to fill in the gaps after All-Star Josh Hader. One of Taylor Williams, Jake Petricka, or Jacob Barnes will fill the eighth and final spot in the ‘pen.
Right now it is an open question as to who will handle ninth-inning “closer” duties for Milwaukee to begin the season, if anyone. The strength of having Josh Hader is his ability to provide dynamic, multi-inning relief at any point in a ballgame, so it doesn’t make a ton of sense to pigeon-hole him into a traditional closer’s role. It is worth noting that he did rack up 12 saves last season while Knebel was on the shelf, with seven of them coming in multi-inning outings. Our Hero, Junior Guerra, may be the most compelling candidate after successfully remaking himself as a dominating fastball/curveball reliever late last season and into the playoffs. He allowed only one earned run in 10.2 innings regular and postseason innings after transitioning to relief, yielding only five hits and zero walks against 13 strikeouts. He has punched out nine batters while walking only one in 8.0 innings this spring.
“In the critically acclaimed film The Aristocats, it goes unspoken that everybody wants to be a cat because of their penchant for extra lives. Guerra can relate, as this cat just received at least his fourth go-round in professional ball. From catcher to international pitcher of intrigue to waiver fodder to surging ace, now Guerra has already turned a failed rotational stint into a bullpen reinvention. In September, the Brewers employed Guerra as part of their 40 man roster pitching depth squad, and to everyone’s surprise the splitter-slider master emerged as a fastball-curveball relief ace. Guerra’s got the guts to close, the guile to start and the brains to reinvent himself to seize every opportunity.
- 2019 Baseball Prospectus Annual
While having Junior pitch the ninth would no doubt be tons of fun, so too would keeping Guerra available as a dynamic arm with multi-inning capability and instead signing one of the best relief pitchers of all-time to handle closing duties. The Braves reportedly have yet to make an offer to Kimbrel, and if the Brewers are as serious about competing again this year as the Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas deals suggest, they may want to strongly consider opening up the pocketbook. Mark Attanasio seems to be one of the few owners that is truly serious about winning and suggested that money wouldn’t be a hindrance even after Moose and Yaz pushed payroll to record levels; Cot’s Contracts has Milwaukee’s projected payroll against the Luxury Tax (which includes all players on the 40 man roster) sitting at more than $144 million, the 14th-highest total in baseball.
So what’s another $15-20 mil or so on top of that?