Teams have until December 2nd to decide whether to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. The Brewers have a slew of players up for raises this winter, but the uncertain financial situation for teams across the league could lead to some surprising non-tenders. Who will the Brewers keep among their arbitration-eligibles, and who will they let go? We take a look at each player’s case.
2020 Salary: $5.125 million ($1.922 million when prorated)
2021 Projection: $5.125 million
There was hope that the delayed start to the 2020 season would allow Knebel more time to shake off any rust from missing a year following Tommy John surgery. Instead, we got a reminder that the road back from Tommy John isn’t always a smooth one.
Knebel struggled with his control once he got back on the field this year and was the victim of some blow-up innings, ending the year with a 6.08 ERA and 6.44 FIP. He also dealt with another injury during the shortened season, struggling through a hamstring strain. His performance did improve after the hamstring started feeling better, though, and ended the year on a strong note with a 2.70 ERA with 8 strikeouts (but also 4 walks) in his final 6.2 innings.
In a perfect world, the former All-Star closer would join Devin Williams and Josh Hader as a three-headed bullpen monster — a bullpen alignment that has led to some of the franchise’s most successful teams (John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez and Takashi Saito in 2011; Knebel, Hader and Jeremy Jeffress in 2018, etc.). Knebel has always been a bit more streaky than some of the Brewers’ other relief aces, though, often going through bouts of poor control even in his most successful seasons.
Knebel carries a career BB/9 of 4.04 and BB% of 10.7%, a bit higher than you’d like to see from a high-leverage reliever. In his peak years, Knebel could still strike his way out of those self-inflicted jams, but this year, throwing closer to 94 mph than 97 mph, Knebel started letting more of those baserunners get home.
It’s hard to be too critical of a reliever coming off major arm surgery that only pitched in 13.1 innings in 2020, especially since the strikeout rate was still there (striking out 15 batters in that time), but even without a projected raise in his salary, paying $5 million for Knebel — especially when they may have to find a way to pay for another signficant raise for Hader — may be tough to fit into the self-imposed budget for 20201, whatever that may end up being.
The Brewers have historically stuck with Knebel — the last remaining piece of the Yovani Gallardo trade to Texas — through good and bad. The question is whether they’ll pay another $5 million for him to continue to work himself back into his previous form — if he can. As JP noted earlier this offseason, it may end up being a similar situation to Jimmy Nelson last offseason. Nelson was ultimately non-tendered.
There is, of course, the possibility of Knebel gettinged “Claudio-ed” — non-tendered for his high arbitration projection, but ultimately brough back at a lower price. With the free agent market post-non-tender deadline likely to be flooded with relievers, that may be an attractive option for both the Brewers and the former All-Star.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs
Should the Brewers tender or non-tender Corey Knebel?
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