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Milwaukee Brewers Free Agent & Trade Targets: Starting Pitching

The Brewers could use external help in covering innings in 2024

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers had one of baseball’s better starting rotations by ERA in 2023, finishing sixth in the sport with a 3.94 mark. Injuries, free-agent departures, and potential trades leave the rotation looking much thinner for next season.

The Brewers already shored up some innings by re-signing Colin Rea at the start of the offseason, but they will presumably continue to look externally for more rotation help. Here are some candidates on the free agent and trade markets.

Free Agents

Wade Miley

Another reunion with Miley might be the most efficient way for the Brewers to secure bulk innings. He likely will not replicate 2023’s shiny 3.14 ERA nor reach the 120 13 innings he pitched. However, the veteran still projects as a quality option with Milwaukee’s elite defense behind him. The soft-contact savant’s .234 BABIP was the byproduct of both good luck and excellent glovework by his teammates. He should be able to log between 80 and 100 productive innings if linked with the same group for another year.

Miley declined his half of a mutual option to hit free agency, but he may not receive much interest on the open market due to his age and underwhelming peripherals. The Brewers remain his best fit, and a reunion late in the offseason on a one-year deal in the $8 million range seems realistic. The biggest question is whether Miley wants to pitch in 2024. He contemplated retirement last winter and pitched through elbow pain for most of 2023.

Kyle Gibson

If the Brewers want an innings-eater on a short-term deal, Gibson is that guy. The veteran has made at least 30 starts in each of the past three seasons, including a career-high 33 starts for the Baltimore Orioles in 2023. His 4.49 ERA during those three years and 4.73 mark in 2023 are not especially appealing, but his results could improve to league average with aid from the Brewers’ defense.

A pitch mix adjustment could also lead to a step forward. Gibson traded his short slider for a sweeper in 2023, and the new breaking ball held opponents to a .147 average and .171 wOBA while inducing whiffs on 46.7% of swings. He threw the sweeper only 18.5% of the time and could benefit from deploying it as more than just a putaway pitch.

FanGraphs crowdsourced a Gibson contract in the one-year/$12 million range. That might be on the higher end of what the Brewers are willing to pay, but it could prove worthwhile for a stabilizing arm at the back end of the rotation.

Nick Martinez

Martinez has worked primarily out of the San Diego Padres bullpen over the last two seasons but has also started 19 games during that span. He finished 2023 in the 98th, 95th, and 90th percentiles in average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and ground ball rate, respectively. Such a profile fits perfectly with elite defenders Willy Adames and Bryce Turang up the middle in the infield.

Martinez’s excellent changeup and curveball are his calling cards. Finding an effective fastball has been more of a challenge. He switched from a four-seamer to a sinker in 2023, but his sinker spins too much and does not move enough to profile as an effective pitch.

FanGraphs projects a two-year deal for Martinez worth $18 million. The favorable batted ball profile and lower annual value may make him a better fit for the Brewers than Gibson.

Erick Fedde

The former first-round pick is pursuing a return to MLB after a dominant season in the Korea Baseball Organization. Fedde tightened up his control and pitch shapes overseas, helping him post a 2.00 ERA and 2.38 FIP with the NC Dinos in 2023. He punched out 29.5% of hitters he faced, slashed his walk rate to 4.9%, and induced ground balls at a monstrous 70% rate.

The Brewers last grabbed a KBO alum when they signed Josh Lindblom prior to the 2020 season. Fedde will likely be seeking more than Lindblom’s three-year, $9.125 million deal, but it shouldn’t take more than a modest annual value to secure his services. He doesn’t carry the certainty of other free agents but could provide the Brewers with the most bang for their buck.

Trade Targets

Paul Blackburn

As a team aiming to contend in 2024 and beyond, the Brewers don’t appear primed to trade significant young talent for an upper-echelon starter. They’re more likely to deal Corbin Burnes to infuse the upper minors and MLB roster with even more controllable talent.

Blackburn could be a realistic target. A soon-to-be 30-year-old who posted a 4.43 ERA in 2023 does not look enticing at first glance. However, Blackburn was one of baseball’s unluckier pitchers by a few measures. He posted strong barrel and hard-hit rates but suffered from a .351 BABIP, the fourth-highest among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. The Oakland Athletics defense combined for -8 Outs Above Average when Blackburn was on the mound, one of the worst marks for any pitcher in baseball.

Blackburn is controlled through 2025 via arbitration. The rebuilding A’s likely have little interest in paying his arbitration salaries over the next two years, but his $3.2 million projection would fit comfortably into Milwaukee’s budget. It could be an opportunity for the Brewers to acquire a controllable middle-of-the-rotation arm for a few middle-tier prospects from their deep farm system.

Dylan Cease

This one is a long shot. Cease makes this list because his ceiling and two remaining years of control might be enough for the Brewers to at least consider parting with a hefty prospect package. He had a down year in 2023, but the soon-to-be 28-year-old posted a 2.20 ERA in 2022 en route to a second-place Cy Young Award finish. Cease has excellent stuff headlined by a riding upper-90s fastball and hammer curveball. The Brewers are unlikely to pay the steep acquisition price, but they might consider it.