Step back from the ledge: Brewers pitching better than most think

After a whirlwind January where the Milwaukee Brewers added outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain and reliever Matt Albers, something still feels amiss between the talking heads and Brewers fans alike. If chatter in baseball circles is any indicator, it seems that nearly everyone expected the team to make a big push for a frontline starter, going so far as to say the Brewers aren’t a true contender until they address their rotation.

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Why haven’t the Milwaukee Brewers traded Domingo Santana?

What are the Milwaukee Brewers waiting for?

Now that the Brewers’ logjam is thorough and complete, it has been expected by many that David Stearns would be motivated to move Domingo Santana as the centerpiece of a deal for a starting pitcher. Santana, coming off a very respectable 2017 in which he was just one double shy of joining the 30-30 club, is the most attractive and movable asset he has. It makes sense, because you’d better believe Stearns is name-dropping Ryan Braun at the outset of every conversation to see if anyone will take the bait and no one is.

Santana is young, controllable and emerging: the perfect player for this bleeding-edge post-Moneyball era Baseball seems to be entering. For all the reasons other teams are interested, those are the same reasons Stearns wants him in his organization. And then there’s this this little tidbit I happened upon Tuesday:

Age 23 to 24 improvements:

Player A: BA +16 / OBP +12 / SLG +28 / OPS +26

Player B: BA +22 / OBP +26 / SLG +58 / OPS +83

Player B is Santana. Player A was Dave Winfield, from his third to fourth year in the league. Santana’s leap from part-time to full-time over the same age span isn’t just the natural development of a prospect, it is punctuated equilibrium and a sign that Santana may be more than a solid role player, but a superstar in the making.

In fairness, it’s too soon to say Santana is going to be a Hall-caliber player; Winfield didn’t start really showing his quality until 1978 at age 26. They’re similarly built but different athletes; Winfield was all-everything in Minnesota and starred in baseball and basketball for the Golden Gophers, the latter lending itself well to his instincts in the outfield and prowess at the wall. Santana also has great instincts in the field, but doesn’t have that acrobatic ability or nearly the arm Winfield wielded with impunity. Santana’s swing is smoother and less-violent than Winfield’s looping, almost awkward line-drive craft, yet both have a knack for taking pitches the opposite way.

Similar, yet different, yet similar.

Santana’s 2017 development has him, at this nascent stage of his career, surpassing a Hall of Famer. I suggest this is why Stearns is loathe to move him, and why he’s still a part of the Brewers organization after two major moves for outfielders that have the baseball world still abuzz about what’s brewing in Milwaukee. Where Santana’s value is perceived to be diminished, it would seem that his value has only increased. Stearns is either content to have that kind of upside in his clubhouse, or is waiting for another team to agree to a stronger return for Santana’s services and controllable years.

There is one albatross to Santana, and one clear numerical distinction between him and his Hall of Fame counterpart: 100, as in Santana struck out 100 more times than Winfield in their age 24 seasons. Winfield knew how to work a pitcher and only struck out more than 100 times thrice in his career, taking roughly three walks for every four strikeouts. By way of underscoring the point, Santana struck out 91 times in 2016, playing in 77 games.

If there is any hope for Santana becoming a legend, it will be in his ability to learn plate discipline and work his strikeout figures down. A .371 OBP with 178 Ks in 2017 is less Dave Winfield and more Adam Dunn, but everything else is there: good power and average at the plate, respectable in the outfield, by all accounts a good guy to have on the team. In my estimation, the trajectory for Santana (of course given the benefit of a full, healthy career) is Joe Carter. The floor is Corey Hart, beleaguered by injuries and forced into an unnatural spot in the batting order, hindering his growth. The ceiling, an evolutionary Winfield.

No matter what, Stearns has a very good problem on his hands, and that problem could be great. The Brewers don’t have to move Santana, just as they don’t need to add a starting pitcher. Entering Spring Training with an embarrassment of riches and depth is quite the contrast to where this team was in January 2016, to say nothing of 2006 or 1996. If the injury bug strikes the outfield, there is a starter ready to come in, be it Braun, Brett Phillips, Keon Broxton or Hernan Perez, even Eric Thames or Jonathan Villar in a pinch. Despite the loss of Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison in the Yelich trade, they rightly still have high hopes for Corey Ray and Trent Clark in the system.

Stearns and manager Craig Counsell are unafraid of the unorthodox, which is part of the reason why they’re right back in the middle of the scrum for the National League Central. Now that they’ve moved from rebuild to contention, it’s retaining players with significant value that will help keep them there. Anything less is a move for the sake of making a move, which is irresponsible to the medium-term viability of the club in the same measure that going in on Yelich and Lorenzo Cain was a bold play to win now.

When it comes to Domingo Santana‘s future with the Brewers, true love waits.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.

Christian Yelich is major boon to Brewers current, future outfield

While the rest of the league was sitting by the hearth, quietly contemplating the balance of expenditure and analytics, David Stearns was in the kitchen, his fingers on the dial of the burner, waiting for the temperature to be just right to make a splash. By the time he was through, he had cooked up one of the best outfields in the NL and served it to the rest of the league on a silver platter.

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Jacoby Ellsbury, Milwaukee Brewers Rumor Doesn’t Pass The Smell Test

Jerry Crasnick’s tweet during the NFL’s Championship Games sent baseball fans into a frenzy.

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Milwaukee Brewers Winter League surprises, bounce backs and continuity

While American baseball sits immersed in an ice bath, the hot stove unable to muster much more than a simmer after the Gerrit Cole trade, summer in the southern hemisphere has bats in full swing and with it, some of the Milwaukee Brewers major league and notable minor league talent.

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Milwaukee Brewers quiet offseason could pay big dividends in the long run

Despite the seemingly growing malcontent in the ranks of Milwaukee Brewers fans over the team’s lack of big offseason acquisitions, David Stearns and the rest of the front office have been quietly proving that need is not best filled by big names or big money but by good timing and tangible value.

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Miles Mikolas, other international pitchers could be Milwaukee Brewers’ ticket to success

Miles Mikolas, Hyeon-Jong Yang and Hideaki Wakui are all potential international pitching options for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018.

The Milwaukee Brewers are officially out of the race for Shohei Ohtani, but that doesn’t mean general manager David Stearns will be any less willing to test the international market.

While the likes of Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn remain contract-heavy outside options the Brewers can most certainly afford stateside, Stearns has proven that big moves don’t always necessitate big names or big contracts. Even with his limited experience in Milwaukee, the young GM has already cemented his identity as an exceptionally-discerning deal maker, as evidenced by key additions like breakout third baseman Travis Shaw.

But Stearns’ greatest strength resonates far beyond his frugality. In truth, his taste for the unconventional may be the key to the team’s recent success and fans need to look no further than first base. Adding former MLB prospect and KBO phenom Eric Thames was about as under-the-radar as it gets, and bolstering the position by claiming Jesus Aguilar off waivers in February meant he was able to add a combined 47 home runs and 115 RBI — along with several years of security — to the stat sheet, all for an average of only $6 million a year.

With hot stove already in motion and the Winter Meetings less than a week away, there will be plenty of opportunities for Stearns to again prove his front office prowess. While Major League Baseball’s roster of free agents is already drawing speculation far and wide, it could again be unorthodox methodology that makes or breaks the Brewers’ playoff hopes in 2018.

One name that has surfaced that seems right in line with that type of thinking is Miles Mikolas, who, like Thames, was given limited MLB playing time before greatly improving his game overseas, as noted by Ken Rosenthal.

Mikolas’ first foray in the majors was met with middling results at best, as he compiled a 4-6 record, 5.32 ERA and 1.423 WHIP with wholly-average strikeout and walk rates (6.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9) over 37 games split between three seasons. But since joining the Yomiuri Giants in 2015, he’s vastly improved in nearly every statistical category. Over the last three years, he’s compiled a record of 31-13, posted a 2.18 ERA and 0.994 WHIP, all while trimming his walk rate to an impressive 1.5 BB/9 and buoyed his strikeout rate to 8.0 K/9. In 2017, he even pushed those rates to 1.1 and 9.0 respectively.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a comprehensive arsenal either, and Mikolas suits the need with a fastball that has topped out at 94-mph, a curve with exceptional movement, a hard slider and a change-up to boot. Given the fluidity that Stearns and manager Craig Counsell regularly employ, he would also make a good fit for a mid-season move to the bullpen should another starting option become available outside of Jimmy Nelson’s return from injury.

Contract estimates have ranged between $7 and $10 million for a two-year deal, potentially making him an absolute steal given what he’s been able to produce. But like any international free agent, success at the MLB level is a long road to proof. The 29-year-old will be facing much different hitters than he was in Japan and given the precarious nature of even tenured pitchers, it’s still a risk, even if small. Luckily for Milwaukee, if they do decide to make Mikolas a competitive offer, it will likely have little impact on the incredibly low payroll still on the books, even after arbitration, as the team has hovered at the bottom of league-wide spending for the last two years.

But Mikolas isn’t the only international pitcher Milwaukee could open their checkbook to. Hyeon-Jong Yang, a left-handed pitcher out of South Korea could also be a potential fit. Like Thames, who was also signed out of the Korean league, Yang’s end-of-year status was held in high regard — he was named the KBO MVP in 2017.

Outside of being an additional left-handed arm the Brewers’ rotation could undoubtedly utilize, his numbers over the last three years (3.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, 7.2 K/9) prove that he could be serviceable in the back end of the rotation.

In the past, Yang had expressed his interest in playing in the majors and was previously posted by the Kia Tigers in 2014, but the offers the team received were quickly rejected for being too low. As recently as mid-November, a few MLB teams have already completed status checks on the 29-year-old but nothing has come to fruition in any official capacity and Yang has also stated publicly that he would like to return to the Tigers in 2018, leaving his status cloudy at best — not to mention the team would again need to post him before talks begin. But then again, with the MVP notch on his belt, his potential value may have already reached its ceiling and could be the impetus to his entering the MLB pool.

Another option could be right-hander Hideaki Wakui. Despite having only a modest 2017 season (5-11, 3.99 ERA, 1.323 WHIP) in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball at 31 years old, the tenured pitcher has maintained an incredibly consistent 13-year career, compiling a 3.45 ERA and 1.259 WHIP while posting solid walk and strikeout rates (2.7 BB/9, 6.6 K/9). Wakui’s contract expired at the end of the 2017 season and he’s previously expressed an interest in joining the MLB ranks. Given his age, he easily meets international requirements in both age and experience to surpass being restricted to international bonus pools, leaving a vast amount of financial room for the Brewers, or any team for that matter, to make him a considerable offer.

While Mikolas may be the greatest potential asset of the three, there’s little doubt that Stearns will be looking to explore every potential option available to secure a competitive roster for 2018 and beyond. Based on his previous history, almost nothing seems out of reach.

Jonathan Powell is a co-founder and lead writer for Bronx to Bushville.