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.
The Milwaukee Brewers, as we’ve been told time and time and time and time again, don’t have much obligation in the way of payroll. They can go get a big name starting pitcher. They’ve already been linked to Jake Arrieta by several national baseball pundits, but all indications closer to the organization seem to indicate that’s blowing smoke where there probably isn’t fire.
And, really, do the Brewers need to go get a big name starter? Jimmy Nelson is going to miss significant time in the next campaign recovering from shoulder surgery, Zach Davies is an enigma and there’s no guarantee Brent Suter can replicate his dark horse success in 2018. With Chase Anderson really in the only position to safely build upon 2017, it might make sense at 20,000 feet to open up Mark Attanasio’s checkbook and land a marquee free agent pitcher.
Closer to the organization and with more familiarity with the system, the view is different and rings as such: The Brewers don’t have to jump in to the free agent pool.
Nelson’s return to Milwaukee will be as good as a trade at midseason, or whenever he’s ready to get back to the bump. Davies is an enigma, streaky in both the best and worst sense, but he’s shown effectiveness enough to warrant another look (and serves as solid rich man’s Marco Estrada-esque tradebait. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is either the Brewers’ No. 2 or packaged in a deal at the Winter Meetings.) Suter’s unorthodox mechanics and approach and fast pace serve him well to keep hitters guessing. Let’s also bear in mind that Brandon Woodruff has yielded some dividends in a small sample size and has great movement on his pitches.
That leaves us with Anderson, Davies, Woodruff, Suter and an empty fifth spot. None of those four have been in a major league rotation together for a substantial period of time, but these four were in the trenches during the stretch run and were key in keeping the Brewers in the hunt. They could very well go to war with who they have without being obligated to substantial free agent money.
Then we ought to consider who else the Brewers have right now. Andrew Miller is a bit of a unicorn, and it’s not fair to hitch Josh Hader to that bandwagon. Hader was dominant in his relief role and could still profile into a strong lefty starter. He has earned the opportunity to get a look in Spring Training, as has Aaron Wilkerson who could also earn another extended look in March after posting his first 10 major league innings at the end of the regular season with some success. Jorge Lopez, Luis Ortiz or 2017 Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Year Corbin Burnes could all be possibilities as well.
David Stearns has built an organization that has an embarrassment of riches at every level. They could have guys in the farm ranks on their radar as easily as they could package some of them for a starter who isn’t in the conversation right now. They’re [very] dark horses for Shohei Otani.
Jake Arrieta is trending in the wrong direction and he’ll be 32 before Opening Day. Alex Cobb is intriguing, but he’s a year removed from injury and would be high-risk/high-reward. Yu Darvish is radioactive after his October meltdown (and he didn’t look healthy in October, either.) Lance Lynn isn’t going to follow the trail Kyle Lohse blazed from St. Louis to Milwaukee, and the Brewers need a guy who can get strikeouts at will: Lynn has a reputation as a Brewer-killer.
So did Jeff Suppan. That’s as much as I’m going to say on this matter.
Any deal the Brewers make with one of those guys is a move for the sake of making a move. Those kinds of decisions kept the Brewers irrelevant at best under previous administrations. Stearns isn’t that type, and it would be out of character for him to start making it rain now.
Yes, the window of contention is officially open for the Brewers but there’s no need to tear the wall out.
The more likely scenario is that Stearns keeps kicking tires, keeps an eye on the market and makes a trade either in the winter or May. Let others spend their money on free agent pitchers who may or may not help, in all likelihood, they’re paying for past performance with other clubs.
The Brewers have stayed the course until now; there’s no need to change that strategy.
This much, though, is true: it’s fun to talk about pieces that could put the Brewers over the top in 2018.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.