Reclamation Projects — The Way to Go?

The Brewers need starting pitching. That much was clear as early as July, and it’s still clear with just a few days remaining before the offseason officially begins. The only problem?

Starting pitching — even below average starting pitching — doesn’t come cheap in the free agent market. The Brewers are a team with limited resources, and with the team still paying Bill Hall to play for Seattle and Jeff Suppan to possibly pitch out of the bullpen in 2010, they won’t have the money to chase after a big fish like John Lackey.

So what’s a small market club to do? Typically, they have two choices — they can overpay to get average guys to sign, or they can collect a bunch of damaged goods and hope they hit on a few low-risk, low-cost, high-reward pick ups.

We’ve seen how well the first option has panned out in recent years. Suppan performed close to expectations his first season in Milwaukee, and has declined every season since. The Braden Looper signing, while not a particularly costly mistake, hasn’t worked out very well, either. Here’s to hoping the Brewers have learned their lesson and stay away from former journeymen who found success with Dave Duncan in St. Louis. Just say no to Joel Piniero, Doug.

If you still want to emulate the Cards, why not take up their practice of bringing in a variety of guys looking to resurrect their careers? Yes, St. Louis has more money to play with every year than the Brewers do, but if you hunt for the right deals, it wouldn’t be a bad idea. They spent relative pennies to bring in the likes of John Smoltz, Kyle Lohse, Looper, Suppan, etc. over the years, and managed to squeeze productive seasons out of nearly everyone who put on the uniform. Much of the credit goes to Duncan, and with a celebrity pitching coach of their own now — Rick Peterson — perhaps the Brewers could become another possible destination for those types of players.

We could already be seeing this new approach develop with rumors that Mark Mulder may be re-united with his old pitching coach. Dreams of a Ben Sheets return have began making rounds among Brewers fans. Erik Bedard could have something to prove, and may have trouble finding the big money deal he was eyeing a couple years ago. Even Rich Harden, king of the 5 IP, 8 K outing could be a possibility if he’s looking for a short term deal to prove himself and the Cubs want to move on to other options.

These are all big name projects, and as we learned from the Eric Gagne experiment, sometimes these things don’t work out. Sometimes, as the Phillies saw with Pedro Martinez, they do. But what about lesser-known talents, or guys who were once highly regarded prospects? As mentioned in the post about J.J. Hardy the other day, baseball executives are expecting a huge number of non-tendered players this year that is sure to bring about more affordable pitching possibilities.

Are these players sure things? Far from it. Most probably will continue to struggle, which is why players like these shouldn’t be the only ones Melvin acquires to improve the staff. It’s great if Peterson can get Mulder to pitch like he did in Oakland, but back-up plans do need to be in place. But at the very least, it’s something that needs to be considered.

I threw out a lot of names here, but are there any others you think the Brewers should pursue?

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