Yesterday on MLB Network Radio, Doug Melvin spoke briefly on a topic that has been on a lot of fans’ minds this offseason: The Brewers’ continuing efforts to take the remains of their 2012 bullpen and turn them into a serviceable unit. Melvin’s comments, which you can find on Adam McCalvy’s blog, are pretty well summed up by this excerpt:
“There may be a couple of pitchers that we’re adding to the bullpen here that are still out there on the market, but we’re not going to enter into the high-priced free agents this year. We’re going to keep our flexibility.”
I don’t think anybody was expecting the Brewers to sign any top-tier free agents this offseason (with the possible exception of seemingly half the national baseball writers in the country), but their passivity regarding the relief market has still been surprising. It’s becoming clear that, at most, the club will look to bring in a seventh-inning type reliever who otherwise slips through the market – Melvin mentioned Mike Gonzalez and Jason Frasor, among others, during his radio appearance. This strategy also falls in line with Melvin’s stated desire to “maintain flexibility”, as, barring anything both major and unexpected, the club probably will see their $95M 2012 payroll decrease by at least $10-15M.
As things currently stand, the 2013 Brewers bullpen figures to have John Axford closing games and Jim Henderson setting him up, with Brandon Kintzler and Burke Badenhop seeing some 7th/8th inning work as well. Beyond those four, Johnny Hellweg, Jesus Sanchez, Fautino de los Santos, and Travis Webb may all break camp with the big-league club, depending on what coaches and officials see in spring training. Also, there’s a decent chance that one of the Brewers six starters will (fingers crossed) start the year as a long reliever, namely right-hander Tyler Thornburg.
If everything goes right, that could be a solid bullpen, maybe even a very good one. But, relievers are relievers, and things often go wrong with alarming frequency – even with pitchers who don’t have the injury history of Kintzler or the recurring control issues of Axford and Henderson. With the roster discussed above, it would really only take one well-timed injury to bring the Brewers dangerously close to the situation they were in for most of 2012. I shouldn’t need to tell you that the chances of the 2013 Brewers making a playoff run with their bullpen in that state are close to zero.
I hate to reduce this whole problem to “We need to sign some free agents!!!”, but the Brewers have some money remaining in their budget, a bullpen that could desperately use some additional depth, and a market that isn’t totally barren yet. (It should also be noted that the club seems content with their less-than-solid starting rotation, leaving the relief corps as the Brewers’ best opportunity to improve on their 2012 squad in the aggregate.) As much as I have wanted to commend the Milwaukee front office for being patient this offseason and not rushing into a potential overpay, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the time to act is approaching quickly.
This post has been long on problems and short on solutions, but I plan on doing a 'part two' of sorts in the next few days, where I’ll look at the relievers left on the market and try and figure out who might be a good fit. Thanks for being patient through the slow winter! –NP