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Does the Free-Agent Market Offer Any Starters in the Brewers’ Price Range?

(The Brewers need pitching, pitching, and more pitching.  Oh, and a first baseman).

The exact dollar amount the Milwaukee Brewers have to use in the free-agent starting-pitching market this winter is unknown outside the club, and perhaps even internally.  As Adam Wieser of Disciples of Uecker pointed out in an analysis last week, the Brewers may have less than $15MM total to spend on several roster spots.  Obviously things can fluctuate rapidly depending on trades, non-tenders or an owner’s whim. 

The basic premise is clear, however: like in the winter of 2012, the Brewers will be scrounging in the bargain bins for players, or wherever they are found.  It could again be a quiet, sad, lonely winter for Brewers fans who want GM Doug Melvin to act decisively to supplement a rotation whose four primary pitchers (Lohse, Peralta, Gallardo and Estrada) combined to put up a 3.94 ERA and a combined record of 41-39.  The Cardinals’ front four (Wainwright, Lynn, Miller and Westbrook) produced a collective ERA of 3.65 and a record of 56-36, which doesn’t even include guys like Michael Wacha, who went 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA in nine starts. 

The Cards’ ERA of 3.65 mentioned there isn’t that much better than the Brewers group, yet instead of two games over .500 in the W-L column, they were 20 games over.  Something’s missing on the Brewers’ side.  The Cardinals have strong veteran starters.  They also not only have prospects in the pipeline but prospects ready to produce at the major league level when they arrive.  If they don’t produce, they are sent down.  Sure, some of those wins are helped by bullpen pitchers or clutch hitting, but the Brewers rotation as it stands cannot compete in the NL Central.

The Brewers badly need to reinforce the rotation somehow for next year or risk being irrelevant again by mid-May.  The following list is from MLBTR and doesn’t include potential non-tender candidates, who will fatten the options for teams this winter.  Going down the list and checking off which pitchers are either Possible fits with the Brewers and their limited payroll or Unlikely to fit in Brew City, the picture for 2014 is somewhat bleak when it comes to the starting-pitching market.  The Brewers could find some help in free agency, by the looks of it.  It will be rough surfing, but they don’t need a splashy signing.  Rather they could use a shrewd, under-the-radar acquisition with some upside, which may have to come via a creative trade instead.      

Starting pitchers

Alfredo Aceves (31): Pitched for Yankees previously; bloated ERA in six starts with Red Sox in 2013. 

Verdict: Possible

Bronson Arroyo (37): Veteran with crazy leg kick and questionable musical talents.  Brewers have seen him a lot.  He may be a nice bridge for the Brewers but he’s getting older and reportedly still wants to get paid.

Verdict: Unlikely

Scott Baker (32): On the rebound from injury, Baker made a few starts for the Cubs this year.  It’s unclear what he still has in the tank and may want to just re-sign with Chicago.  Due to the question marks surrounding his ability and probable price tag, he’s probably not a fit.

Verdict: Unlikely

Erik Bedard (35): There were a few times this season when I wished the Brewers would have signed Bedard for 2013.  He appears capable of putting up a quality start a lot of the time and with the powerful Brewers offense backing him, he might actually put up good numbers for a low-cost starter.  Melvin should at least take a look because he is in the Brewers’ price range.  

Verdict: Possible

A.J. Burnett (37): Wily veteran will probably sign with Pirates again.  It’s virtually impossible he lands in Milwaukee.

Verdict: No Chance

Chris Capuano (35): An $8MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout (Dodgers).  Capuano has been used as a starter off and on by LA but did make 20 starts this year.  If the Dodgers buy him out, he could be a stop-gap starter and return to Milwaukee, if he would come cheap, which is no guarantee in this market.

Verdict: Possible

Chris Carpenter (39): This dude seems to be sticking around a la Brent Favre.  He just won’t go away. 

Verdict: Perhaps he could be a coach with the Cardinals but with a clause in his contract that would allow him to make a start every now and then if the Cards have a roster spot open.    

Bruce Chen (37): Chen has said he wants to stay in Kansas City.  His agent is Scott Boras.  He would probably be a good fit in Milwaukee if he was willing to play there and work for bratwursts.

Verdict: Unlikely

Bartolo Colon (41): The burly veteran right-hander may stay in Oakland for 2014; he reportedly wants to pitch for a few more years, but will probably hook on with a contender in any case.

Verdict: Very Unlikely

Scott Feldman (30): This guy turned out to be a steal for the Cubs, who smartly signed him cheaply and flipped him to Baltimore for prospects.  Feldman put up workmanlike numbers in 2013 and several teams will have interest, inflating his price.

Verdict: Unlikely

Gavin Floyd (31): Floyd is likely out for all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Verdict: No Chance

Jeff Francis (33): Francis put up some ugly numbers for the Rox in 2013: 12 starts, 6.27 ERA, 3-5 record, WHIP of 1.607.  In other words, he’s a natural fit for the Brewers.

Verdict: Never Say Never?

Freddy Garcia (37): Garcia was good in a short stint with the Braves after being yo-yoed around by the Orioles.  Garcia could bring some veteran know-how and mentor the younger guys for a year in Milwaukee.

Verdict: Possible

Jon Garland (34): I wrote in June that I thought Garland could be a nice band-aid fix for the Crew’s rotation.  Apparently they don’t have interest in him, or he doesn’t them, or both.  Or neither, who knows.

Verdict: Unlikely

Matt Garza (30): Above our earning level.

Verdict: No Chance

Chad Gaudin (31): The 10-year vet put up respectable numbers with the Giants this year as a swingman and spot-starter.  He’ll probably have other options, though he has been around to a number of places already (Tampa, Toronto, Oakland, Cubs, San Diego, Yankees, Nationals, Marlins, and Giants), so I wouldn’t rule it out.

Verdict: Possible

Roy Halladay (37): This would be pretty cool, but it’s a rather useless exercise to think about it.

Verdict: No Chance

Jason Hammel (31): This guy had a 7-8 record and a 4.97 ERA in 26 games (including 23 starts) with a 1.457 WHIP for the Orioles.  He could be an odd man out in Baltimore (and I guess already is because he’s a free agent).  Sign us up!?

Verdict: Possible

Aaron Harang (36): Harang has a $7MM+ mutual option with a $2MM buyout.  Harang was a little better with the Mets than with Seattle.  He’ll probably re-sign with the Mets. 

Verdict: Unlikely

Dan Haren (33): Haren is the kind of pitcher that could help the Brewers a lot if he is healthy, which is a gamble.  He’s probably out of the Brewers’ price range.

Verdict: Unlikely

Roberto Hernandez (33): The pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona didn’t have a great year in St. Petersburg, but MLBTR predicts he may only receive a one-year, $5MM deal, which could be in the Brewers’ wheelhouse.

Verdict: Possible

Tim Hudson (38): It’s probably Braves or bust for the veteran Hudson.

Verdict: No Chance

Phil Hughes (28): The ex-Yank is certainly an intriguing name on the pile, but I would have to guess that interest will be high enough to keep him away from Milwaukee, which would likely only want him on the cheap.

Verdict: Unlikely

Philip Humber (31): He pitched one of the least-likely perfect games in April, 2012, beating the Mariners.  He then flopped with the Astros in 2013.  This guy is too inconsistent, perhaps for any team. 

Verdict: Unlikely

Ubaldo Jimenez (30): Jimenez may void $8MM option for 2014; he would be an exciting acquisition, but the dollars and sense (yep) don’t add up.

Verdict: Unlikely

Josh Johnson (30): It’s highly improbable that the former Marlins ace ends up in the blue and gold, but wouldn’t it be sweet if he rebounded and became top dog with the Brewers rotation?  Ah, to dream…

Verdict: Unlikely, But It Would Be Fun If He Were To Stay Healthy

Jeff Karstens (31): This gritty pitcher has thrown well against the Brewers in the past.  He was shut down for all of 2013 due to injury, though.  I did see him lurking in the Pirates dugout a couple times toward the end of the season, but who knows what he’s got left.

Verdict: Unlikely

Scott Kazmir (30): Kazmir was a nice pickup for Cleveland in the winter of 2012.  He is expected to parlay that success into a contract that will in most forecasts be too rich for the Brewers.

Verdict: Unlikely

Hiroki Kuroda (39): We wish.

Verdict: No Chance

John Lannan (29): Former Nat and Phillie Lannan elected free agency after a season during which he mostly pitched in the minors and injured his knee.  He’s shown ability in the past and he’s a lefty.  He could draw interest if healthy.

Verdict: Possible

Wade LeBlanc (29): LeBlanc pitched in the minors for Houston this year.  Who knows.

Verdict: Unlikely

Jon Lester (30) – Lester has a $13MM club option with a $250K buyout.  Pretty much no way.

Verdict: No Chance

Colby Lewis (34): Lewis missed all of 2013 due to injury.  I think the Rangers want him back.

Verdict: Unlikely

Ted Lilly (38): Lilly is probably done and may retire.

Verdict: Unlikely

Tim Lincecum (30): Having Timmy around would surely be fun but he’ll probably stay in San Francisco or sign with a true contender. 

Edit: Lincecum agreed to a two-year deal with the Giants. 

Verdict: N/A

Paul Maholm (32): He and Carlos Gomez would have to attend therapy together first.

Verdict: No Chance

Shaun Marcum (32): I doubt Melvin wants to go down that rabbit hole again, unless he’d sign a minor league deal…

Verdict: Unlikely

Jason Marquis (35): I’d guess he’ll be back with the Padres.

Verdict: Unlikely

Daisuke Matsuzaka (33): It wasn’t encouraging that he couldn’t make it back with Cleveland and his former Red Sox manager, Terry Francona.  He had some OK innings with the Mets later in the year. 

Verdict: Unlikely

Randy Messenger (32): Not sure why this guy’s on the list; it doesn’t look like he’s pitched since 2009.

Verdict: Unlikely

Ricky Nolasco (31): Nolasco went from the Marlins to the Dodgers this year.  He’s a big fish in this pond and figures to be too expensive for Milwaukee.

Verdict: No Chance

Sean O'Sullivan (26): O’Sullivan is still young but has already bounced around in his brief major league career, spending time with the Angels, Royals and Padres.  I’ve seen him pitch some over the last two or three years and haven’t liked what I’ve seen.  I think he gets too much of the strike zone and doesn’t have the stuff to survive there.  He gave up 11 earned runs in only 25 innings for the Padres and had a WHIP of 1.8 this year.  Yuck.

Verdict: Unlikely

Roy Oswalt (35): The veteran Oswalt has been a mess for years now, though he did pitch pretty well when I saw him start against the Cardinals in September at Coors Field (By the way, if you haven’t been to Coors, go check it out).  He also had a hit in that game.  He has said he wants to be back with the Rockies next year.  I don’t see the Brewers involved with Oswalt, but if he were healthy, they could probably do worse (it could always be worse, right?).

Verdict: Unlikely

Mike Pelfrey (30): I got a good look at this guy since he was with the Twins this year and Melvin should turn around and walk away from Pelfrey right now, regardless of where he is.  He doesn’t have the stuff to hang in the AL Central or the NL Central.  He had a 5.19 ERA and though he does eat innings, batters hit .300 against Pelfrey in 2013.

Verdict: Unlikely

Wandy Rodriguez (35): A $13MM player option with a $2.5MM buyout for Wandy, so he may be likely to exercise that option after pitching just 60-some innings in 2013 and getting shut down with a forearm injury. 

Verdict: Unlikely

Ervin Santana (31): Santana had a good year with the Royals and figures to be a very in-demand arm this winter. 

Verdict: No Chance

Johan Santana (34): $25MM club option with a $5.5MM buyout, which to me ensures he’ll be a free agent, because the Mets would be nuts to pick that up.  It’ll be intriguing to see what happens with Santana regardless of where he lands.  He could be a sleeper to help some club out in 2014.

Verdict: Unlikely

Joe Saunders (33): A mutual option with Mariners for Joe, who put up mediocre-to-bad numbers in a spacious ballpark in his first year with Seattle.

Verdict: Unlikely

James Shields (32): A $12MM club option with a $1MM buyout for Shields with KC; it’s guaranteed to be picked up by the Royals.

Verdict: No Chance

Masahiro Tanaka (25): Per MLBTR, the right to sign him will be acquired via the posting system for Japanese players.

Verdict: Unlikely

Jason Vargas (31): Vargas is still young-ish and he put up OK-ish numbers in his first year with the City of Angels Angels after a trade from the Mariners.  He will probably attract significant attention on the market and won’t be cheap, after making $8.5MM in 2013.

Verdict: No Chance

Ryan Vogelsong (36): A $6.5MM club option with a $300K buyout for Vogelsong, whom I drafted for my fantasy team.  He then missed much of the season with injury.  He’s pitched at a high level in the past, but reportedly wants to stay with the Giants and in any case he won’t come cheap.

Verdict: No Chance

Edinson Volquez (30): I have kind of liked the idea of Volquez on the Brewers ever since the Reds dealt him to San Diego, but he didn’t reassure many observers this year who have concerns about his volatile pitching and character.  He was released by the Padres in August and signed as a free agent the next day with the Dodgers, appearing in 28 innings with LA.  Volquez is only 30 and could still recover a shaky career but he will be rather expensive.

Verdict: Unlikely

Tsuyoshi Wada (33): A $5MM club option for Wada per MLBTR.  He looks to have put up steady numbers in Japan for many years and spent 2013 in the Orioles’ minor league system for the most part.

Verdict: Unlikely

P.J. Walters (29): Walters showed flashes at times with the Twins but saw his performance drop from 2012 to 2013.

Verdict: Unlikely

Jake Westbrook (36): A $9.5MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout for Westbrook.  A bit of a forgotten man, left out of the playoff fun for the Cardinals, Westbrook is unlikely to be brought back by the prudent and Midas-touched St. Louis front office.  He doesn’t fit with the Brewers, and the fans would be pissed if Melvin signed another ex-Cardinal.

Verdict: No Chance

Chien-Ming Wang (34): He’s bounced around and been largely ineffective since being a dominant force for the Yanks years ago.  At one time I thought he may be a fringe candidate for Milwaukee, but now, not so much.

Verdict: No Chance

Suk-Min Yoon (27): I have no idea.

Verdict: Who Knows?

Barry Zito (36): An $18MM club option with a $7MM buyout for Zito.  Even his buyout is a monster coming at the end of the absurd contract from the Giants.  I kind of liked Zito back when he was with the A’s, even though he looked like a stuck-up rich kid.  Once he got all that money to go to the more posh surroundings in San Francisco, he was easy to hate.  Yet last year in the playoffs I was impressed by what Zito did on the mound. 

Verdict: Never Gonna Happen in a Million Years Because Milwaukee Doesn’t Have Enough Sun and Fun Fun Fun?  

__________________________________

The bottom line for me is that while some of these pitchers are possible fits, they may all be unlikely to be signed by the Brewers due to the team’s limited budget.  Only about seven or eight pitchers from the current free-agent list qualify as within the realm of possibility for Milwaukee.  If the Brewers actually do lose money when the team puts up a losing record, and thus have fewer resources to work with, how do they get good enough to flip the script?  They need to make creative trades and, if possible, sign free agents who may be on the cheaper side but who also possess some upside.  They also need to draft much better, especially with regards to pitching, but that’s a years-long process.  I guess I fear the over-confidence that the team and many fans had going into the 2013 season: the notion that we can count on the young dudes.  I like some of Milwaukee’s young pitching.  But if the Brewers are going to have any shot in 2014, the starting rotation will need to get a lot better than it is right now.  To me, that means not only internal improvement, but bringing in talent and new blood from outside the organization.

 

Nick Michalski

About Nick Michalski

Nick Michalski is the managing editor and a writer at TheBrewersBar.com; he has also written for WISports.com, IrishAmericanPost.com and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @MichalskiNick.

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