(Photo: Scott Rovak-US Presswire)
In what probably has been the most uneventful offseason in recent memory, the Milwaukee Brewers have reconfigured their bullpen but questions remain about the roster, primarily concerning the starting rotation and its lack of depth. The offseason’s developments have slowed to an agonizing drip for MLB as a whole. I remember in the onset of the offseason reading at least one pundit’s view that this winter could be a rip-roaring affair when teams would come out aggressively looking to upgrade and that we could see more trades than we had in a long time. I was excited by that proposition, but it hasn’t come to fruition. Certainly, teams like the Anaheim Angels (yep) and Toronto Blue Jays have made considerable moves, while the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and others have quietly improved. Yet, for many teams, notably including the Texas Rangers, this offseason has seen a remarkable resistance to step out on the ice for fear that it just might break.
I like what the Brewers have done with the bullpen. Does it come with a fair amount of risk? Of course, but at least they’ve realized that change was needed and brought in some guys with track records (as well as a number of guys who could catch fire, who knows). There’s no telling how it will work out but at least the team isn’t tied to the same guys we’ve seen for years, whose dependability was always in question. At least in 2013 we’ll have some fresh faces and with a better (or average) bullpen, the Brewers should be more competent in getting the ball to John Axford with a lead. Provided the offense shows up this year, the Brewers should be good. There’s a big difference between good and good enough to reach the postseason, though. Are the Brewers looking to be good enough to draw fans and make a profit or good enough to do some real damage in the NL?
Interestingly, the Brewers have shown much more patience than I would have expected when it comes to the starting rotation. It’s January 11 and the plan, at least publicly, remains that the team will go with Gallardo and Estrada followed by the young(er) dudes. One way or another, January will expire and in less than a month, we’ll be talking about spring training in earnest. Granted, the Brewers have been burned by multi-year deals to free-agent pitchers in the past. In addition, I would argue that a lot of teams are holding back on spending big money for starters. We have seen the inflated rates of the market with Zack Greinke’s megadeal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with deals for Joe Blanton (two years, $15MM with Angels), Dan Haren (one year, $13MM with Nats) and Kevin Correia (two years, $10MM with Twins), among others. It seems that a mediocre-to-serviceable starter runs teams about $7MM this offseason. Dan Haren could be great, but who knows? $13MM is a big gamble, but the Nats can handle it. The Brewers, however, cannot. But we’re here, nearly in mid-January, and a large number of players still float around on the free-agent market. By my count, there’s over a 100 major-league free agents left on the market, and that’s being somewhat conservative, knowing that some guys will get squeezed out or accept minor-league deals. As frustratingly boring as the Brewers’ offseason has been, the entire market has crashed to a near-halt since mid-December. There’s been a lot of talk about stuff happening, but not much action. Thankfully, January and its follow-up, THE MONTH IN WHICH SPRING TRAINING ACTUALLY BEGINS, should serve as an ice-breaker. Things will pick up, simply because they have to in order to resolve roster issues and player contracts before the start of camp.
The Brewers could appease a lot of snarky observers, including myself, by simply adding a guy who might be able to pitch 100+ serviceable innings. It’s not that most fans enjoy sounding alarm bells but to go into what I consider an important season for the franchise with a rotation of hope and dreams appears mighty bold. To paraphrase Doug Melvin, he posed a really intriguing question after the season ended that might hold some answers into how much of a risk he’s willing to take with the 2013 club. He asked about whether teams had the patience to be like the Oakland A’s and go with a rotation of unproven commodities. To date, Doug Melvin is holding true to his bluff of sticking with what he’s got. I admire him for not caving to the demands of the market, but I think he could hold true to the philosophy of not breaking for and bowing to the free-agent market but also sign someone on the cheap who could provide some stability in the rotation and help the kids along. Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers and Wily Peralta could all pitch well in 2013, but the team would still be hamstrung by the question of young pitchers who haven’t proved whether they have the stamina or endurance to handle a full season at the major-league level. I don’t mind the club taking a dare and starting the season with a rotation that features two of these young pitchers towards the back end, but is it just an uninsured and flat-out perilous idea to go with these young guys for three spots in the rotation?
The short answer is no. The club simply can’t afford some of these free-agent pitchers. To me, even Marco Estrada is an unproven, but until the market drops down to their level, even guys like Jair Jurrjens, Dallas Braden and Jeff Karstens are likely too expensive for the Crew. Their best strategy is to continue to wait it out and eventually force players to accept a lesser salary so that they can play 2013 in the majors. Perhaps they can get someone to sign on very late in the offseason for $1-2MM. That may be the best-case scenario. Hey, no matter what happens, it won't be boring once the season starts. Things will probably get VERY interesting, VERY quickly.
By the way, this is pretty cool. Have a great weekend.