Happy PECOTA day! Baseball Prospectus’ projection system released their annual predictions today, and they are calling for a three-team race in the NL Central. As things stand, 84 wins for the Brewers feels about right to me. However, I fully expect the Brewers to add a starting pitcher. Depending on who they add, it could change those projections a little, or even a lot.
So, who should the Brewers add? They certainly have options. There’s been plenty of talk about the remaining talent on the free agent market, and it sounds like the Brewers are at least in play for one of those starting pitchers. I am not a fan of paying big money to a pitcher entering his decline years, but the obvious upside of doing this is the Brewers don’t have to give up any talent to acquire these players.
I still maintain that giving a massive contract to Yu Darvish or Jake Arietta is not a great idea on its surface. If Alex Cobb could be had for a three-year deal, I’d be fine with that as well, but I suspect someone will give him a fourth year. The reason I loved the Christian Yelich trade and was fine with the Lorenzo Cain signing is that they are not win-now moves; they are win-always moves. A Darvish or Arietta signing would be more of a win-now move, as they are very likely to decline by the back half of their contracts. I am much more interested in moves that can help the Brewers win now and in a few years or more.
To find players who fit more into that category, we need to look to the trade market. An added bonus to a trade is it could help the Brewers clear a logjam in their outfield. At least one of Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, or Brett Phillips won’t be on the opening day roster, and a trade is a way to capitalize off that depth.
Here’s a list of impact, top-of-the-rotation-type starting pitchers who have been mentioned to some degree as being available in a trade. I include player age, years of team control, and performance over the last two seasons for the sake of comparison (WAR calculations courtesy of Fangraphs).
Age: 29 and 4 months
Team Control: 4 years
- 402.1 innings
- 101 ERA+
- 3.6 FIP
- 7.8 WAR
Age: 26 and 9 months
Team Control: 3 years
- 405 innings
- 119 ERA+
- 3.8 FIP
- 7.0 WAR
Age: 28, 1 month
Team Control: 3 years
- 240.1 innings
- 112 ERA+
- 3.63 FIP
- 4.7 WAR
Age: 29, 3 months
Team Control: 3 years
- 257 innings
- 124 ERA+
- 2.70 FIP
- 8.1 WAR
Age:24 and 10 months
Team Control: 5 years
- 323.2 innings
- 128 ERA+
- 3.71 FIP
- 6.5 WAR
Each of these pitchers are impact players and would fit in somewhere in the front half of the Brewers’ rotation. They are all under contract for at least three years, they are all underpaid, and therefore, they would all demand a significant return if they were to be traded.
I (and plenty of others) have discussed Archer at length, so I’ll keep this brief. I don’t love him as a target because of two things: his age and the gigantic demand the Rays are said to have for him. Archer is a very good pitcher, but he’s likely entering his decline years, and the thought of emptying the Brewers’ farm system for someone in decline is less than ideal.
Stroman is another great starting pitcher with electric stuff. He has been as durable as Archer the last few seasons, and would fit very nicely atop the Brewers’ rotation. A huge check in his column is his age: he’s almost three years younger than Archer. The downsides to Stroman is he has three years of control rather than Archer’s four, and his slight, Lincecum-esque 5’8″ frame could be cause for durability concerns moving forward.
Salazar is a pitcher with electric stuff and a dynamic strikeout rate. When he’s healthy, he’s often dominant. Unfortunately, health has been his biggest issue. He’s only exceeded 137 innings once in his career. However, that does likely bring his asking price down below Archer’s or Stroman’s.
Paxton is an extremely similar case to Salazar. Both are lefties with high strikeout rates, they’re within one year of age, and both struggle to stay healthy. Paxton’s 136 innings pitched last season was a career high. Complicating things is the fact that Seattle is a pretty good team and likely sees themselves as playoff contenders. Any trade for Paxton would likely need to come around the deadline and would only work if Seattle fell out of the race early.
That brings us to Michael Fulmer. He has not quite reached the level of Archer or Stroman the last couple years, and his strikeout rate is significantly lower than the other pitchers on this list, but he has great command and has limited home runs. Most importantly, he’s not even 25 years old and he has five years of team control remaining.
If the Brewers are set on emptying the farm for a pitcher, Fulmer would be the guy to target. While the rest of these pitchers have most likely peaked, it’s reasonable to expect Fulmer to actually improve. Even if he doesn’t, he is far less likely to decline than these other pitchers. Detroit is going to be terrible this season, so there’s a chance they’d be willing to trade him if they got an offer they liked. The Brewers are one of the only teams who have both hopes of contending and the minor league system to make this deal happen. So, while I wouldn’t empty the farm for most of these pitchers, I’d consider it for Fulmer.
Trading for one of these players still isn’t my favorite route. Call me a prospect hugger, but I want to keep as many good prospects in the system as possible. If the Brewers are aiming for prolonged success, supplementing talent from their own farm system will be a necessity.
The way to do that is to go to the trade market but aim a bit lower. That means sacrificing a bit in team control and/or talent but lowering the asking price in the process.
A few pitchers fit that bill, and my preference is to acquire one of these players.
Another #oldfriend, Odorizzi would be the second player from the 2011 Zack Greinke trade to return to Milwaukee this season. Odorizzi would cost significantly less than Archer because A. he has only two years remaining and B. he isn’t as good.
Still, he’s been a rock solid pitcher in his career, and he would fit nicely in the middle of the Brewers’ rotation. He’s a clear upgrade over Yovani Gallardo and would also provide strong depth. The concern is that he had a bit of a down season last year, but that could also help drive down his price. Over the last four seasons, Odorizzi has an ERA+ of 103 and a WHIP of 1.21. The Brewers could acquire him without wiping out their farm system.
Corbin had a nice bounceback season last year, throwing 189.2 innings with a 119 ERA+ and a 4.08 FIP. He’s not a great pitcher, but he should be anywhere from an average to above average starting pitcher, which makes him valuable. He is a free agent after this season, which I would often consider a downside. In this case, however, I think it could be a good thing for the Brewers. First, it makes him cheaper to acquire. Second, he’d serve as a nice stopgap for some of their best pitching prospects. Conservatively, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Luis Ortiz could be knocking on the door by 2019 at the latest (Woodruff is likely in the 2018 rotation if no other pitching additions are made). Corbin could be had without giving up more than one of those pitchers (and possibly none), which means they would be likely to have a homegrown replacement for Corbin after this season. Add in that he’d be a lefty in a right-handed heavy Brewers rotation, and Corbin makes for, probably, my favorite pitcher to target.
Straily is under contract for three years, which may make him more expensive than Odorizzi or Corbin, but he isn’t as good as the pitchers I discussed earlier. He’s league average-ish, which does have value. We know by now that the Marlins are willing to sell off veterans, so it seems a matter of time until Straily is dealt. He is a cheaper option than Archer, Stroman, etc., but he’d still help the rotation.
This was all a long way of saying that I don’t love signing free agent pitchers and I don’t love paying a premium in prospects to acquire one. There are always exceptions, so my here’s my preference from each category.
If the Brewers sign a free agent, I’d prefer Alex Cobb. He’ll require fewer years than Darvish or Arietta, but he’s a better pitcher than Lance Lynn.
If they make a monster trade, I prefer Michael Fulmer. His age and years of control make him the most appealing of that group.
If the Brewers want to avoid a big contract and save on prospects, I’d prefer Corbin, then Odorizzi, then Straily.
Lastly, I will say that I won’t panic at all if the Brewers don’t acquire any more pitching before the season. We know that if they don’t, they have room in the payroll along with the prospects to make a move during the season if they’re in contention.
I am curious to hear what others think the Brewers should do about starting pitching. Feel free to leave any thoughts or drop any other names in the comments.