Monday, November 29, 2010

The Perfect Pickup: Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers’ offense is good enough to compete, today. Built around the strong foundation of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, this is a lineup with some pop, and they got results, finishing fourth in the NL in runs scored and second in wOBA. However, on the mound, they’ve got some serious issues. Jeff Suppan, signed to the largest contract in team history on a four-year deal in 2007, was demoted to the bullpen and then released early in the season. Dave Bush, whose 31 starts tied him for second in the rotation, is a free agent. Manny Parra, whose strong 2008 gave Brewers fans hope he could top the rotation along with Yovani Gallardo, has been moving in the wrong direction since then, starting in the bullpen this season, moving back into the rotation for 16 starts, and then being demoted back to relief duties after putting up a 5.24 FIP as a starter. Right now, they’ve got Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson penciled into the rotation. Other than that, it’s anyone’s guess who will be taking the mound for the Brewers.

Fortunately, they’ve got some money to play with. Suppan’s contract was bought out, Trevor Hoffman has become a free agent after a disappointing season, and several other players have come off the books as well. Their payroll has been rising quickly, and after paying just over $27.5 million to field a team in 2004, 2010 marked the first time payroll has eclipsed $90 million. They have less than $30 million committed to their 2011 team so far, so while there are many holes to fill, they’ve got the cash to fill them and make a few splashes on the free agent market.

The first priority, however, should be signing at least two (and possibly three starters. They’ll need a veteran inning-eater to give them some quality innings. Carl Pavano could fit the bill. Pavano started 32 games last year and 33 the year before, with a FIP around 4 both seasons. Pavano’s never been a huge strikeout guy, but he was able to increase his ground ball rate last year to 51.2%, the highest of his career. Brewers’ middle infielders Rickie Weeks and Alcides Escobar are both plus defenders, so Pavano’s high groundball rate could play well for the team. However, Pavano is a type A free agent and he has been offered arbitration by the Twins, so he would likely cost the Brewers their second-round pick, as their first one is protected (it’s in the top half of the first round). If they are set on keeping that pick, they could have made a stronger push for Hiroki Kuroda, who would have been my top choice for them had he not already inked to remain in Los Angeles, or Jon Garland, who also signed with the Dodgers. At this point, Kevin Millwood is probably the best non type-A option who fulfills this need.

I’d also look to take a flier on one of the many reclamation projects out there. Taking a gamble on a scrap-heap starter like Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis, Jeremy Bonderman, or Chris Young could pay huge dividends if one of these players manages to stay healthy and effective, but Brandon Webb is the undisputed top pitcher in this category. Webb was shelved for 17 months after an elbow surgery, but all reports suggest his recovery is on track. The sinkerballer’s groundball tendencies would play well with the Brewers, and his ceiling is as high as any free agent starter’s not named Cliff Lee. As MLBTR’s Free Agent Stock Watch notes, he finished first or second in Cy Young voting each season from 2006 to 2008.

So the Brewers need two pitchers (at least) and my strategy would be to take one “sure thing” and then take a flier on a risk/reward type of guy. For me, their Perfect Pickups are Pavano and Webb.

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