Roll up your sleeves because there’s still a lot of work for the Milwaukee Brewers to do. Clearly the free-agency market for inexpensive, decent, relief arms is drying up. Most of the pitchers who remain are just one or two years away from a probable retirement, if they aren’t already there. The Brewers had been linked to free-agent Mike Adams, but his supposed price range makes an offer all the less likely. Still, there are some relievers that remain. The Brewers don’t look to be that shaken up by what’s happened in the 2012 season, but there needs to be a definitive change. Bringing in guys like Burke Badenhop show us that the Brewers have stepped in the right direction, but the work is far from over.
J.P. Howell may not be the perfect solution, but he’s a step above 2011’s bullpen. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
1. J.P. Howell (3.04 ERA, 1.21 WHIP one win, 50.1 IP, 42 K’s, three holds, opponent’s batting average of .223)
If 2012’s stats don’t really impress you, maybe the fact that he’s a lefty will. When Howell started with the Kansas City Royals in 2005, they originally used him as a starter. After that in 2006 when he went to the Tampa Bay Rays, he slowly began to fall into his bullpen role. Aside from his disastrous 2011, since he began pitching relief in 2008, he’s been rather successful.
Howell’s 2011 was an absolute mess and his 2012 was a strong rebound. His K/BB ratio increased from 1.91 to 2.05 and his strikeouts were a huge part of his outs. If you look back at 2008 and 2009 respectively, you’ll see he had more reliance on the K as he struck out 24.9% in 2008 and 28.4% in 2009. He has quite an arsenal of pitches: a fastball, a slider, a cutter, a curveball, a changeup and a split-fingered fastball. Not only is his overall success appealing to this Brewers’ bullpen, but the fact that he’s a lefty really adds a lot of value.
Mike Gonzalez has had recent postseason exposure in the past two seasons. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
2. Mike Gonzalez (3.03 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, seven holds, 35.2 IP, 39 K’s, opponent’s batting average of .237)
Like Howell, Gonzalez is a lefty with a lot of bullpen success. He’s been all over the place since 2003 and who knows, maybe Milwaukee is his next stop. For the Washington Nationals in 2012, Gonzalez did pretty well judging from the stats.
What Gonzalez offers is a smaller arsenal of pitches, mainly a fastball, slider and change-up with a rare sinker in the mix. He’s a strikeout pitcher by all means and really doesn’t have a problem giving up many home-runs, unlike what we saw with our bullpen this season. However there are two areas of concern. First off, he nearly gives up a hit in every inning he pitches and second, his salary was $6 million in 2012. The hits really don’t seem to be much of an issue as he usually gets out of a jam, but the salary might be out of the question.
3. Mark Lowe (3.43 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, two losses, one hold, 39.1 IP, 28 K’s, opponent’s batting average of .240)
Mark Lowe may not be an instant buy in another year, but the market is drying up fast and he’s had success. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
For Lowe, he doesn’t offer anything extraordinary, but he’s more or less one of the better right-handed free-agents on the market that isn’t staring retirement in the face. Throughout his career, Lowe has had varying degrees of success, but he’s still an option the Brewers should consider if they want a stronger bullpen.
In 2012, Lowe pitched for the Texas Rangers in a division that was close all around. With that, the Rangers used him in 36 games in the season. He doesn’t have anything too spectacular, a fastball, slider and change-up. Most of his outs in 2012, were by the fly ball 43.8% of the time. Fly ball pitchers run a risk of giving up that long ball, but for Lowe the ratio of HR/FB was down nearly 5% in 2012 from 2011’s 14.3%. Those may seem like astronomical numbers, but you have to realize he didn’t even pitch in 40 innings. Lowe, like Howell, can come cheap if the right deal is made.
There’s really not a whole left for the Brewers to choose from. Guys like Sean Burnett and Jason Grilli are long gone and unless you want to run the risk with an older free-agent, these three seem to be a fit, especially Howell. The Brewers’ bullpen is hurting for lefties and there are two good pitchers right here that can help that. There is the option of working inside the organization which by all means isn’t a bad idea, but if you want some chance of contending into 2013, you might want to consider your free-agent options.