Milwaukee Brewers: Analyzing The Starting Pitching Market

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 08: Manager Craig Counsell
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 08: Manager Craig Counsell /
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After reviewing the Milwaukee Brewers three biggest needs this winter, we’ve taken an in-depth look at the second base market. Now it’s time to take a look at the starting pitching market David Stearns will have to deal with.

There are more teams in this market than second base, that’s for sure. But the options are also thin. The Milwaukee Brewers need to grab at least one pitcher to slot into the rotation for next year. They have plenty of prospects who could fill in, but none can immediately front a rotation.

As fun as it might be to have a rotation with Brandon Woodruff, Josh Hader, and Corbin Burnes alongside Chase Anderson and Zach Davies, that’s not what the Milwaukee Brewers will be looking for contend in 2018. They’re too young and inexperienced and a veteran presence will be required.

After going through pitchers like Jeff Suppan, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza, Brewers fans are understandably hesitant to jump into a big name free agent for a lot of money. But that’s basically going to be what happens this winter. Teams will jump on free agents and throw a bunch of money at aging pitchers for an immediate upgrade.

Starting pitching is a valued commodity that’s generally in short supply, forcing teams to spend big to get someone good.

Free Agent Market

Sadly, this free agent class is short on quality starting pitching as well. A lot of the big names that could be on the market all have options with their current teams. That will prevent them becoming free agents. For example, Madison Bumgarner has a club option for $12 million for next year. Exercising that is one of the easiest decisions any GM has to make this off-season.

As far as the top names that will be available, Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta headline this class. Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn headline the second tier of this free agent crop. Those are the big names of this class. And a lot of Brewers fans feel that Cobb would be a good fit with this rotation. But he could command big money this winter.David Stearns shouldn’t go all out for Cobb.

The Milwaukee Brewers should definitely place an emphasis on acquiring a left handed starter. The rotation has been righty dominant for years and needs to be balanced. Brent Suter is not a viable option to go deep into games. He fits more as a long reliever/spot starter than a regular rotation guy.

However, of the 40-50 starting pitchers on the market this winter, only 15 are left handed. And seven of them either have team options or opt-out clauses they would need to exercise. This list is including Chris Sale and Bumgarner. Who are easy calls on the contract options. So after taking out the players that likely won’t be on the market, the entire leagues is left to fight over eight left handed starters.

That list of eight left handed starters includes Brett Anderson, Derek Holland, Francisco Liriano, and Hector Santiago, all of whom had ERAs north of 5.00 this year with Anderson and Holland posting ERAs above 6.00 so those four don’t look like good options.

So that leaves four viable left handed starters in free agency. A 37 year old CC Sabathia, a 35 year old Jason Vargas, a 37 year old Jorge De La Rosa who didn’t even start a game in 2017, and 31 year old Jaime Garcia. Garcia is the top left handed starter on the market after posting a 4.41 ERA over 157 innings this year.

A lot of teams will be calling Garcia this winter and the Milwaukee Brewers may get pushed out of the fold. The right handed options also are very thin on the desired quality. Names like Tyler Chatwood and Cobb will get thrown around a lot this winter but it’s difficult to see David Stearns shelling out big money to any of these free agents.

The Trade Market

Luckily, David Stearns has a couple of extra outfielders he can deal for a starting pitcher. Where that starting pitcher will come from is anyone’s guess but there could be some teams looking to deal starting pitching. In one potential trade with Kansas City, the Brewers are able to get a lefty option for their rotation but what else is out there?

The first teams to look at are generally going to be rebuilding and in need of shedding payroll. No team fits this description more than the Detroit Tigers. We know Ian Kinsler has been a target of the Milwaukee Brewers in the past, perhaps Stearns can get Jordan Zimmermann as well.

Zimmermann signed a five year, $110 million deal in the 2015 off-season. In his first two seasons in Detroit, he’s been lackluster to say the least. Sure, he posted a 6.08 ERA in 2017 and his stats in 2016 were way up from the rest of his career in Washington, but Zimmermann may not be ready to go out to pasture just yet. Perhaps a change of scenery is all he needs.

Zimmermann grew up in Auburndale, WI and went to college at UW-Stevens Point. A return to his home state could be just what he needs to return to form.

He is owed $74 million over the final three years of his back-loaded contract. While that is pricey, a return to his All-Star form will be worth it. Detroit will have to pay down some of that contract in order to get any players in return, however so the financial implications may not be that bad.

Another option could be Jeff Samardzija of the Giants. San Francisco needs outfielders desperately so they are definitely a potential trade partner. Also, if David Stearns wants to go all out, he could try for Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi of the Rays. Getting Archer will cost some serious prospects and while Odorizzi would cost less than Archer, he would still have a high price.

Archer is cheap and controllable through 2021 while Odorizzi is younger, he only has two years of arbitration left before hitting free agency after 2019. Jeff Samardzija is owed $19.8 million each year through 2020. None of these options are left-handed but they’re the best out there on the market.

Who Are The Competitors?

Um, everybody.

Basically every single team will be looking for a starting pitcher this off-season, some will be looking for multiple starters. So with thin options on the free agent market a lot of other teams will be looking for trades as well.

The starting pitching market will likely slow to a crawl until the winter meetings when the first big free agent signs. Once Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta sets the market, most of the free agent crop will sign soon after.

Starters are in short supply this winter and even teams that have an abundance could be unwilling to share. As the saying goes, you can never have enough pitching. That’s why the trade market for pitchers will be the rebuilding teams and the teams looking to shed payroll. Anyone in contention will not want to give up a starter in a trade with Milwaukee.

This means that there won’t be too many options on the trade market either for filling out a rotation. David Stearns may have to sweeten some deals more than he’d like but it’s probably the only way to improve the roster.

Next: Could Sir Didi Gregorius fit in the Crew?

We will obviously know more about the starting pitching market once everyone accepts or declines their options. But until then, it’s looking like a very thin class in free agency and a saturated trade market. There will be too many suitors and not enough pitchers and David Stearns needs to grab a good piece before they’re all gone.

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