Corey Knebel is the Milwaukee Brewers closer. Other than that, very little is known about the Brewers bullpen. Let’s find out how they can bridge from the starter to Knebel with internal options, free agents, and possible deals.
The Milwaukee Brewers dealt for Anthony Swarzak and Jeremy Jeffress to provide a bridge to closer Corey Knebel. Swarzak is a free-agent who may or may not return to the Brewers. Jeffress is a DFA candidate. The Brewers need to rebuild their middle relief corps.
Who are the internal options?
As it stands right now, Jeffress, Josh Hader, Oliver Drake, and Jared Hughes are the four names behind Knebel on the depth chart in some order. Hader may end up in the rotation or working the late innings. The Brewers have yet to decide where he’s going to pitch next year. Drake and Hughes are useful pieces, but they’re hardly a bridge to the closer. The Milwaukee Brewers will have to look elsewhere for relief options.
Is Bryan Shaw an option?
Former Cleveland Indian and current free agent Bryan Shaw has been secretly solid for the past five seasons. Shaw earned $4.6 million last year in his final arbitration, and will seek a hefty raise for 2018 and beyond. Multi-year deals for relievers rarely workout in the long term, but Shaw would provide an instant bridge to Knebel.
Are there any less expensive options?
Tyler Clippard and Joaquin Benoit are both free agents and readily available. Clippard is somehow only 33 years old, and has the exact pedigree the Milwaukee Brewers are looking for. He may prefer an East Coast team, but he should be an option for Milwaukee.
Joaquin Benoit will turn 41 during the 2018 season, but he averaged over 94 MPH on his fastball in his age 40 season. His K-rate dipped to a career low and his ERA spiked last year. He’d be a ‘lightning-in-a-bottle signing’ instead of a multi-year solution.
Brandon Kintzler, Sergio Romo, and Seung-hwan Oh could also add depth to the late innings. John Axford and K-Rod are also free agents if the Brewers want to go the retread route, but both were atrocious in 2017. They’ll likely get Minor League deals for teams looking to add ‘just-in-case’ depth.
What about trades?
It’s unclear at this point which relievers are likely to get dealt this off season. The Marlins and Giants are two of the few teams that are ready to sell. The Marlins have a few interesting options in Brad Ziegler, Junichi Tazawa, and Kyle Barraclough. Of the three, Tazawa seems like the most likely to go. The Giants have a few surgery/reclamation projects in Mark Melancon and Will Smith, but not much in the bullpen after that.
The Milwaukee Brewers need to play it smart this off season. They have to walk the fine line of adding pieces to contend for a division that looks wide open, and continuing to rebuild. Adding a few low-risk/high-reward options to the bullpen and starting rotation could pay dividends in the long run. If the moves work out, the Brewers will be in the mix for a playoff spot. If they don’t, they’ll have a few relievers to flip at the deadline. Either way, adding depth is necessary for the 2018 season.