1) Zack Wheeler, SP
The top player that the Milwaukee Brewers should be targeting in free agency this winter is someone who could help take the team’s starting pitching staff to the next level: Zack Wheeler.
Wheeler has begun to reach the lofty expectations that were set for him all those years ago. After missing all of 2015, 2016, and part of 2017 due to an elbow injury, Wheeler has emerged as one of the better starting pitchers in baseball.
In his first full season back in 2018, Wheeler pitched 182 1/3 innings over 29 starts, posting a 3.31 ERA and 3.25 FIP. His 2018 season was worth 4.2 fWAR, placing him in a tie for 12th among all pitchers in fWAR.
This past season, he pitched 195 1/3 innings over 31 starts, posting a slightly higher 3.96 ERA, but a solid FIP 3.48. His fWAR this season was actually higher (4.7) than the season before, He finished in a tie for 14th in fWAR among all pitchers.
Wheeler is an extremely enticing option for the Brewers to add.
The first thing he would provide them with is someone who can be relied upon to give the team at least six innings in nearly every start that he makes. He averaged about 6.3 innings pitched per start in each of the past two seasons.
Milwaukee has not had a dependable pitcher who can provide them with those kind of innings since their 2011-12 teams that had Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Having someone who can pitch that many innings in every outing is a very valuable thing to have, especially considering that Milwaukee’s bullpen has not had many days off over the past two seasons. Having a starter who can relieve some of the stress on the pen every five days would make managing the bullpen a lot easier.
Another reason why he would make an awesome addition is that he’s a very good pitcher. Though he may not be in the same league of production as Cole, Justin Verlander, or Max Scherzer, he has been a top 15 pitcher in baseball in each of the past two seasons, and still has room to get better given that he has four average or better offerings.
His underlying stats in each of the past two seasons back up his overall production too. Wheeler has averaged nearly nine K/9 while walking less than three batters per nine. Despite a spike in home runs around the league this past season, he also managed to keep his HR/9 rate to a 1.01, which wasn’t much worse than the amount of home runs he gave up the season before (0.69).
In addition to those stats, he draws a lot of swings and misses, both inside and outside the strike zone. He limits hard contact quite well (his hard contact % against was 31.4 last season). And, he tends to keep the ball on the ground (his GB% was 44.2% and 43.2% in each of the past two seasons). All of that makes his profile a favorable fit in hitter friendly Miller Park.
It also appears that Wheeler is past the elbow injuries that he dealt with a few seasons ago. Though there would still be some injury risk involved if they signed him, it is really encouraging that he’s made almost every possible start for the Mets in each of the past two seasons. He’ll turn 30 next May.
The Brewers have lacked a top-tier talent in their starting rotation for a long time. Wheeler is the answer they’ve been looking for. They should do everything in their power to sign him.
Predicted Contract: Three years, $66-to-$72 million.