If there's one thing that Brewers fans generally haven't had to worry about in recent years, it's the back end of the bullpen. Some dominant combination of Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader, and Devin Williams has provided a level of stability there since Milwaukee started making regular playoff appearances.
That was until last season.
Things started off well enough with Williams setting up Hader just like fans were used to. The former overcame a shaky first month or so to become nearly untouchable. The latter already had 24 saves and a 1.09 ERA by the end of June.
Then in July, Hader all of a sudden was being treated like a batting practice pitcher. Shortly thereafter, he was traded to the San Diego Padres, Williams was thrust into the newly open closer's role, and the back of the bullpen was in a state of discombobulation.
To his credit, Williams held up reasonably well after the role change. Yes, he blew a couple saves. But in 21 innings pitched after August 1st, he also converted nine saves, had a 2.57 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP, held batters to a .149 batting average and struck out 12.9 batters per nine innings.
The Brewers had no clear replacement for his setup role, however, part of the reason the team blew 14 other saves after the trade deadline. Of the players who filled in as setup men, some are still with the team and some have moved on to other teams. That begs the question....
Is the the setup man for the 2023 season currently on the Milwaukee Brewers' roster?
Well we know one thing for sure, the 2023 setup man won't be Brad Boxberger or Taylor Rogers. Boxberger had his 2023 contract option declined while Rogers became a free agent. Both have since signed with other teams.
A few potential options remain on the roster, though. One is Matt Bush, who was also obtained at last season's trade deadline. His 25 games with Milwaukee weren't perfect, but he did have a 1.59 ERA and a ratio of 13-to-4 strikeouts to walks specifically in the 8th inning.
There is also 28-year-old Peter Strzelecki. He flew a bit under the radar to many Brewers fans last season but finished with a 2.83 ERA in 35 innings pitched and had a 10.3 K/9 when all was said and done.
Or perhaps Jake Cousins could get a chance. After a promising 2021 season, he spent a large portion of 2022 on the injured list with an arm injury. Still, he has a career 2.70 ERA and 35.3% strikeout rate (but also a career 14.7% walk rate).
But are any of those sure enough options? For the Brewers to become a team that is making regular playoff appearances once again, they need a strong back of the bullpen, and that means having a solid plan in place from the start.
The question, then, is whether there is anyone out there worth targeting for the role. A couple decent options remain on the free agent market, such as Andrew Chafin (2.83 ERA in 2022) and Michael Fulmer (3.39 ERA). How much better are they than what Milwaukee already has on the roster, though?
So unless the Brewers pull off another surprising trade this offseason, they may be best served to roll with some of the higher potential options already on the roster. If one of those options do live up to that potential, then the back end of the bullpen can return to prominence once again.