The Milwaukee Brewers are coming off a season that saw their pitching staff post a 4.83 ERA. That was good enough for 15th in the national league, just ahead of the Washington Nationals. With pitching clearly the main reason behind the disappointing season, Doug Melvin has labeled it his main priority for the offseason. While there is no question this should be the case, Melvin needs to be careful who he pursues.
The Brewers have been linked to basically every pitcher on the market this offseason. I heard numerous reports about John Lackey, Randy Wolf, Jarrod Washburn and Doug Davis. Let's look at the possible consequences that go around with each player.
He is clearly the top pitcher in this year's free agent market. He is coming off a solid 2009, where he posted a 3.83 ERA in the American League. He struck out 139 batters in 176.1 innings, posting a 3:1 K:BB ratio in the process. Lackey will surely be sought after, but it really depends on what kinds of teams are in on Lackey to determine his possible payday. If teams like the Yankees, Phillies, or Red Sox get involved, the Brewers need to stay away. They do not have the financial resources to get in a bidding war with those franchises. However, if those teams stay away and Milwaukee gets in a bidding war with mid-level market teams, Lackey could be had for a reasonable price. I am really against giving long term deals to pitchers (see Jeff Suppan), but Lackey has been amazingly consistent throughout his career.
Wolf is coming off a stealer 2009 with the LA Dodgers. He went 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA in 34 starts. Wolf is a rather tough pitcher to analyze. He struck out 160 batters in 214.1 innings, while walking 58. He has always posted a respectable amount of strikeouts and hasn't surrendered a ridiculous amount of walks. His numbers last season need to be taken with a grain of salt. He pitched in the NL West, a division consists of the Padres, Giants, Diamondbacks and Rockies. I'm pretty sure Jeff Suppan might even be able to hold his own facing those offenses, well maybe not. Wolf is likely going to want a two year deal and a healthy contract. He would not be a bad option, but he is going to be 34 next season.
Alright, let's give credit where credit is due. The Brewers were frequently criticized for their inability to complete a deal for Washburn at the deadline. After his hot start for the Mariners, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers at the deadline. Well he went onto start just eight games for the Tigers and was a huge disappointment. In those starts he went 1-3 with a 7.33 ERA in 43 innings. He struck out just 21 batters, while walking 16. So, kudos to Melvin for not forcing a trade and giving up a top prospect. Well, hold on I can't give him credit yet because he is accordingly planning to pursue the 35 year old free agent. This is the main deal I am afraid of. Washburn has consistently been a under performing starting pitchers and is only getting older. During the past four seasons, he has not had more than 100 K's. Couple that with a rising walk rate and him coming off an injury and this signing reeks bust. He is represented by Scott Boras and is seeking a two year deal, minimum. He is interested in coming to the Brewers (he was born in Wisconsin). Even with a hometown discount, the Brewers need to stay away from Washburn.
Davis has confirmed he is interested in returning to Milwaukee. Davis has always shown an ability to strike out batters, but has always struggled with high walk totals. There is speculation he is looking for a 2/3 year deal at around $8 million per season. While I wouldn't be opposed to Davis, he has done little to warrant a contract of that magnitude. He is a good option at the back of a rotation, but paying $8 million per season for a 4/5 starter is way too much.
The Brewers need to realize what they have at stake over the next couple of seasons. While the contracts of Suppan and Hall will be coming off the books, there is no need to spend money without caution. This is why I think the best options are available elsewhere.
My favorite candidate for at trade at the deadline was Carl Pavano and my stance on him has not changed. There is little doubt in my mind Pavano will lower his ERA of 5.10 he posted last season. There is no reason a pitcher whos K:BB ratio is nearly 4:1 ERA should be anywhere near 5. If anything, that ERA is a blessing for teams trying to sign him. He would come very cheap and would likely only demand a one year deal. It seems to be the same story for another free agent starter.
John Smoltz signed a one year deal in Boston, but after a rough couple of starts, Smoltz was released. He caught on with the St. Louis Cardinals and finished the year out nicely. Combined between the two teams, Smoltz struck out 73, while walking just 18 in 78 innings. He is another victim of unlucky runs and would be a great bargain in Milwaukee.
While Pavano and Smoltz might not be the names on the minds of fans in Milwaukee, there are cheap options who are likely to rebound in 2010. There is little doubt in my mind a combination of Smoltz and Pavano would make a huge impact. Not only would that combination outperform the other options, they would come at a fraction of the cost.