One of the biggest questions for the Brewers this offseason was relief pitching. They took a huge step forward today and addressed that concern by signing veteran right-hander Takashi Saito. According to reports, Saito can earn up to $3.2 million this season if he reaches all of his performance bonuses.
Believe it or not, last season's bullpen wasn't all that bad. Despite ranking near the bottom of baseball in ERA, their peripherals suggested a bit of bad luck was to blame. It was concerning to see the Brewers demolish the eight best bullpen in baseball according to FIP, but changes have been frequent this offseason. The Brewers cut ties with Carlos Villanueva, Todd Coffey and Trevor Hoffman in past couple of months.
Saito, 40, is an upgrade over any of those pitchers if he can stay healthy. After suffering a major arm injury in 2008, many were concerned about the veteran regaining his form. Despite a drop off in his production in 2009, Saito returned to his dominant form in 2010. While pitching for the Braves last season, Saito was incredible. He registered a very impressive 69 strikeouts in just 54 innings, good for a 11.5 K/9 rate. His control also came back as he walked just 17, or a 2.83 BB/9. That good control and movement led to a 2.83 ERA, which just do happened to be his highest while pitching in North America. He also had his highest groundball rate of his career, inducing 43.6% of hitters to keep the ball out of the air. The increased strikeout and GB rates, coupled with better control was good enough to produce a very good 2.43 FIP.
What's even more to like is the price of Saito. Sure injuries and Saito's age are a concern, but they also really helped the Brewers in negotiations. If Saito was a little younger and a more reliable to stay healthy, he would have easily been able to garner a three-year deal, which has been handed out on numerous occations this offseason. But due to those factors, Saito comes really cheap. Better yet, even if Saito is injured, his entire contract isn't even guaranteed. Reports are that the Saito base contract is worth less than $2 million. A really good price for a really good pitcher.
With the signing of Saito, the Brewers now have addressed their bullpen issues. Near the end of games, opposing teams will have to contend with Saito, John Axford and Zach Braddock. If the Brewers are able to bring back Chris Carpuano in a bullpen role, I would assume the roster would be complete. That's one pretty indimidating pitching staff.