Brewers ink Colin Rea to 1-year deal with club option

November 2nd, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- He might not have had the stuff of Corbin Burnes nor the style of Freddy Peralta, but right-hander quietly got the job done whenever the Brewers called upon him in 2023.

So, the club is bringing him back for more.

The Brewers on Thursday signed Rea, a right-handed pitcher who'd hit free agency hours earlier, to a one-year contract with a club option for 2025. According to a source, he will earn $3.5 million in 2024, and the option is for $5.5 million with a $1 million buyout. Rea can also earn $500,000 each year in incentives, as he did last season, when the 33-year-old came to Spring Training on a Minor League deal but earned a significant role in the big leagues by going 6-6 with a 4.55 ERA in 26 games (22 starts) during five stints with Milwaukee. He set career highs in wins, games, starts, innings pitched (124 2/3) and strikeouts (110) while holding opponents to a .235 batting average and posting a 1.19 WHIP. The team went 14-8 in his starts.

Along the way, Rea helped the team navigate a series of injuries to its deep crop of starting pitchers. Rea was one of the pitchers who helped keep Milwaukee afloat before the team surged to 92 regular-season victories and the National League Central title, sometimes filling in for an injury, sometimes serving as a sixth starter to offer the others some extra rest, and occasionally working out of the bullpen.

When Rea pitched into the sixth inning for a win over the Astros on May 23 at American Family Field, it marked his first Major League victory since 2020 with the Cubs, and his first victory in a Major League game he started since July 1, 2016, for the Padres, the team that drafted Rea in the 12th round in 2011.

Four weeks after winning that start against the Yankees in 2016, the Padres traded Rea to the Marlins, only to see him returned after he blew out his elbow in his first start for Miami. After that, Rea bounced from the Padres to the Cubs to Japan and to the Brewers for one appearance in relief of Burnes in the penultimate game of 2021 when Milwaukee was resting up for the postseason – an outing that stood out to Brewers manager Craig Counsell and pitching coach Chris Hook. Then it was back to Japan in 2022 before Rea returned to the Brewers last winter on a Minor League deal.

By April, Rea was in the big leagues, replacing the injured Brandon Woodruff. After a brief demotion to Triple-A Nashville, he was back again, replacing the injured Wade Miley. Rea went from organizational depth to a key piece for a team that had four starting pitchers on the injured list at one time during May.

"I think the biggest thing to say about Colin is that he's third on innings on this team, so that just tells you how important that he's been," Counsell said in September. "He's been a part of a lot of wins. He's been kind of a rock for us, and at the start of the season when we were in Phoenix, you weren't expecting that at all."

Unlike last season, when he bounced between the Majors and Minors, Rea will be out of Minor League options going into next year.

It remains to be seen how much the Brewers will rely on Rea going into 2024. Peralta is the only lock for Milwaukee's starting rotation, with Burnes and Adrian Houser possibly generating trade interest as they go into their final offseason of arbitration. Woodruff, too, has one more year of club control but is likely to miss all of next season following shoulder surgery. Miley has a mutual option ($10 million, with a $1 million buyout) which must be decided by Monday. Eric Lauer was removed from the 40-man roster last month and elected free agency.

Rea was one of eight Brewers players who became free agents on Thursday with the conclusion of the World Series. Of the others -- Rea, catcher Victor Caratini, first basemen Darin Ruf and Carlos Santana, third baseman Josh Donaldson and outfielder Jesse Winker, plus left-handers Andrew Chafin and Justin Wilson after their club options were declined -- Caratini and Santana seem the most likely to generate interest from the Brewers in a return.