Where does Junior Guerra fit into 2018?
-- Terry H., Janesville, Wis.
I think this might be one of the most under-asked questions of this Brewers offseason. Guerra was equal parts injured and ineffective in 2017, and he played no meaningful role in the surprising season while other starters like Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson took notable steps forward. So I get why he might fall through the cracks in discussions about 2018.
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But let's not forget, Milwaukee's decision-makers were convinced enough by what they saw with their eyes and what the advanced metrics had to say about Guerra's sensational 2016 that they made him the Opening Day starter. Guerra strained his calf on a bunt attempt in the third inning of that game and went on to go 1-4 with a 5.12 ERA in 70 1/3 Major League innings, fighting through diminished velocity and a demotion to Triple-A. He basically worked mopup duty when he returned for September.
But 2018 is a new year, and thanks to Guerra superfan Kyle Lesniewski, who writes for Brew Crew Ball and Baseball Prospectus' Brewers site and has been keeping an eye on Guerra coverage in the Venezuelan Winter League, we know that Guerra seems squarely in play for a spot in the starting rotation. Guerra told reporters in Venezuela that he's been made no promises, but will get to compete for a starting spot in a rotation that will be missing Nelson at the start of the season.
In my "if the season started today" projection last week, I had Anderson, Zach Davies and Jhoulys Chacin as locks for the rotation. Because I had to pick two more, I went with lefty Brent Suter and righty Yovani Gallardo, but it would be pretty easy to see Guerra sneaking in one of those two spots. That equation could change, of course, if the Brewers add any more established starting pitching in this slow-moving offseason.
So, let's not forget Guerra. He would not be the first player to bounce back from a bad year.
If Manny Pina and Jesus Aguilar have bad seasons, like Guerra and Jonathan Villar did last year, do you think general manager David Stearns (and us as a fanbase) should stop relying on players picked up via waivers for success for our roster?
-- JL, Madison, Wis.
Villar came to the Brewers via trade, but your point is taken. We've seen a number of players come through Milwaukee via the waiver wire over the years and have some success, then quickly fade.
But the wire remains a good place for rebuilding teams with early waiver positions to find talent, and I don't see Stearns or other GMs of developing teams giving that up. With mixed success, Stearns has made liberal use of waivers to acquire a player, then in many cases try to sneak that player back through waivers so he can be stashed in the Minor Leagues. When it works, it's a cost-effective way to add talent to one's system.
I would add this: I wouldn't say the Brewers relied on any of the players you mentioned when they were first acquired. Pina, Aguilar and Guerra all earned backup-type roles before they were eventually relied upon as starting players.