CHICAGO -- Here comes the cavalry for the Brewers, at the expense of 2018 All-Star Jeremy Jeffress.
Jeffress was one of three players designated for assignment Sunday to clear the roster spots the Brewers needed for six callups as rosters expanded across baseball. The first of what is expected to be two waves of promotions brought pitchers -- Jake Faria, Jimmy Nelson, Freddy Peralta and Brent Suter -- and hitters -- David Freitas and Tyler Austin -- to the big leagues.
Nelson, Suter and Austin all required spots on a full 40-man roster, so the Brewers had to designate three players for assignment: outfield prospect Troy Stokes Jr. and pitchers Aaron Wilkerson and Jeffress, who authored one of the best relief seasons in Brewers history a year ago but reported to Spring Training this year with shoulder weakness and was unable to replicate his success.
Jeffress, who was on the 10-day injured list with a left hip issue, had a 7.33 ERA and a .319 opponents’ batting average in 26 games since June 19. The Brewers planned to decline his $4.3 million club option for 2020 this winter.
“It’s possible that down the road we have a conversation with his agent,” Brewers general manager David Stearns said. “But, for now, he’ll be a free agent [presuming he clears waivers] and have the ability to talk to any team he wants.”
If Jeffress indeed clears waivers, and his hip continues to get better, one club sure to come up as a potential landing spot is Cincinnati, given the connection to Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell.
It was the latest in a series of difficult cuts for the Brewers, who earlier this season stunned the clubhouse by designating for assignment popular utility man Hernan Perez, then Opening Day starter Jhoulys Chacin.
“Jeremy’s been a really good Brewer,” manager Craig Counsell said. “He’s done some great things here. His regular season last year is probably underappreciated. It was an incredible year. He did some really hard things. There were so many games where he came in and we were like, ‘We’re going to give up two runs here,’ and he’d put up a zero. Bases loaded, nobody out and he’d put up a zero. He made a big impact on last year’s team and he’s had a lot of special moments as a Brewer.
“Unfortunately, we just got to a position and a time in the season where we didn’t see him making an impact. I think it’s a little bit of a future decision as well, with 40-man roster issues, so we had a tough conversation.”
Last year, armed with a devastating split-fingered fastball, Jeffress delivered a 1.29 ERA and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings in a team-leading 73 appearances (76.2 IP) during the regular season. The first sign of trouble manifested during a shaky postseason, and when Jeffress reported to Spring Training, he was backed off because his shoulder didn’t feel right. Ultimately, he opened the year on the 10-day injured list.
Once he started pitching, Jeffress was always chasing one element of his arsenal. Early on, it was velocity. When that returned, he lost the feel for his splitter, a pitch that has given a number of Major Leaguers trouble this season amid a consensus that the baseball has changed. Yet once he found that, Jeffress struggled with his curveball.
“I think if we knew exactly what happened to him from a performance standpoint and were able to remedy it, we would have helped him through it,” Stearns said. “I think it’s probably a combination of a number of different factors. We relied on him an awful lot last year. At times, that can take its toll the following year on relief pitchers. Not always, but at times it can.”
Sunday’s move further crunched the Brewers’ full 40-man roster. The Brewers would have preferred not to expose Stokes, who is 23 and ranked 20th on MLB Pipeline’s list of Milwaukee’s top prospects.
“We’re at the point with our 40-man roster, when we make moves like this, we are digging into some level of our prospect depth. We are seeing that now,” Stearns said. “When we take guys off our roster, we’re not keeping those players. We’re losing them through waivers.
“That contributed to the decision with Jhoulys a couple of weeks ago and contributed to the decision with J.J. We’re trying our best to put guys on the Major League team we think can help us this month while also mitigating the damage we’re doing to our 40-man roster from a prospect perspective. Those are things that every team has to balance. But we are at the point where when we take someone off our 40-man roster, more than likely we’re going to lose them. And we have to be cognizant of that.”