Inbox: Do Brewers need to add to rotation?

December 6th, 2018

How realistic do you think it is for the Crew to make a push for one of these big-name starters this offseason?
-- @CoreyDCaldwell on Twitter

If they didn't push last winter -- remember, subsequent reporting on revealed the Brewers were nowhere near as engaged as was suggested -- then I don't see them pushing this winter. For starters (no pun intended), the Brewers learned a lot last season about home-grown pitchers like and , who pitched their way into prominent postseason roles in the bullpen and are expected to transition back to initial out-getters in 2019. Ditto and, to some degree, . With those developing players alongside in the second year of his contract, Chase Anderson and motivated to rebound from disappointing finishes to their seasons, Jimmy Nelson a wild card coming back from shoulder surgery and 2018 Minor League pitcher of the year Zack Brown (No. 8 Brewers prospect) positioned to follow in the footsteps of Woodruff and Burnes as a potential late-season callup, the Brewers are positioned to once again do it with depth in the starting rotation rather than investing in a more traditional ace. It worked last year.
It's also a matter of economics. The payroll picture is different this year than last, now that and are in the fold. The Brewers committed more than $150 million to Cain, Yelich and Chacin last winter, which represented unprecedented spending for this franchise. That includes more than $30 million in 2019 salaries, even if one accounts for the $1 million of Cain's that is deferred annually. Those costs are part of the approximately $73 million already committed to the 11 players with contracts for next season, a figure set to grow significantly when the Brewers reach terms with their seven remaining arbitration-eligible players. They could add $20 million or so, and the total will grow by a few million more when the minimum-salary players ink their deals in Spring Training.
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Add that all up, and the Brewers as they exist on paper today have $90-100 million in payroll commitments -- and they still need a second baseman and some bullpen reinforcements, at minimum. To add the salary of one of those big-name starters, some salary would probably need to be shed. That's not impossible; Anderson, and all stand out as potential trade chips.
Still, consider me skeptical when the Brewers are linked to one of the big, expensive names out there.

Craig Counsell said with uncharacteristic certainty -- I think it was in July -- that Burnes will go back to a starting role in 2019. He's got the repertoire to do it, and has shown stamina in the Minor Leagues.

As I alluded above, it would make sense for Anderson to be on the trade block. The Brewers abandoned him in late September in part because Anderson was so prone to the home run ball (he surrendered a National League-high 30 in 158 innings, more than doubling the 14 homers allowed the year before). While all parties said all the right things, you have to think it sours the relationship between a player and team when the player is removed from competition when the games matter most. I would imagine there is a market for a 31-year-old coming off a 2.74 ERA in 2017 and a 3.93 ERA in '18, even if he surrendered some home runs.

On one hand it's not a crazy idea given their pitching depth, but on the other hand Chacin is just what the Brewers need. A "you know what you're going to get" kind of guy. I would bet on him being the Opening Day starter before I would bet on him being traded.

Eleven pitchers started games for the Brewers last season -- the same total employed by the Red Sox and Dodgers on the way to a date in the World Series. In 2017, the Brewers used 13 starting pitchers.
And in the outfield, yes, Broxton and Santana are out of Minor League options. That could come into play if both are still in the organization at the end of Spring Training, but didn't last year teach us that worrying about "too many outfielders" is wasted energy?
In general, we make a mistake when we talk about "X players for X spots." The real task is acquiring as much depth as possible and then finding ways to keep as much of it as possible. When players are out of options, that obviously becomes challenging. I would expect the Brewers to explore the markets for Broxton and Santana this winter, and if they don't like what they see, it's not a bad thing to go to Spring Training with excessive depth.

The innings question is a good one. Unfortunately, the first questions are Nelson's health and then his effectiveness. I doubt we will know much about the plan for his usage until those other questions are answered.
By the way, Nelson was on MLB Network last week discussing his progress and said it's all good so far. He is on track to be a full participant in Spring Training. You can see the interview here.

Second base is one of the deepest positions in free agency -- we look at look at some of the options earlier this week -- so it's impossible to know who will end up there on Opening Day at Miller Park. But it's clearly a buyer's market, especially for a team like the Brewers that would be content with a one-year player at the position. It wouldn't surprise me to see David Stearns wait to fill this position at a relative bargain, since there are more capable players available than there are jobs.

is a free agent, and while injuries have been an issue the past two seasons, the lefty reliever still appears primed to land a multiyear deal. That's risky, as evidenced by year No. 1 of the Brewers' two-year pact with Matt Albers last winter.

You'll find the story Mike is referencing over at The Athletic, and this is certainly worth watching next week at the Winter Meetings. It has the potential to impact the Brewers in that they need a solution at second base, and second base is arguably the position most impacted by shifts. When Stearns made the surprise trade for Mike Moustakas in July and moved to second, Stearns referenced shifts as a significant factor in their comfort level putting Shaw at a position he had never played at any level.
"We're focused on the upside offensively here, adding an impact bat to the lineup," Stearns said at the time. "The truth is, with the way we move our infielders around, conventional positions don't apply to us all that much. We ask a lot of all of our infielders to play all over the dirt."
If MLB opts to take that movement away in some fashion via rule change, it could change whether the Brewers view Shaw as an option at second base. File this one for now into "wait and see."