Despite their obvious success last season, the Milwaukee Brewers were far from a perfect team. Although the lineup and bullpen were quite strong, on paper, it just felt like they won as often as they did despite their starting rotation and not because of it.
The Brewers pitching got by largely on the strength of an extremely impressive bullpen and some unexpectedly solid performances from guys like Gio Gonzalez (5 starts, 2.13 ERA) and Wade Miley (16 starts, 2.57 ERA). Both are free agents at the moment and are not necessarily locks to return (even if they did come back, I’d bet heavily against a repeat of their 2018 numbers). And, sure, the bullpen still looks like a strength next season, but every long-time baseball fan knows better than to trust a bullpen from year-to-year. And, sure, the Brewers expect to get back Jimmy Nelson at some point this year, but he’s coming off an entirely missed season due to a shoulder injury, and before that, he had just one above-average season in his career.
Right now, the Brewers’ rotation projects to go Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Zach Davis, and then some combination of Nelson, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes, and Brent Suter.
So I think it’s pretty safe to assume the Brewers will be looking to add a starter or two this winter. But who?
Before today, the majority of Milwaukee’s biggest offseason rumors came in the form of trade – first there was Madison Bumgarner, then Noah Syndergaard, Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber, Zack Greinke, and even Sonny Gray. Every time we looked up, it seemed, the Brewers were connected to another big-time starting pitcher – at least, tangentially. Of course, limiting themselves to the trade market wasn’t much of a surprise. The Brewers, usually a low-payroll team, spent a lot of money last winter and didn’t figure to have much financial flexibility thanks to a large number of raises this year.
But maybe that’s no longer the case.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Milwaukee Brewers are among the teams interested in the top remaining free agent starting pitcher, Dallas Keuchel. They aren’t mentioned alone, of course, as the Angels, Phillies, and Rangers are included among his suitors, but this is a pretty notable development. Keuchel, 30, was ranked as the fourth best free agent – overall – this winter, and the second best starter available behind Patrick Corbin.
Keuchel, 31 next month, finished the 2018 season with a 3.74 ERA (29th), 3.6 WAR (19th), and 204.2 innings pitched (7th). Maybe leaving the pitching gurus of Houston will hurt him more than we anticipate, but make no mistake, he’s a highly-coveted starter who has long succeeded without elite velocity. If the Brewers were able to land him, that would be quite the win.
That said, I’m not quite sure they’ll do it. Although they’ve cut their payroll a bit this winter, the Brewers are extremely unlikely to drop the $80-$100M necessary to land Keuchel without making serious budget cuts elsewhere (which is never easy to do (ask the Cubs)). They’re already going to be rocking one of their largest ever payrolls and they have more needs than just one starter. They’d have to get very creative to add Keuchel, and no matter how hard you want it, that’s just not always possible. But, hey: they’re staying in touch for a reason. This late into the winter from a source as typically solid as Cafardo is not nothing, so keep an eye out for them as a dark horse.
But in the meantime, I’d be more inclined to expect them to land an established starter, one who might fit into their budget a little better, via trade. There are a ton of options out there and the Brewers have the farm system and young players to land almost any of them.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.