The Bare 2019 Cupboards and 2018 Rotation

This Thursday, David Stearns told reporters that his Brewers are confident in their pitching staff and that they feel no need to make another big move in the free agent market. According to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Stearns is “comfortable with arms he has on hand.”

That’s fine for a number of reasons. First of all, while the Brewrs’ rotation is far from great, the addition of Jhoulys Chacin and the assumed summer return of Jimmy Nelson can add a solid base behind Zach Davies and Chase Anderson. And second of all, after nearly a decade and change of Doug Melvin in Milwaukee’s front office, we should know better than to assume Brewers general managers are telling the truth to the media. And finally, while the Brewers are looking to contend in 2018, their best days are still assumed to be a year or two away, and the Brewers don’t want to overcommit in this market.

But thanks to the promise showed by last season’s team, contention is looking more and more like a near-term dream as opposed to a long-term one. With pitchers like Jake Arrieta, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb still available this season, I think the Brewers need to consider striking again. Financial flexibility may seem like a valuable asset, but take a look at the market of free agent pitchers slated to hit the market in 2019, per MLB Trade Rumors (2019 season age in parenthesis):

Patrick Corbin (29)
Nathan Eovaldi (29)
Gio Gonzalez (33)
Miguel Gonzalez (35)
J.A. Happ (36)
Matt Harvey (30)
Hisashi Iwakuma (35)
Scott Kazmir (35)
Dallas Keuchel (31)
Brandon McCarthy (35)
Charlie Morton (35)
Drew Pomeranz (30)
Garrett Richards (31)
Hyun-Jin Ryu (32)
CC Sabathia (38)
Josh Tomlin (34)

Adam Wainwright (37)

Potentially joining the list are these players with team options, but generally speaking, if these players reach the market, it’s because their stock is tumbling:

Carlos Carrasco (32) — $9MM club option with a $663K buyout
Doug Fister (35) — $4.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Cole Hamels (35) — $20MM club/vesting option with a $6MM buyout
Jason Hammel (36) — $12MM mutual option with a $2MM buyout
Clayton Kershaw (31) — can opt out of remaining two years, $65MM
Jordan Lyles (28) — Club option TBD with a $250K buyout
Matt Moore (30)  — $10MM club option with a $750K buyout
Wily Peralta (30) — $3MM club option with a $25K buyout
Martin Perez (28) — $7.5MM club option with a $750K buyout
David Price (33) — can opt out of remaining four years and $127MM
Chris Sale (30) — $15MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Ervin Santana (36) — $14MM club/vesting option
James Shields (37) — $16MM club option with a $2MM buyout

Everybody on this list is either a major age risk or an injury risk. Of the free agents likely to hit the market in 2019, the only ones under the age of 30 (Eovaldi and Corbin) are Tommy John surgery survivors. And of the remainders, none are as appealing talentwise as Arrieta, and few even approach Cobb’s level. Dallas Keuchel is probably the most appealing option in that 2019 class, but even his stock has dropped significantly. Keuchel produced 7.9 WARP in his breakout 2015 campaign and has produced a combined 7.7 WARP in the two seasons since.

Perhaps the Brewers aren’t bluffing and they’ll really head into April with Brent Suter or Brandon Woodruff in their rotation. Perhaps they believe Nelson can make an early return, or that help will be coming from the minors. But if the Brewers think they’ll need help in the rotation either this season or next season, now is absolutely the time to pounce. The willingness they’ve shown to spend by acquiring Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich is admirable. If this year’s market remains as depressed as it has been for the past few months, though, the Brewers owe it to themselves to snag one more starting pitcher, because if they find themselves one starter away after 2018, the piece they’re looking for probably won’t be around come the winter of 2019.

Photo Credit: Brad Mills, USAToday Sports Images

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