The Milwaukee Brewers bullpen always seems to be in constant overhaul.
Part of that has to do with the Brewers inability to develop pitching (especially relief pitching) in the farm system. But part of it also comes from general manager Doug Melvin’s philosophy of going with veterans.
Last year he signed Takashi Saito to a one-year deal. The year before LaTroy Hawkins inked a two-year deal. Trevor Hoffman was signed the year before that. Before 2008, Milwaukee signed David Riske and Eric Gagne.
The Brewers have their closer in place with John Axford. And he appears to be a good one. In his two full season at the major league level, Axford has been a gem of a find for the Brewers. He’s had two seasons with an ERA under 2.50, struck out at least 10.5 batters per 9 innings and has accumulated 70 saves while getting his control problems to a more managable level.
So Axford is back, but who will get the ball in order to get to him?
Francisco Rodriguez was acquired at the all-star break and pitched well in a setup role, but is a free agent and has made his feelings known about still wanting to be a closer.
Hawkins and Saito are free agents and both are advanced in age. Kameron Loe struggled early, but seemed to flourish after being removed from his early-season 7th and 8th inning role. He’s arbitration eligible and could return.
But besides that, how to the Brewers go about retooling a spot that was very solid in 2011?
If history has shown anything, it’s that Doug Melvin will probably dip into the free agency market while also trying to work on some reclamation projects.
Saito or Hawkins could back. Both pitched well and could return to inherit the role of setup man to Axford.
Frankie De La Cruz, Tim Dillard, Marco Estrada, Brandon Kintzler and Mike McClendon are all on the Brewers’ 40-man roster and could see increased roles in 2012. De La Cruz and Estrada were long relievers, with Estrada also making some spot starts in the rotation.
Estrada proved to be a valuable piece in the bullpen, sporting a 4.08 ERA in his numerous roles. De La Cruz didn’t pitch many important innings, but was relatively effective (2.77 ERA in 13 innings) and could be in the mix during spring training.
Dillard, Kintzler and McClendon all spent time traveling between Milwaukee and AAA Nashville during the season and also figure into the mix.
From the left-handed side, the Brewers have a pair of talented but unreliable southpaws with Manny Parra and Zach Braddock.
Parra missed most of the 2011 season due to injury and is arbitration eligible. He could be non-tendered.
Braddock struggled in 2011 (7.27 ERA in 25 appearances) after posting a strong 2010 campaign (2.94 ERA in 46 appearances). Braddock is a rare breed for the Brewers, a homegrown talent that could help in the bullpen. He throws with good velocity and shows the ability to get out both lefties and righties when healthy. He figures to be in the mix for 2012, and a bounce-back for Braddock could go a long ways to helping the Milwaukee bullpen.
Melvin is never shy about checking in on free agent relievers, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Brewers sign a FA or two.
In the race to find some affordable, reliable relief, here’s a few people they could look at.
(Note, these are more affordable options, ones that Milwaukee would not have to forfeit a draft pick in order to sign)
- Scott Linebrink (4-4, 3.64 ERA in 64 appearances)
- Chad Qualls (6-8, 3.51 ERA in 77 apperances)
- Jon Rauch (5-4, 4.85 ERA in 53 appearances)
- Fernando Rodney (3-5, 4.50 ERA in 39 appearances)
- Shawn Camp (6-3, 4.21 ERA in 67 appearances)
- Mike Gonzalez (2-2, 4.39 ERA in 56 appearances)
- Trever Miller (0-1, 3.80 ERA in 48 appearances)
- George Sherrill (3-1, 3.00 ERA in 51 apperances)
What will happen?
Your guess is as good as mine. But Melvin’s history shows that he’s willing to dip into the FA pool for relievers and also likes his reclamation projects. I’d expect some sort of combo of those two scenario’s, combined with some holdovers from last year like McClendon and Estrada, to make up the 2012 Brewers bullpen.