Mix a feeble crop of free-agent starters with a never-ending need for pitching throughout baseball and what happens?
Average pitchers sign ridiculous contracts, and teams like the Milwaukee Brewers are left with the decision of taking a risk by shelling out big money or staying patient.
This offseason, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin’s decision has been pretty easy. With the club looking to trim payroll from $97.6 million to somewhere in the $80 million range, Melvin’s hands were tied, especially since recent deals with Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf leave him hesitant to commit more than two years to an older pitcher.
Of course he could have made an offer to a veteran such as Ryan Dempster, but it wasn’t going to be nearly as competitive as the two-year, $26.5 million deal the right-hander eventually took with the Boston Red Sox. With plenty of young pitching talent on the current roster, signing a top-line starter at a premium price simply wouldn’t have been a smart move. And after the top line, there was a drop -off in talent but not in salary.
In this market, Joe Blanton and his 4.71 ERA got $15 million from the Angels. The Royals rewarded Jeremy Guthrie with a $25 million contract over three years for posting a 4.76 ERA last season. For a short while, Anibal Sanchez (3.86 ERA) was linked to the Brewers. He got a five-year, $80 million contract from the Tigers.
No thanks. Even if the Brewers could afford those contracts, the payoff wouldn’t have been worth the pay.
Bring back Zack Greinke? There’s no chance Milwaukee could have competed with the ridiculous six-year, $147 million the Los Angeles Dodgers gave him. Just months after filing for bankruptcy, Los Angeles’ new ownership group has the franchise spending like it prints money in the Dodger Stadium dugout. It’s hard to blame the new owners when estimates for the team’s new local television deal are in the $6 billion range.
So what choice did Melvin really have? For now, the only answer is to build a rotation behind Yovani Gallardo with promising but unproven pitchers such as Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Mark Rogers, Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg, along with veteran left-hander Chris Narveson, who is recovering from a torn rotator cuff.
Small-market teams like Milwaukee have to find a different way to win, and if the pitching comes through the way it did late last season the Brewers will have done that. The team’s everyday lineup is ready for the playoffs right now, but even though a commitment to a young pitching staff may not a recipe for postseason success owner Mark Attanasio has proven in the past he’ll support Melvin with increased funds to chase a top starter if the team looks like a contender come July. Remember C.C. Sabathia in 2008?
For Milwaukee, adding a sure thing front-line pitcher in July rather than a long-shot, long-term starter when the snow is flying sure seems to make sense. Standing pat now allows for that flexibility in the summer.
Of course, the rumblings from fans will never cease, with some chastising Melvin for not doing whatever it takes to grab a guy like Dempster and others wanting to see the team move into rebuilding mode now. With an offense that scored the most runs in baseball returning, the latter was never an option. The chance has to be taken to see if these young pitchers will rise to the occasion and a rebuilt bullpen will allow Milwaukee to win the close games it lost in 2012.
And who knows, Melvin may have something up his sleeve before pitchers and catchers report to Arizona in February. It might be something big but probably won’t be. With a limited budget, the only thing he has to do is finish off that bullpen.
Teams like the Brewers are going to have to develop the majority of their pitching, occasionally adding a Sabathia, Greinke or even Shaun Marcum to make the final push. To an extent they’ve done finished the development stage, and those pitchers’ time to shine is now.