Posted by Steve
Greetings from Indianapolis! I’ve wanted to comment on the news of the last few days, but things have been fairly hectic. Since nothing was official until today, I guess I haven’t missed too much.
The Brewers certainly have been one of the busier teams. In fact, they’ve been the biggest spenders at the Winter Meetings to this point. Let’s start with what will be the biggest signing of their off-season: Randy Wolf.
The Brewers identified Wolf as their number one target once they realized they had no shot to afford John Lackey. On a much smaller scale, Doug Melvin pulled a Yankees-C.C. Sabathia move: Make a top offer very early on in attempt to avoid a bidding war. I don’t think anyone figured Wolf would get $30 million, but then again, I don’t think people figured the Yankees would immediately outbid the only CC Sabathia offer by $50 million. Both instances worked; Wolf’s agent briefly shopped the offer around but quickly realized nobody was going to top $30 million over three years.
To be honest, nobody really should have topped it. There’s probably no team as desperate as the Brewers for pitching, and this move has a deperation-y feel to it. Wolf is a solid pitcher–a 4.00 to 4.25 ERA type guy when healthy. He’s got solid k, bb and home run rates–nothing special, but all are average to slightly above. He’s 33 years old, and I feel confident he’ll be worth his contract for at least next season. The third year is the part that concerns me, and obviously everyone else, as the Brewers were really the only ones willing to offer a third year. Two years/$16 million seems more right for Wolf, not three years/$30 mil.
I can’t say I’m overly excited about it–I definitely groaned when I first heard the amount–but I don’t hate it or anything. They needed a dependable starter to slot behind Yovani Gallardo, and Wolf fits that bill. It’s definitely not a repeat of the Suppan signing, as some are trying to claim. Suppan was clearly worse than Wolf at the time of his contract, as numbers show. Wolf is a better pitcher for less years and less money.
Only an hour or two after news of the Wolf signing broke, the Brewers finalized a deal with reliever LaTroy Hawkins for $7.5 million over two years. My reaction to this is pretty similar to the Wolf signing. He’s a solid player, but he got one more year than I’d have liked.
Hawkins’ ERA of 2.1 with Houston last year is pretty eye-popping, but a closer look reveals he’s not really a “2.1 ERA pitcher.” In fact, he wasn’t really much different than most of his other years. He was aided by a crazy high strand rate of 90.9% (career rate of 70.9%) and a BABIP of .284 (career rate of .314). He’ll still be one of their better relievers and in the setup mix with Todd Coffey, but he’s probably more of a “4.00 ERA, 1.2 WHIP” type pitcher. I would have rather given him a one year/$4 million deal than a two year/7.5 mil deal, but I suppose that’s nitpicking. The Brewers needed another dependable reliever with the horrible news of Mark DiFelice’s torn labrum (must every mancrush I have suffer crippling, career-threatening injuries?), so they wanted to make sure they got him. That’s understandable.
This is likely the last of the activity we’ll see from the Brewers for awhile, possibly more than a month. Doug Melvin’s strategy was to quickly sign a big free agent (Wolf) and a reliever (Hawkins) and then wait and see what kind of bargain deals might be available come January or February. They’re likely hoping for a one-year deal with some other free agents, and they’ll likely explore trade options as well.
My preference would be to sign one more boom or bust type to a one-year deal. Someone like Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, John Smoltz or possibly Erik Bedard, though Bedard’s chances of pitching at all in 2010 are coming into question. It sounds like they’re going to make a small, incentive-laden offer to Mark Mulder, but Mulder can’t be penciled into the rotation at this point until they see what they’ve got. They’ll need to add one more pitcher even if they sign Mulder.
Since my first choice, Carl Pavano, surprised and disappointed me by accepting the Twins’ offer of arbitration, my top choice is now John Smoltz for a one year deal. You may be surprised I’m not pushing for Sheets, but the more you hear, the more it sounds like there isn’t much interest in a reunion from either side. Plus, Sheets is a huge question mark for 2010 while Smoltz is more dependable at this point. Much was made of Smoltz’s failure in Boston, but that was a fluke. First of all, it was 40 innings, which is really too small of a sample size to declare a Hall of Fame pitcher washed up. Second, the only thing that hurt him was a huge home run rate. His k/bb ratio was still a great 3.67 mark in Boston, and once he went to St. Louis, his home run rate fell way down. His overall 2009 numbers were still close to ace-like: 4.06 k/bb, 3.87 FIP. I’m not sure how much the Brewers have left to spend, but I’d be willing to go as high as the one-year, $7.5 million deal the Cardinals just gave to Brad Penny.
For now, I’m just glad the Brewers brought back the pitching version of Geoff Jenkins.