What if Brewers don’t add a starter?

While everyone waits for the Zack Greinke domino to fall and the starting pitching market to open up, here’s a thought:

What if the Brewers decide to stay out of that market?

General manager Doug Melvin was sure to raise that possibility during his daily briefing with reporters on Monday, undermining the notion that the Brewers must add a starter this offseason.

“We like the starters that we have,” he said. “You’ve got [Yovani] Gallardo, you’ve got [Marco] Estrada and [Mike] Fiers, [Wily] Peralta, Mark Rogers, [Chris] Narveson. Is it time to give our young guys a chance and find out about them?”

He also mentioned Hiram Burgos and Tyler Thornburg as reserves.

I understand that posturing is as much a part of the Winter Meetings as the actual deals. But what if the Brewers indeed stayed away from the likes of Ryan Dempster and Edwin Jackson and fielded a starting rotation from that group of in-house options above, plus an assortment of late-winter signings of a more minor nature, including non-roster invitees?

Would you be satisfied with that group? Considering the Brewers are returning the National League’s best offense and are working to rebuild the bullpen, do you think they could challenge the Reds and Cardinals with that group?

We have time with Brewers manager Ron Roencike at 2 p.m. CT, and I am eager to see what he thinks about this possibility.

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3 Comments

Well, they all have big question marks. Marco Estrada is the most tested of that group, but he’s never pitched a full season. Brewers have stated they don’t like to push a starter past 20% more of what they did the season previous. That puts an innings limit of approx. 170 or around 25-28 starts. We’d be gambling on Fiers repeating last year, though I’d expect some regression. Peralta is young and talented, I like him a lot, but we’d be gambling on his control being acceptable for his first full year in the majors. Peralta and Fiers both pitched around 170 innings last year, so they can likely pitch unrestricted innings in the regular season, but they’d be pushed past that 20% if we play in the post season. Narveson is coming off shoulder surgery which is notoriously difficult to bounce back from, and I’d expect on some kind of innings limit too. Rogers has been plagued with injures and would be on an innings limit similar to Estrada. Burgo and Thornburg would provide very nice depth from the minors, but one would have to imagine they’d be operating under innings limits of their own, so they couldn’t really help replace anyone late in the season. DO NOT misunderstand. I like all of these pitchers. I’m just worried about the logistics. I think there’s real value in signing a guy like Franciso Liriano(provided we cannot sign a guy like Dempster because of salary). He can take a roster spot and we can put Narveson in the bullpen to ease him back(this provides more depth and mitigates an innings limit, for the record this is what I’d do w/Rogers too), OR maybe have Peralta start in AAA to polish his control some more. Then there is always the possibility of a mid-season acquisition.

An interesting thought…I think our bullpen is of the utmost importance this offseason. I wouldn’t mind a rotation of Yo, Peralta, Rogers, Estrada and Narveson. I think I would prefer Thornburg over Narveson though.

Would I be satisfied? There are a lot of variables involved, but I guess the short answer is probably not.

Now, onto the long answer.

Starting pitching depth is probably a strength of this club, with guys like Thornberg, Rivas, Narveson coming off of injury, and Hellweg- Pena-Burgos (getting close to MLB ready) all being potentially quality replacements. However, I wouldn’t expect any of them to be much more than quality replacements.

With an all-internal staff of Gallardo, Estrada, Fiers, Peralta, Thornberg/Narvdog, we’re going to see a LOT of 5-6 inning starts, followed by 3-4 innings out of the bullpen. That could very well leave you with an overworked bullpen by mid-June, similar to 2012. Also, what do you do in September when the Brewers find themselves in a wild card or division chase, and 3/5 of the rotation has a dead arm because they haven’t pitched 180 innings before?

I said there are a lot of variables involved, and the biggest is undeniably the free agent pitching market. If we assume Ryan Dempster is the top target, the question might become, “Which would you rather have: An overworked 2013 bullpen, or an overpaid 2015 Dempster?” I would not entertain a 3-year deal for Dempster, as, lately, his velocity is becoming more inversely related to his age, so I’d rather fill from within than give Dempster 3 years.

But Dempster isn’t the only non-internal option. There are other pitchers available. Unfortunately, pitching is valuable, and the good pitchers are going to be pricey. Would I love to see the Brewers sign Anibal Sanchez or Brandon McCarthy? Sure, but Sanchez is talking 6yr/$90M, and McCarthy reportedly has 8 suitors for the Brewers to compete with. So who is available that can go deep into games.

How about Joe Blanton? Yeah… I know. But hear me out.

He’s been a mid-to-upper 4′s ERA guy for the last 3 years, which is roughly what we can expect from our internal replacements. However, peripherals would suggest we can expect a little bit better out of Blanton. Unlike Dempster, Blanton’s velocity has actually increased. Last season, he posted his highest fastball speed since his rookie season. Also, in 2010, he started throwing a cutter. 2010 is the year that Halladay joined the Phillies’ staff, so I’ll let you connect those dots. After adding the cutter, his strikeout rate saw an uptick. So we’re talking about an efficient pitcher that can go deep into games, with increased velocity, a new, successful pitch, a rising K-rate, and a low walk rate (hence the efficiency). He’s not going to cost Suppan or even Wolf-type money, and at 31 years old, he’s not at the end of his career.

So here’s my wishlist for the 5th spot in the rotation:

1. Sanchez or McCarthy – because, hey, it’s not my money.
2. Dempster on a 2 year deal – fill bullpen with one FA and internals like Thornberg
3. Joe Blanton – fill bullpen same as #2
4. Thornberg/Narveson – pay for relievers
5. Dempster on a 3 year deal – ugh.

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