The Milwaukee Brewers will need all the help they can get this offseason when the team looks to improve the worst statistical bullpen in MLB this past year. The Brewers must target specific free agent relievers before the Winter Meetings take place next week so they can get a deal done promptly.
Milwaukee’s bullpen ranked dead last in all of baseball last season with a 4.66 ERA and 29 blown saves. It is safe to say the Brewers, who had the No. 1 ranked offense in the National League, would have coast into the postseason if their group of relievers had just been slightly better.
As of right now, closer John Axford (5-8, 4.67 ERA) and assumed setup man Jim Henderson (1-3, 3.52 ERA) are the only two relievers under contract for next year. Axford lost his closing duties midway through the season after blowing multiple saves. However, he was given another opportunity down the stretch and apparently secured his job for at least one more year. Fans in Milwaukee just have to hope that he returns to his 2011 form opposed to last season in which he blew nine saves.
Jonathan Broxton’s three-year, $21 million deal that he signed with the Cincinnati Reds is a cause for concern for the Brewers because contracts such as that drive the price of free agency up. Left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, while right-handed relief pitcher Brandon League inked a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers worth $22.5 million.
“Every year, the first signings are always a little bit more than what you’d think — that’s why the players sign them,” Melvin said. “Free agency drives up the [cost] every year. I feel like you have to look at each player individually. Every player has an idea of where they want to go and at what cost.”
Milwaukee is not looking in the $20 million price range for a reliever but they certainly need someone of that talent. The Brewers have several young pitchers who are talented enough to make a name for themselves in the bullpen, but the organization would feel more comfortable with a proven veteran or two around them to keep the relievers confident.
For example, several relievers were able to learn from legend Trevor Hoffman when he played for Milwaukee from 2009-2010. Even when Hoffman’s arm began to go during the 2010 season, he was a true professional and helped teach Axford how to become a solid closer. Another example happened in the 2011 season when the Brewers traded for closer Francisco Rodriguez at the All-Star break to pitch the eighth inning in front of Axford. Milwaukee’s bullpen went from mediocre to the best in the league all because every single reliever fed off of Rodriguez and Axford’s outstanding performances.
A young bullpen would not be able to handle another Axford meltdown, which is why it is crucial the Brewers bring in some veterans who have seen it all. Relievers such as LaTroy Hawkins, J.P. Howell and Chad Durbin can all be acquired in Milwaukee’s price range. Also, more talented relief pitchers such as Mike Adams, Brandon Lyon, and Rafael Soriano are available but above what the Brewers will most likely be willing to offer.
Whomever the Brewers decide to go after they must certainly be prepared to make an immediate impact in the bullpen because Milwaukee believes they have a legitimate shot at their second NL Central division title in three years.
Michael is a MLB and NBA Featured Writer for Rant Sports, but covers topics for various teams in baseball, basketball, and football. Make sure to follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelTerrill and on Facebook.