They say you can never have too much pitching. That’s especially true of the Milwaukee Brewers who are skating the very thin ice of not having enough pitching this spring, particularly in their bullpen. That’s why Milwaukee should be paying extra special attention to the World Baseball Classic to see if Jose Valverde could help their club in 2013.
The 34-year-old reliever spent the last three seasons with the Detroit Tigers, helping them to the World Series last year. He posted a 3.78 ERA with a 1.25 WHIP in 2012, his highest numbers since 2006, while recording 35 saves and blowing five opportunities. He fell out of favor late in the season and Detroit is turning elsewhere for its saves in 2013, letting right-hander walk in free agency without even a qualifying offer. Even without any draft-pick compensation attached to him, however, few teams have shown a great deal of interest in the veteran reliever.
So Valverde will head to the WBC as the closer for the Dominican Republic, using the opportunity as a de facto audition for MLB clubs in the process. He will likely have to settle on a one-year deal, but if he throws well could be an enticing option for clubs with murky closing situations this spring. At the very worst, he projects to be a very solid setup man.
And the Brewers could use a proven commodity out of the pen, even one just limited to the setup role. The Brewers’ bullpen posted a league-worst 4.66 ERA and 29 blown saves in 2012. John Axford was far from his best, posting a 4.67 ERA with nine blown saves (after posting a 2.26 ERA and blowing only five saves in the previous three seasons) and giving up more earned runs in 2012 (36) than in the rest of his career leading up to last season (35).
Despite that free-fall, the only veteran addition the Brewers made this off-season was left-hander Mike Gonzalez, who posted a 3.03 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in relief duties last season with the Washington Nationals. Other than that, the team is counting on a big bounce-back season from Axford and a number of young, unproven pitchers to step up in a major way.
So if Axford stumbles this spring and looks to have lost his stuff or some of the young arms don’t inspire confidence, look for the Brewers to keep an eye on Valverde as he auditions in the WBC.