Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has had a few conversations with free-agent relief options this offseason but refuses to overpay for any of them. The Brewers are heading into the 2014 season with Jim Henderson as their closer, and he stepped up last season converting 28 saves out of 33 chances while carrying a 2.70 ERA. Now who will be passing the torch before the ninth inning?
Brandon Kintzler was superb last year serving as the setup man for Henderson. Kintzler is a ground ball pitcher with an extraordinary sinker and pinpoint control. He attacked hitters all last season, appearing in 71 games and earning 27 holds, en route to a spectacular 2.69 ERA. Look for him to retain that role to begin 2014.
The Brewers are looking for in house arms to step up and establish themselves now that Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) and John Axford were traded away last season. Rodriguez, however, is a free-agent, and a return to Milwaukee could certainly be an option. Many may not realize this, but the Brewers have a handful of young electric arms rapidly rising up the depth charts.
Johnny Hellweg, just 25-years-old, came over with shortstop Jean Segura in the Zack Greinke trade and has been highly touted for a good reason. Although having control issues last season in his rookie year, the 6-foot-9 lanky right-hander presents a bat shattering 96 mph sinker. If he can harness his control and repeat his delivery, Hellweg may even earn himself a starting gig.
The Brewers also have newly acquired Will Smith, who joins Tom Gorzellanny as the lone left-handers on the staff, although Smith is entering Spring Training vying to crack the starting rotation. You can also expect to see flame-throwing Alfredo Figaro back in the bullpen, and his versatility allows him to go multiple innings if need be. It remains to be seen if the Brewers keep top prospect Jimmy Nelson on the active roster or if they decide to keep him in Triple-A to stay stretched out as a starter until his name is called.
The Brewers very well could bring back K-Rod who has expressed interest in returning to Milwaukee. He has 304 career saves and is still just 32-years-old, despite being around for a long time. Rodriguez is highly regarded by his teammates and has served as a mentor to the younger arms. Don’t expect Melvin to sign any veteran relievers coming off arm injuries which seems to make up a large portion of the available free-agent relief pitchers that have closing experience. After all, the Brewers’ bullpen ranked fifth in baseball last season with a 3.19 ERA. The bullpen seemed to get stronger after the organization decided to trim the fat and trade Axford and his 4.45 ERA to the St. Louis Cardinals towards the end of the last season. Many of those same pieces are back for 2014.
One thing is for sure; the Brewers have something they haven’t had for a long time — a plethora of young electric arms. It should make for an intriguing battle come this spring.