It’s cold. It’s snowy. It’s time for baseball.
The Milwaukee Brewers clubhouse staff packed up the gear from Miller Park last week and now pitchers and catchers have reported to Arizona for the start of the 2014 season.
This is the one area of the team that generated the most buzz in the offseason with the free agent acquisition of starter Matt Garza.
So, let’s look at the pitching staff that will be reporting to Maryvale.
Aside from the month of May, where it seemed like everyone on the Brewers took an additional month off, the veteran right-hander was fantastic, going 11-6 while giving up 48 earned runs over 171 innings for a 2.53 ERA. The 35-year-old has two years and $22 million remaining on his contract.
Despite on and off-field issues last year, Gallardo should still be counted on to pitch at a high level. He’ll be 28 on Feb. 28, and gets a $5 million raise in 2014 as part of his last extension. Since the Los Angeles Dodgers reset the market on starting pitching with an extension that pays Clayton Kershaw over $30 million annually, it’s safe to say the team would (and should) pick up Gallardo’s $13 million option for 2015.
Peralta went 11-15 in 32 starts and threw 183 1/3 innings. He won’t turn 25 until May, and he showed some greater emotional consistency over the final two months of the season where he allowed three runs or fewer in eight of his nine starts. The right-hander isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2016.
The 30-year-old signed a 1-year, $3.325 million contract to avoid arbitration this winter, making him third highest paid pitcher on the team. He’ll be 31 in July, and hasn’t been able to stay healthy the last two years – but when he’s on he’s pretty good. In nine second half starts, he went 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA with a sparkling 0.750 WHIP while striking out 8.6 batters per nine innings. Unfortunately, in 12 first half starts he gave up 14 homers and 41 earned runs while going 4-4 with a 5.32 ERA. This is probably his last chance to show he can be a regular back-of-the-rotation starter.
Also 30 years old, the right-hander makes Milwaukee his fifth team after signing a creative five year deal that will pay him $50 million. He has an exactly mediocre record of 67-67 over eight years, but he has a respectable career 3.84 ERA that includes stints in the American League East, Central and West. He made 60 starts in the National League Central with the Chicago Cubs, going 21-18 with a 3.45 ERA. He has some lingering arm issues, but he was the 2008 American League Championship Series MVP for the Tampa Bay Rays when they went to the World Series, so he has "ace" caliber stuff.
Prior to the Garza signing, general manager Doug Melvin’s biggest move was trading Norichika Aoki to Kansas City for lefty Will Smith, who will be 25 in July. Smith made 16 starts in 2012, but was used primarily out of the bullpen last year. Melvin said the 6-foot, 5-inch, 250-pound Georgia native will get a shot to win the fifth spot in the rotation, along with fellow 25-year-old Tyler Thornburg.
Thornburg, who looks like he might be the odd man out yet again, finished 2014 with four starts where he allowed just six earned runs (2.16 ERA) while allowing opposing batters to hit just .214. He pitched well in 11 games out of the bullpen last year, too, posting a 3.04 ERA in 23 2/3 innings while allowing opponent’s to hit just .218.
The Brewers may decide to send Thornburg back to the minors to get him starts and keep him stretched out, but that didn’t work too well for the youngster last year.
Provided everyone in the rotation finishes the spring healthy, it seems like Smith and Thornburg will serve as the right/left long relief men but also major league-ready depth if injuries to crop up.
Jim Henderson seems to be the team’s closer after his first full big league season at the age of 30. Even with a trip to the disabled list (hamstring) he converted 28 saves while going 5-5 with a 2.70 ERA and an 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings ratio.
But, the Brewers did bring Francisco Rodriguez back after trading him away in the middle of last season. The 32-year-0ld ended 2013 with 10 saves, 23 games finished and a 2.70 ERA between Milwaukee and Baltimore.
Lefty Tom Gorzelanny and right hander Brandon Kintzler seem set in their roles in the bullpen, leaving a handful of players fighting for only a couple of spots.
Fortunately for manager Ron Roenicke, pitching coach Rick Kranitz and Melvin, they’ve all seen Michael Blazek, Hiram Burgos, Mike Fiers, Alfredo Figaro, Donovan Hand and Rob Wooten face major league hitters.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.