With Jimmy Nelson set to miss a portion of the 2018 season following shoulder surgery, the Brewers are eyeing top-end rotation upgrades and showing some early interest in Jake Arrieta, tweets MLB.com’s Jon Morosi.
Arrieta, 32 March, is a familiar commodity for the Brewers, who have watched him star for the Cubs for nearly four full seasons. While Milwaukee doesn’t typically play at the top of the free-agent market, we explained here at MLBTR recently that the Brewers are in an uncharacteristically strong position to spend given their lack of long-term payroll commitments and given that some more traditionally big-spending teams aren’t likely to pursue top-line starters.
The Brewers have just north of $32MM committed to the 2018 payroll, plus another $22.7MM in arbitration projections, per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. They have similar commitments (in terms of guaranteed multi-year deals) lined up for the 2019 season, and the 2020 books have only Ryan Braun’s $16MM salary guaranteed. Milwaukee, then, could easily afford to add a hefty multi-year contract, even if meant committing upwards of $25MM annually.
Beyond the sheer financial plausibility, there’s a clear need in the Milwaukee rotation. Nelson broke out as the team’s top starter this season but will miss a fairly significant chunk of the 2018 season, per the Brewers, though the team won’t estimate precisely how long he’ll be out just yet. Beyond him, the recently extended Chase Anderson and fellow righty Zach Davies are the only two rotation locks. Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff, Josh Hader and Junior Guerra are among the team’s top internal candidates to fill out the rotation while Nelson mends.
Milwaukee’s rebuild accelerated considerably in 2017 as Nelson, Anderson, Davies, Travis Shaw and Domingo Santana all put together breakout years while top prospects Hader, Woodruff and Lewis Brinson all proved to be on the cusp of MLB readiness. Orlando Arcia took hold of the team’s shortstop job (though there’s still room for improvement), while Eric Thames enjoyed a productive overall year in his first season back in the big leagues after an excellent run in the Korea Baseball Organization.
All of those positive signs now have the Brewers in position to vie for an NL Central title next season, which should prompt the front office to be more willing to spend than it has been in recent years. We’ve not yet seen a David Stearns-led front office play the role of an aggressive offseason shopper on either the free-agent or trade market thus far, but it seems reasonable to expect that the Brewers will make a number of win-now moves this offseason. On our annual top 50 free agent projections, MLBTR predicted that Arrieta would land in Milwaukee.
Arrieta did reject a $17.4MM qualifying offer from the Cubs, meaning he’d cost the Brewers their third-highest selection in next year’s draft. As of last week, we know that to be the team’s Competitive Balance Round B pick — No. 74 overall. The Cubs, meanwhile, would receive a compensatory pick after Comp Round B, assuming Arrieta signs a deal for more than $50MM guaranteed (which seems like a foregone conclusion).