As of now, right-handers Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and Jhoulys Chacin are the only locks for Milwaukee’s 2018 rotation, manager Craig Counsell suggested to reporters, including Adam McCalvy of MLB.com, on Sunday (Twitter link). Barring further moves, Brandon Woodruff, Brent Suter, Yovani Gallardo, Junior Guerra and Aaron Wilkerson are in line to compete for the final two sports, according to Counsell.
Conspicuously absent from that group is left-hander Josh Hader, a former starter prospect who entered the offseason with his future role in question after he dominated out of the Brewers’ bullpen as a rookie in 2017. General manager David Stearns announced Sunday that the soon-to-be 24-year-old Hader will remain a reliever to begin 2018, meaning he won’t factor into their starting competition (via McCalvy, on Twitter)
While Hader won’t be among the Brewers’ season-opening rotation possibilities, the mix seems likely to feature at least one more newcomer besides Chacin and Gallardo. Owner Mark Attanasio confirmed that’s Milwaukee’s interested in adding starting help, saying, “You can never have enough pitching and David (Stearns) is working on it.” While they’re reportedly unlikely to sign either Yu Darvish or Alex Cobb, Attanasio stated that the Brewers do have the payroll space to pick up a high-end free agent starter (Twitter links via Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
After reeling in outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich this week, the Brewers’ commitments for 2018 come in around $92MM – a significant bump over their $63MM-plus Opening Day payrolls from 2016-17. Since 2005, Attanasio’s first season as Milwaukee’s owner, the team has twice exceeded the $100MM Opening Day payroll mark. They’d figure to blow past that figure by signing any of Darvish, Cobb, Jake Arrieta or Lance Lynn.
Beyond the four best available hurlers, free agency is lacking impact starters, which could point the Brewers toward a trade if they don’t sign one of the top names. They’ve shown reported interest this offseason in Chris Archer (Rays), Patrick Corbin (Diamondbacks) and Danny Salazar (Indians), though it’s unclear how willing any of those teams are to move those starters. There’s plenty of speculation the Brewers will try to parlay their outfield logjam into rotation help by dealing Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton and/or Brett Phillips, but it’s an open question whether any of those three would help the club land a coveted front-end starter in return.
With 2017 ace Jimmy Nelson recovering from a serious procedure (surgery on a partially torn right labrum) and unlikely to return until the summertime, it’s fair to say the Brewers could use another proven option for their rotation. Although Milwaukee’s starters finished eighth in the majors in fWAR (13.3) and 10th in ERA (4.10) during its near-playoff season in 2017, Nelson’s work over 175 1/3 innings (4.9 fWAR, 3.49 ERA) significantly contributed to those rankings. It’s now anyone’s guess what he’ll provide in 2018, which could help lead to the Brewers making a splash on the pitching market.