The Brewers have optioned righties Corey Knebel and Zach Davies, per the MLB.com transactions page. (H/t MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy & Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; Twitter links.) Davies had been on a rehab assignment following an extended absence.
This move is notable enough for what it says about two of the team’s most important pitchers heading into the season. But it’s also an intriguing development with the revocable waiver trade deadline drawing near.
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Knebel was expected to anchor the Milwaukee pen, but carries a 5.08 ERA through 39 innings on the season. He has generated 12.7 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 along with a 50.0% groundball rate, but has also been touched for home runs on 28.0% of the flyballs put in play against him. Knebel is sitting just under 97 mph with his average fastball, but has lost some of swinging-strike gains from 2017, with his 13.9% rate falling to 11.6% this year. His struggles have deepened of late, as he has coughed up eight earned runs in his past 6 1/3 innings.
As for Davies, who turned in solid campaigns from the rotation in each of the past two years, the 2018 season has been a rough one thus far. He only managed a 5.23 ERA through eight starts before hitting the shelf with shoulder troubles. Davies has actually taken more starts in the minors this year than in the majors, owing to a halting rehab course.
While Knebel will head to Triple-A to work out the kinks, Davies was formally assigned to the organization’s nearby Class A affiliate. The reason for the latter’s placement isn’t entirely clear, but it could be that the club thinks it may need to bring him back onto the MLB roster on short notice or that he’ll be getting some added rest time without re-starting another rehab stint. Or, perhaps this is just a holding spot for the time being while the next steps are hammered out.
Both pitchers will need to remain on optional assignment for at least ten days unless an active roster spot opens due to a DL placement. It’s at least worth noting that, to this point of the season, MLB players have only accrued 147 days of service. Knebel, a Super Two this year, will cross into the 3+ service class regardless of whether he returns to the MLB roster. Davies, though, entered the campaign with 2.020 service years on his ticker and is therefore still a few days shy of reaching arbitration eligibility in the coming offseason. He would still likely qualify as a Super Two, but that’d mean pushing back his eventual free agency by one season. Whether or not that’s a factor isn’t at all clear; it certainly could be that the organization plans to bring Davies back when rosters expand, if not sooner.
For the time being, there’s no known replacement for Knebel on the active roster. Milwaukee is off today. As Rosiak notes, he could be replaced by Joakim Soria, if he’s activated from the DL tomorrow. But the open roster spot could also be filled from the outside. Several starting pitchers are rumored to be on waivers or to have cleared waivers. It’s certainly possible — but by no means certain — that the Brewers are contemplating the acquisition of an outside arm.
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