1:48pm: Milwaukee general manager Matt Arnold told reporters Boxberger went unclaimed on waivers before the team decided on the option (via Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel). Had another team claimed him off waivers, they could’ve controlled him for $3MM while saving Milwaukee the buyout money. Arnold noted that indicates no team presently values Boxberger at $3MM but suggested the Brewers could be open to a reunion at some point down the line.
It was only a $2.25MM decision, which seems a reasonable sum for a pitcher who posted a 2.95 ERA over 64 innings this year. That makes this a moderately surprising move, but there are a number of underlying marks in Boxberger’s profile that explain why the Milwaukee front office wasn’t bullish about his chances of repeating that success.
The right-hander got swinging strikes on a below-average 9.5% of his pitches, two points lower than the league mark. That was the worst whiff rate in any of his 11 MLB seasons, although he offset that somewhat with one of the better called-strike rates of his career. Boxberger still struck out a slightly above-average 25.4% of opposing hitters, but he didn’t dominate on a pitch-for-pitch basis as he has at his best. His velocity also took a slight step back, with his fastball sitting at 92.7 MPH after averaging 93.5 MPH in 2021.
Missing bats has long been Boxberger’s calling card, as he’s never had great control or consistently strong ground-ball rates. He has been effective keeping runs off the board, posting an ERA of 3.34 or lower in each of the last three years. Manager Craig Counsell continued to rely upon him in high-leverage spots, but the front office clearly isn’t of the opinion he’ll continue to be a fit in that kind of role.
Despite some of the red flags in Boxberger’s profile, he could find a major league deal with a similar base salary to the option value in free agency. He has plenty of high-leverage experience, including a 41-save All-Star campaign with the 2015 Rays. He’s also been a durable source of innings in middle relief and setup work, avoiding the injured list three years running.
Will Sammon of the Athletic reported the news before the team announcement.