The Brewers announced that they have signed free agent righty Jakob Junis to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2025. Kiley McDaniel of ESPN (X link) initially reported the deal. It’s a one-year, $7MM guarantee for the Wasserman client, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. Junis will receive a $4MM salary next season and a $3MM buyout on the 2025 mutual option, which The Associated Press reports is valued at $8MM. He’s expected to open the year in Milwaukee’s starting rotation.
Junis hit the open market for the first time coming off a quietly strong platform showing. The 31-year-old pitched 86 innings over 40 appearances as a multi-inning reliever for the Giants a year ago. He turned in a personal-low 3.87 ERA while striking out an above-average 26.2% of opposing hitters. That was the best mark of his career, as was his 11.3% swinging strike rate.
An uptick in velocity played a part in his improved swing-and-miss results. Junis averaged 93.7 MPH on his sinker, above the 91-92 MPH range in which his fastball had sat for his career. He also added a tick to his slider, which clocked in at 84.2 MPH on average after sitting in the 82-83 MPH area in prior years. Adding some speed to the slider was probably more important than the extra life on the fastball. Junis uses the breaking pitch at an atypical rate.
The slider has been his primary pitch in each of the last four seasons. He pushed it to new heights in 2023, turning to the breaker nearly 63% of the time. That didn’t come at the expense of the strong control he’s shown throughout his career. He walked under 6% of opponents for the fourth time out of his five MLB seasons with 40+ innings.
As one might expect given his slider/sinker profile, Junis has been more effective against same-handed hitters. Since the start of 2022, righty batters have a .254/.297/.414 line while striking out nearly a quarter of the time against him. Left-handed bats have fanned at a modest 20.3% rate and turned in a robust .290/.341/.494 showing over that stretch.
It’s easier for a manager to navigate around those platoon issues when Junis is pitching in a relief role, even one in which he frequently works multiple innings. It could be a bigger concern as a starter, although it wouldn’t be surprising if skipper Pat Murphy tends to minimize his exposure to opposing lineups more than twice in an outing.
That’s generally how Milwaukee seems to be approaching the 2024 rotation. They’ve moved on from their pair of co-aces. Brandon Woodruff was non-tendered after the revelation he needed shoulder surgery, while Corbin Burnes was traded last week. That left the Brew Crew with Freddy Peralta as the unquestioned staff ace, followed by pitchers with varying degrees of injury or performance concerns.
Milwaukee re-signed Wade Miley and Colin Rea to factor into the middle of the staff. They took a flier on Joe Ross, who missed most of last season working back from 2022 Tommy John surgery. Hard-throwing southpaw DL Hall came back from Baltimore in the Burnes return. Aaron Ashby is still trying to carve out a rotation role despite various injuries, including a shoulder procedure that wiped out his ’23 season. Prospects Robert Gasser, Jacob Misiorowski and Carlos Rodriguez loom in the upper minors.
It’s unlikely to be the kind of dominant rotation Milwaukee has trotted out in recent seasons, even if there’s a decent amount of intrigue with Junis, Ashby and the aforementioned collection of young pitchers. There aren’t many reliable sources of innings, which could force Murphy to lean heavily on his relief group.
The $4MM salary brings Milwaukee’s payroll projection around $105MM, as calculated by Roster Resource. That’s well below last year’s approximate $119MM mark. It’s unclear whether ownership is willing to match last season’s spending level. If there’s payroll room, the roster could benefit from an additional bench bat and perhaps another left-handed reliever to pair with Hoby Milner.
MLBTR ranked Junis as the offseason’s #47 free agent, predicting a two-year, $15MM guarantee. He comes up short of that figure on a one-year deal. He’ll look to establish himself as a starter before returning to free agency next winter in advance of his age-32 season. The mutual option is essentially an accounting measure that allows the Brewers to push $3MM of the guarantee to the start of next offseason. Mutual options are almost never exercised by both sides, so Junis is very likely to head back to the market a year from now.
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