- Barring any setbacks in his Triple-A rehab stint, reliever Jeremy Jeffress will rejoin the Brewers next weekend, according to manager Craig Counsell (via Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). The return of Jeffress, who hasn’t debuted this year on account of right shoulder weakness, will be a welcome one for a Milwaukee team that lost fellow late-game option Corey Knebel to season-ending Tommy John surgery last week. The reigning National League Central champions have nevertheless rolled to a 7-2 start, though their bullpen has lacked a complement to the untouchable Josh Hader. Jeffress filled that role with aplomb in 2018, during which he notched a near-spotless 1.29 ERA with 10.45 K/9, 3.17 BB/9 and a 56.4 percent groundball rate in 76 2/3 innings.
Hart was optioned to Triple-A to begin his tenure with the Brewers organization. He’ll wait there for an opportunity to arise. Hart had been claimed in the middle of camp by the Los Angeles organization but obviously wasn’t a key part of their plans.
Since breaking into the majors with an eye-opening 2016 debut — one earned run in 18 1/3 innings — Hart has seen his results decline. He managed a 3.71 ERA in 43 2/3 frames in the following season, but the peripherals weren’t terribly promising. Last year, he was knocked around in twenty appearances — a dozen earned runs on 31 hits with an ugly 13:12 K/BB ratio — and ended up spending most of the year at Triple-A.
Hart did continue dominate at the highest level of the minors. He has been tough on pre-MLB batters at all levels, but has been especially excellent at Triple-A, where he owns a 2.40 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 over 56 1/3 innings. If he can find a way to translate those K/BB numbers to the majors, and continue to generate groundballs as he has (52.6% in the big leagues), the soft-tossing 28-year-old could be an interesting pen piece.
- In light of the recent wave of extensions throughout Major League Baseball, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com asked a few Brewers players about their thoughts on some recent deals and their own willingness to engage in discussions. Third baseman Travis Shaw stated that he’s “open for business” when it comes to talking about a potential long-term deal to keep in Milwaukee beyond the 2021 season (currently slated to be his final season of team control). Late-inning terminator Josh Hader, meanwhile, suggested that his current focus is more on playing baseball than thinking about that side of the game. “If they feel they want to do an extension, then that’s the business side of it,” said Hader. “They control that.” The 24-year-old Hader has not yet even accumulated two full years of Major League service time and remains under club control through the 2023 season. Milwaukee president of baseball ops David Stearns added to McCalvy that while he’s not closed off to extension talks during the season, “there’s a reason” most deals are completed before Opening Day.
- Brewers righty Jeremy Jeffress is slated to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A San Antonio tomorrow, tweets MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. He’s been sidelined with some weakness in his shoulder but hasn’t been diagnosed with any structural damage or significant injury. Jeffress has been building strength since being slowed down in mid-March and will test out his shoulder over a series of appearances with San Antonio. President of baseball operations David Stearns recently suggested that mid or late April could be a reasonable return date for Jeffress, whose importance to the team only increased with the revelation that Corey Knebel will miss the entire 2019 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
There isn’t much indication that Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel are closing in on new contracts, though that hasn’t stopped teams from keeping in touch with the two free agents. Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin of The Athletic (subscription required) list the Mets and Brewers as two of the clubs checking in on both pitchers, though Milwaukee is more focused on Kimbrel as a potential add. The Rays are also still maintaining contact with Kimbrel, after reports during Spring Training suggested Tampa Bay was at least considering signing the closer. Rosenthal and Lin described the Mets’ interest in Keuchel and Kimbrel “as a matter of due diligence,” with MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo and Newsday’s Tim Healey (both Twitter links) adding that it doesn’t seem likely that either pitcher will end up in a Mets uniform.
The Brewers have reportedly engaged in “pretty serious” negotiations of late with closer Craig Kimbrel, who remains available even after the start of the season. Now, having lost closer Corey Knebel to season-ending Tommy John surgery, a union between the Brewers and Kimbrel looks even more plausible on paper. However, barring a massive drop in asking price, the Brewers aren’t in position to sign Kimbrel or the majors’ other big-ticket free agent, starter Dallas Keuchel, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Both Kimbrel and Keuchel rejected a $17.9MM qualifying offer from their previous team at the outset of the offseason. But even if they wind up settling for one-year contracts, odds are those deals will approach or exceed the worth of the qualifying offer. The Brewers, for their part, probably don’t even have half the value of the QO left in their budget, Haudricourt relays, as they’re already sporting a franchise-record Opening Day payroll. As a result, Haudricourt posits they’re more likely to rely on in-house reinforcements such as injured reliever Jeremy Jeffress and on-the-mend starter Jimmy Nelson than splurge on one of the two star free agents sitting on the open market.
Brewers reliever Corey Knebel has elected to undergo Tommy John surgery, he tells reporters including Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Twitter link). The rehab process will take him out of action for all of the 2019 season and quite likely some of 2020 as well.
Knebel had been weighing the replacement of his right ulnar collateral ligament after speaking with multiple physicians. Evidently, it was less than a clear-cut decision, but he ultimately decided to bite the bullet rather than taking an uncertain rehab course that may only have delayed the inevitable.
The 27-year-old hurler had already agreed to a $5.125MM arbitration salary in his second season of eligibility. As a former Super Two qualifier, he’s eligible twice more. Whether the Brewers elect to tender him a contract next fall may depend upon how his rehab is progressing. Knebel would stand to earn a repeat of this season’s salary, which may be a bit of an expensive gamble. The presence of another season of arb eligibility certainly boosts the merits of a tender.
No matter how the future plays out, the reality at present is that the Brewers are down a key arm in the pen. Though he wasn’t as dominant last year as he had been in 2017, Kluber still ran up 55 1/3 innings of 3.58 ERA ball while recording an eye-popping 14.3 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9. Thankfully, the unit is still headlined by Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress (once he’s off the IL), but there’s little question it’s weakened from its ’18 levels.
March 28: Knebel has received opinions from three doctors and is weighing whether to undergo surgery or attempt a rest and rehab approach, per Todd Rosiak and Haudricourt. He’ll make a decision tomorrow.
March 21, 8:09pm: GM David Stearns says the team still isn’t sure how to label the damage to Knebel’s UCL, as Haudricourt tweets. But the organization “know[s] it’s damaged to some extent.”
6:52pm: Knebel has an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament, Counsell told reporters this evening. (Via Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; links to Twitter.) That’s certainly worrying at first glance, though it’s said not to be a complete tear of the ligament. It’s also not a new injury, though it’s not clear whether additional damage may have been incurred.
At the moment, it’s not known whether the malady will require surgery and/or end Knebel’s season before it begins. He’s slated to receive a second opinion.
12:45pm: Brewers closer Corey Knebel will have his right elbow examined today, manager Craig Counsell revealed to reporters (Twitter link via Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel). The Athletic’s Robert Murray had previously written that he was taking a step back from throwing due to elbow discomfort. Counsell acknowledged that there is some cause for concern.
The Knebel injury makes it all the more apparent why Milwaukee has recently been in contact with Craig Kimbrel to discuss a potential fit. It was already known that Jeremy Jeffress would open the season on the injured list — though president of baseball operations David Stearns said this week that Jeffress could be back by mid or late April. It now seems likely that Knebel will join him there to begin the year.
Knebel, Jeffress and Josh Hader combined for much of the regular season to form an overpowering bullpen trio. Each of the three posted K/9 marks of 10.5 or better, while Hader and Jeffress checked in with ERAs south of 2.50. Knebel’s ERA wasn’t quite as eye-popping, thanks largely to a late August slump, but he didn’t allow a run over his final 16 1/3 innings of the regular season and posted a ridiculous 33-to-3 K/BB ratio along the way. On the season, he averaged 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
There’s no indication that Jeffress’ shoulder issue is a long-term concern, but the situation surrounding Knebel, to this point, is more ominous (or at least more vague). If the Brewers do ultimately turn to Kimbrel in light of the bullpen issues that have cropped up this spring, they’d have to part with their fourth-round draft selection due to the fact that Kimbrel rejected a qualifying offer from the Red Sox. The Brewers already forfeited their third-round pick to sign Yasmani Grandal, and their current payroll projects at a franchise-record $127.5MM.
10:02am: Kratz is indeed going to San Francisco for Hinojosa, per an announcement from the Brewers.
9:40am: The Brewers will acquire shortstop C.J. Hinojosa from the Giants, Robert Murray and Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic report. Milwaukee may send veteran catcher Erik Kratz to San Francisco, Murray and Baggarly suggest.
Hinojosa had been with the Giants since they took him in Round 11 of the 2015 draft. He spent the majority of 2016-18 at the Double-A level, where he owns a .259/.321/.345 line in 951 plate appearances. The 24-year-old offered roughly league-average minors production across 283 PAs last season in a return from a late-2017 Achilles tear; however, he also missed 50 games after testing positive for a drug of abuse for the second time.
As recently as last May, Hinojosa ranked as the Giants’ 16th-best prospect, per FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, who wrote that the ex-Texas Longhorn “projects as a utility man trending upward with contact skills.” In return for him, the Giants are landing the well-traveled Kratz, an out-of-options 38-year-old who has appeared in the majors in each season since 2010. He’d immediately replace catcher Rene Rivera, whom the Giants released Saturday, and would join Aramis Garcia and Stephen Vogt as another potential backup to Buster Posey.
While Kratz is a plus defender who quickly became a respected figure in Milwaukee after it acquired him from the Yankees last May, a lack of offensive upside helped seal his fate with the Brewers. Kratz is just a .211/.258/.363 hitter across 858 major league PAs. The Brewers have two far better offensive backstops in Yasmani Grandal and Manny Pina.
Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis will open the season on the 10-day injured list, per Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com. It’s disappointing but not surprising news for Lindor, who’s working back from the right calf strain he suffered in early February. Kipnis is also dealing with a right calf strain, one that has forced the Indians to shut him down for seven to 10 days. Lindor’s absence will leave shortstop to the unheralded Eric Stamets, a 27-year-old with no major league experience. while Max Moroff could fill in for Kipnis. However, the Indians are in the market for second base help, according to Hoynes, who names free agent Brad Miller as a possibility. Miller opted out of his contract with the Dodgers on Thursday.
More from the majors’ Central divisions…
- Having demoted Ian Happ to the minors on Saturday, the Cubs are looking for a center fielder via the trade and waiver markets, Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reports. Additionally, the Cubs remain in the market for depth at catcher, Levine relays (Twitter links). Happ had been the Cubs’ projected season-opening starter in center field, but that role could now go to Albert Almora Jr. Meanwhile, lacking an experienced backstop behind Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini, the Cubs have prioritized the position in recent months. They came up short in attempts to sign Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado dating back to the offseason.
- More on the Cubs, who announced that they’ve assigned infielder Cristhian Adames to minor league camp. The recipient of a minors deal in January, Adames had been competing for a place on the Cubs’ bench prior to his demotion. He made a case for a roster spot by slashing a stellar .386/.440/.705 with three home runs in 44 exhibition at-bats, though the 27-year-old hasn’t been nearly as successful in meaningful major league action. Adames combined for 343 PAs as a Rockie from 2014-17 and hit an unsightly .206/.283/.278 with a pair of homers.
- Righty Jimmy Nelson, still on the mend from a September 2017 surgery to repair both labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder, felt “some elbow soreness” after throwing in a side game Thursday, tweets MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. The club still believes Nelson will begin his AAA rehab stint on schedule, per McCalvy, but it’s nonetheless a concerning development for the one-time Brewer ace. Milwaukee set its early-season rotation yesterday, with the high-upside Corbin Burnes/Freddy Peralta/Brandon Woodruff trio bookended by the iffy combination of Jhoulys Chacin and Zach Davies, whom the club seem higher on.
- Royals lefty Danny Duffy told Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com this week he’d “love” to shift to a relief role eventually. For now, though, Duffy remains a starter. “We’ve had discussions, but they haven’t gone further than that. As long as I’m helping the team in some capacity, that’s all I want and that’s all they want,” said Duffy, who’s likely to start the season on the IL because of shoulder tightness. Shoulder issues were also a problem last year for Duffy, who didn’t take the mound past Sept. 4. It was an underwhelming season before that for Duffy, as the 30-year-old only managed a 4.88 ERA/4.70 FIP with 8.19 K/9, 4.06 BB/9 and a 35.4 percent groundball rate over 155 innings. Still, given the success Duffy has had as a starter (which helped him net a five-year, $65MM extension in January 2017), it’s an eye-opener that he’s so willing to change roles. Duffy has thrived in 34 2/3 frames as a reliever, though, having registered a 2.08 ERA/2.02 FIP with 11/42 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9.