The Winter Meetings are set to begin next week, and there should be a flurry of movement almost immediately. Well, that should be the case once Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Otani figure out where they want to play ball in 2018. Most baseball scribes seem to think once those two sign, the free agent floodgates will open, and for the teams out on the Stanton and Otani sweepstakes, it should be extremely exciting.
The Milwaukee Brewers are one of those teams. Otani has already ruled out Milwaukee as a possible destination, and there’s just no way they can afford to take on Stanton’s salary. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t ready to spend. They’ve already been linked to Jake Arrieta, who is one of the top free agent hurlers on the market. And while I think signing Arrieta will eventually be a tremendous mistake, there are still many options — both in the hitting and pitching department — that should pique the Brewers’ interest. The Brewers didn’t lose many players to free agency this offseason, though the few players who left will leave big holes on the roster. Neil Walker and Anthony Swarzak both elected free agency, although both have expressed interest on returning, a scenario the Brewers would likely welcome with open arms.
Here are a few free agents that I think the Brewers should target.
SP Alex Cobb
The free agent starting pitching market isn’t all that deep, but there are a few promising names, and Cobb is my favorite option. Cobb is entering his age-30 season and should be right in the middle of his prime years. The right-hander had a bit of a down campaign in 2017, finishing with a respectable 3.66 ERA, but a less impressive 4.16 FIP and 4.24 xFIP. Yet, he’s only two years removed from his second-consecutive season of sub-3.00 ERA. He has the potential to be a true No. 1 ace, and he would immediately fill that void in Milwaukee, especially considering Jimmy Nelson is expected to miss a good chunk of 2018.
In order to revert back to his dominant days, the former Rays’ hurler will need to improve his whiff numbers. His 6.7% swinging strike numbers in 2017 was a career low, and the majority of his other plate discipline numbers suffered from previous years as well. One down year in the peripheral stats department shouldn’t discourage the Brewers from any interest, though. He’s still considered one of the top arms on the market.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Cobb to receive a four-year, $48 million contract, which is something the Brewers should have no problem offering. He does, however, come with some injury risk. He missed the entirety of the 2015 season and made just five starts the following year due to Tommy John surgery. Still, his track record and arm potential is worth the risk.
2B Neil Walker
This is somewhat obvious, as Walker played 38 games with the Brewers in 2017 after being acquired from the Mets. But second base is one of the biggest holes Milwaukee needs to focus on this winter. The team tendered Jonathan Villar and re-signed Eric Sogard, but expecting those two to adequately hold down second base for 162 games is a bit of a stretch. Villar — who broke out in 2016 — was pitiful a year later, and, as much as I love the guy, Sogard is most useful off the bench or in a utility role.
Walker should be Milwaukee’s top target if they want to compete again. And the 32 year old clearly likes hitting in Miller Park. After putting up a 108 wRC+ over 299 plate appearances for New York, Walker blasted his way to a 125 wRC+ in 149 plate appearances. The dimensions of Miller Park agree with him.
MLB Trade Rumors projects just a two-year deal worth $11 million for the veteran, though the Brewers might be wise to overpay for his production. The alternative is just not good enough for a hopeful contender.
As a cheaper and less-talented option than Cobb, the Brewers should give Chris Tillman a call. Even though it seems like Tillman has been around since the dawn of time, he’s actually only 29 years old, and should still have plenty left in the tank. It’s true that he had the worst season of his career in 2017, and yes, it’s true his 14.2% strikeout rate was his lowest mark since 2010 — his second year in the bigs. Regardless of all that, Tillman represents a terrific bounce-back option. In 2016, he posted a 3.77 ERA and 4.23 FIP, which is eerily similar to Zach Davies‘ most recent stat line.
If the Brewers were to sign the righty, it would most likely be on a short-term deal with a team option. MLB Trade Rumors has him pegged at receiving just a one-year deal worth $11 million. With Nelson out of the starting rotation for the foreseeable future, Tillman would slide in toward the back of the rotation, with his upside being a No. 2 or 3 pitcher.
He’s not the sexiest name on the open market, but he’s a reclamation project that David Stearns loves. He’d be more than useful in Milwaukee’s shallow rotation.
Anthony Swarzak: He resurrected his career and has turned himself into a dominant reliever. He enjoyed his time in Milwaukee, and the Brewers need bullpen help.
Tommy Hunter: Another pitcher on my list, but that’s the main asset the Brewers should covet. Hunter has been a stud reliever since making the switch from the rotation in 2013, and while it could take a decent chunk of change to get Hunter to Milwaukee, he would greatly improve the Brewers’ bullpen.