The Milwaukee Brewers significantly improved their 2013 roster with the announcement that Kyle Lohse had agreed to terms with the team, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. They also significantly added to this writer's workload by rendering an earlier draft of this article useless after the announcement.
Before the Lohse deal hit the wires, I had outlined a two-step process for the Brewers to improve their starting pitching before Opening Day. The signing of Kyle Lohse represented the successful completion of step one before this article had a chance to see daylight.
Life is filled with necessary adjustments. The Brewers made their adjustment with the addition of Lohse. This writer has adjusted by paring down a two-step process to one.
Congratulations to the Brewers' ownership, management, players and fans for this momentous signing. Lohse had a great career in St. Louis and should prove to be a valuable piece in the Brew Crew pitching puzzle. The move also gives the team and its fans a hefty confidence boost heading into their first regular-season game.
Without question, this aggressive and bold move in free agency turned heads in the NL Central and around the rest of the league.
However, there is one additional step the Brewers could take prior to Opening Day which would also significantly bolster their pitching staff and help push the team into the playoffs.
Aside from Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers do not have any starting pitchers in Arizona that have looked dominant throughout spring training. This was clearly one of the drivers in the Lohse signing, which gives the team two battle-tested veterans.
Outside of their top two, the only starter that has truly distinguished himself from the remainder is possibly Marco Estrada, who has posted a 1-1 record and a 1.88 ERA with the Brewers in Arizona. Adding him to the rotation still leaves two spots open with no clear options on which players left in Arizona might best fill them.
However, the team does own the rights to a player that has recently pitched consistently and successfully against major league quality opposition, albeit outside the Cactus League.
That player is Hiram Burgos, a current minor leaguer in the Brewers’ system that pitched for Puerto Rico during the World Baseball Classic. Playing for the runner-up Puerto Rican squad, Burgos pitched nearly lights out throughout the tournament, ending with a 1-0 record and a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings.
Not only was he dominant in the 2013 WBC, but he was also the Brewers’ minor league Pitcher of the Year in 2012. Last year at AAA Nashville, he put up a 10-4 record and a 1.95 ERA in 27 starts.
While certainly a positive for the team, the decision to sign Lohse indicates that the Brewers must have been anything but comfortable with their existing situation. The following is a group of pitchers Milwaukee is likely evaluating to claim the last two spots: Mike Fiers (6.98 ERA), Chris Narveson (5.50 ERA), Wily Peralta (5.74 ERA), Mark Rogers (7.00 ERA).
It's a popular exercise in the Brewers media coverage universe to speculate which of the other pitchers will fill out the last three (now two) spots in the starting rotation.
Unfortunately, the reality is that none of these players stands much taller than the other. None of them are proven and none of them have thrown particularly great stuff in Arizona.
Beyond Gallardo, the only other pitcher with starter capabilities to have thrown effective stuff against major league-quality batters is Hiram Burgos, and he is sitting down in Triple-A Nashville.
There is no doubt the Brewers greatly improved their rotation heading into Opening Day by adding Lohse to the equation.
However, the team may be working against their own best interests by keeping a player with stuff like Burgos off the Opening Day roster.
Baseball is a sport that is often criticized for its outdated approach, as Moneyball clearly illustrated. In many cases teams become slaves to the high-priced contracts they sign with veteran players. In other cases teams simply don't think "outside the box" regarding the fluidity of player performance.
As a small market team that receives generous support from a loyal fan base, the Brewers should throw off the shackles of tradition and start fielding their best available players. This is professional sports, and the players with the best results should be helping the team, not stuck working on their whittling skills in Tennessee.
How can fans be certain that an environment of accountability exists within the system when a player with a 0.69 ERA against very stiff competition in a playoff environment like the WBC is overlooked in favor of other players who often struggled against fringe batters just trying to make their respective teams?
It’s likely the Brewers won’t promote Hiram Burgos before Opening Day. However, based on past statistics and recent production, they should.