The Milwaukee Brewers made their first major move in free agency Thursday, signing veteran relief pitcher Jorge Julio. The former Orioles closer signed a one-year, $950,000 contract with an additional $900,000 in performance-based bonuses.
Julio, a power right-hander who will turn 30 in March, has a 4.30 ERA in parts of eight Major League seasons and split 2008 between Cleveland and Atlanta. He saved 83 games as Baltimore's closer from 2002-04, but he has mostly appeared as a setup man since then.
"We're going to have some jobs that will be competitive in the bullpen," Brewers GM Doug Melvin said. "We put [Julio] on the roster, he'll come to camp, and we hope he can rebound and pitch the way he did in the past. Sometimes relievers follow bad years with good years."
Julio started last season with the Indians but was released after 15 games, including a five-run, 1 2/3-inning outing in his final Cleveland appearance, which boosted his ERA from 3.38 to 5.60. He signed a Minor League deal with the Braves and was 1-2 with a 2.08 ERA and 13 saves in 38 games at Triple-A Richmond. Julio finished the year strong as one of the Braves' September callups, allowing only one earned run and striking out 19 batters over 12 appearances spanning 12 1/3 innings. He didn't allow a run in his final 11 games for the Braves.
The Brewers had good scouting reports on Julio, even from his performances early in the season in Cleveland. They also have a scout currently in Venezuela, where Julio has appeared in four Winter League games.
Julio was not rated a Type A or Type B free agent, so he will not cost the Brewers any Draft picks next year.
He's actually Milwaukee's second Major League free-agent signing this offseason. The team inked left-hander R.J. Swindle on Nov. 25.
Melvin has a history of giving relievers, especially hard-throwers, an opportunity to bounce back. He claimed Derrick Turnbow off waivers from the Angels in 2004, and Turnbow turned into an All-Star closer. Last offseason, he traded away Johnny Estrada, who likely would have been non-tendered anyway, to get Mota from the Mets, and Mota was one of Milwaukee's best relievers down the stretch.
"I suppose he's a bit like Mota in that he's pitched the late innings before," Melvin said of Julio. "He could fill that kind of role for us."Like Swindle, Julio is pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League. He had appeared in four games through Wednesday and had allowed two runs on four hits with two saves for Caracas, his hometown.
This is a decent move by the Crew, as they're almost desperate for arms in the bullpen, and Julio could very well be the new closer (Julio has previous experience as the Baltimore Orioles' stopper). With the retirement of Salomon Torres, the possible losses of Guillermo Mota and Brian Shouse, and the definite subtraction of Eric Gagne, the Brewers' bullpen is simply empty. The team is full of starters, rather than relievers. Look for the Brewers to keep adding arms for the 'pen throughout the month.