The bullpen is dismantled after the departure of LaTroy Hawkins, Takashi Saito and Francisco Rodriguez. The Brewers still have stud closer John Axford, Kameron Loe and Marco Estrada, but outside of those key players from 2011, the Brewers do not have a good fix inside their system. A few remaining players that could star in the back end of the bullpen seem to be set to start in Nashville. Melvin prides himself in signing a diamond in the rough, so could he find a couple cheap fixes for the bullpen? Here are a list of injury plagued players and players who hit rough patches who many don’t expect the Crew to go after. Most of them are cheap options that can easily fill the big holes left.
1. David Aardsma- Aardsma, just 29, was a stud closer in Seattle whenever he could stay on the field. Despite much success, injuries plagued the young player and kept him from defining himself. Although he missed all of 2011, Aardsma had a great amount of success in 2009 and 2010. In ’09 Aardsma had 38 saves despite taking over for Seattle prospect Brandon Morrow part way through the season. In 2010, in just 41 innings before suffering his injury, Aardsma saved 31 games. The closer is not in the market to be the leader of a bullpen, but has proved he is very capable of being a setup specialists during his time backing up Morrow. With his recent injury history Aardsma could come in on a small incentive based contract and could fill the role K-Rod left at the end of 2011.
2. Joel Zumaya- Zumaya was once the closer to be prospect of the Tigers system. The flamethrower consistently hit triple digits and blazed away competition. He was always successful, with a career 3.05 ERA, Zumaya is another strong bullpen candidate that missed all of 2011. Zumaya is ready to throw, as he showed execs the other day during his personal demonstration, and strikes out major league hitters with the best of them. Zumaya is another player who would come in on an incentive based, maybe even minor league contract. Contention may drive up his price, but the Brewers chance at contention could make Zumaya attracted to Milwaukee. Plus, he’s only 27.
3. Pat Neshek- Neshek was once THE setup man of the American League. Setting up Joe Nathan, Neshek had two complete seasons with an ERA under 3.00 and striking out 9 or more per 9. Neshek then went through surgery, but could not return to form. Neshek hasn’t surpassed 25 innings in the last three years he’s pitched, and missed one year all together. However, the ability is still there, but control isn’t. Neshek does not seemed primed to get a major league contract, and coming in a spring training invite could prove impressive enough to make the bullpen.
4. Kerry Wood-Wood is one of THE bullpen FA’s going into 2011. The reason he is under the radar? Everyone expects Wood to go to the Cubs or retire, however, Wood just wants to stay somewhere, where his family is comfortable. Milwaukee’s close proximity to Chicago would not require him to take his family away from their comfort. They would also get someone who struck out 10/9 IP and walked 3/9. Wood is a great late inning reliever, and would cost some money, but may be willing to part with the Cubs if he stayed close enough.
5. Brad Lidge- If you could get as high profile a closer as they come, with as much explosion and injury risk as you could ask for Brad Lidge would be your man. I don’t know Lidge could be pulled away from closing duties, but he will most certainly be reliable if healthy. Lidge, pulled himself together in Philly, could he do the same in Milwaukee? The next best benefit of Lidge? He probably only wants a one year deal, if he is doing his normal performance come July, you could flip him to a contender if the Crew can’t compete.
6. Mike Gonzalez- Gonzalez was primed to be a closer. He was one of the top bullpen players, posting a 2.42 ERA in 70+innings for Atlanta. Gonzalez is a hard throwing lefty, who just lost his stuff. Location wasn’t a problem as much as he lost his ability to strike people out last season. Also, Gonzalez, allowing 1.8 HR’s per game last season was hurt by letting the ball out of the park. The Brewers need a lefty in the bullpen. Gonzalez can pitch against lefties, allowing a .217 career BA against them. Maybe a LOOGY role might be his best role, and the Brewers would be smart to buy when his stock is low. If he gets his pitches back together, Gonzalez could even pitch full innings, as righties never faired that well against him either… until 2010. In 2011 though righties hit .287 against him while lefties still only managed a .214 BA.