COMMENTARY | Several difficult decisions await Milwaukee Brewers management this winter when it comes to the 40-man roster.
As it stands right now, the following players are absent from the 40-man roster -- Ryan Braun, Chris Narveson, Mark Rogers, Corey Hart, Taylor Green and Mat Gamel. Of those players, we can really only assume that Braun will be added back following his suspension, but what does the future hold for the others?
When looking specifically at Narveson and Rogers, their time in a Brewer uniform could be up. Both ended the season pitching at the minor league level -- Narveson at Triple-A Nashville and Rogers on a rehab stint with High-A Brevard County -- and have battled injury as of late. Narveson had to clear waivers to land in the minors while Rogers is now set up to enter minor league free agency.
Even if we rule out Narveson and Rogers from our contender list, there are still plenty of arms that will be looking for a spot in the starting rotation next season. Here are their odds.
Wily Peralta (Chance: 95 percent)
You can never be 100 percent sure, but there's no reason to believe Peralta won't be back in the starting five next season. The 24-year-old isn't someone the Brewers are looking to move, and he has the stuff to be dominant, which he's shown on occasion in 2013 -- consistency is the most pressing issue. In his first full season with Milwaukee, Peralta is 9-14 with a 4.51 ERA (4.26 FIP).
Kyle Lohse (90 percent)
There's a slight chance he could be traded during the offseason, but his contract ($29 million remaining after 2013) makes a deal more likely to happen near the non-waiver trade deadline. Lohse has been Milwaukee's No. 1 pitcher and received some trade buzz this season. He's 9-9 with a 3.59 ERA (4.19 FIP), but will turn 35 in October.
Yovani Gallardo (75 percent)
Gallardo could very well be traded this winter, although his recent performance (3-0, 1.35 ERA since coming off the DL) could go two ways. It could increase his trade value and make the Brewers more likely to move him, or it could provide more incentive to keep Yo around.
When taking FIP into account (3.94), Gallardo has been Milwaukee's most effective starter all around, but his 11-9 record and 4.18 ERA still leaves something to be desired. He has one year and $11.5 million remaining on his deal following 2013 plus a $13 million club option for 2015, making him a good candidate to get moved at some point in the next calendar year.
Marco Estrada (70 percent)
By default, Estrada can expect to be back in the rotation in 2014, especially if Gallardo is moved and with some young arms still developing, although he's also a nominee to become a long reliever. The 30-year-old is arbitration eligible in '14 and '15. Estrada missed time due to injury this season and is 6-4 with a 4.49 ERA (4.28 FIP).
Johnny Hellweg (45 percent)
A strong finish to 2013 would go a long way for Hellweg earning the No. 5 spot next season. In his first stint with Milwaukee, he struggled mightily, but in his first start as a September call-up, Hellweg earned his first major league victory with a quality start. The 24-year-old was the PCL Pitcher of the Year (12-5, 3.15 ERA with Nashville), so that has to count for something.
Jimmy Nelson (40 percent)
It will be a tooth-and-nail battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation next spring. Nelson made his big league debut on Sept. 6, pitching two scoreless innings in relief without allowing a baserunner. The 24-year-old is Milwaukee's top prospect according to MLB.com and he was strong at Double-A Huntsville (2.74 ERA) as well as Triple-A Nashville (3.67 ERA) this season.
Tyler Thornburg (30 percent)
The Brewers seem to like Thornburg out of the bullpen, although he's currently a member of Milwaukee's six-man starting rotation. In fifteen games (four starts), Thornburg has been impressive, going 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA (3.51 FIP), but his stuff may be best suited for the 'pen. Along with Hellweg and Nelson, the soon-to-be 25-year-old will be given a shot to earn a rotation spot.
Free agent (10 percent)
There's always a chance the Brewers build up a belief they can contend in 2014, sort of like they did last offseason before finally settling on Lohse just before the start of the season. That move puts Milwaukee in a bit of a financial bind, so to go out and sign another free agent starting pitcher next winter would seem unlikely. But the Brewers do have the No. 25 ERA in baseball among starting rotations. It's hard to determine what direction Milwaukee wants to head.
Narveson, Rogers, Ariel Pena, Mike Fiers, Hiram Burgos (Little to no chance)
Remember Fiers and Burgos? They were actually in the Brewers rotation at one point this season. Now both are shut down with injuries, as is Narveson. Meanwhile, Rogers was outrighted off the 40-man roster a week ago, setting him up for minor league free agency. A rather strong showing with Brevard Country (3.60 ERA in six appearances) wasn't enough to make him a September call-up.
As far as Pena is concerned, he showed flashes down at Huntsville and finished up 8-9 with a 3.73 ERA, but we can expect to see him at Nashville next season. In the end, it appears there are seven -- maybe eight -- viable candidates to fill the Brewers starting rotation in 2014.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who is an avid follower of Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline, as a featured columnist on other sites and publications, and been a guest on multiple sports talk radio shows.
You can get the discussion going and follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .
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