COMMENTARY | It's not too often that you see a team with a winning record have the worst bullpen in baseball, but that was the case last season with the Milwaukee Brewers. In comparison, the worst bullpen to reach the postseason was that of the St. Louis Cardinals with a 3.90 ERA, a far cry from Milwaukee's 4.66 mark.
Suffice it to say, the Brewers' No. 1 priority entering the offseason was to give their bullpen a facelift. Gone are Jose Veras, Kameron Loe, Manny Parra, Livan Hernandez and Francisco Rodriguez, all of whom contributed their fair share of misery to what was an unstable late-game formula to say the very least.
It could also be argued that general manager Doug Melvin and the Brewers' front office should have made starting pitching a large priority, as not only had Milwaukee traded away Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, but it had also severed ties with Randy Wolf and allowed Shaun Marcum to depart via free agency.
Towards the end of the 2012 season, there were three pitchers in the starting rotation with less than a year of MLB experience - Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Mark Rogers. First-year pitcher Tyler Thornburg also made a few spot starts and all four are expected to compete for roster spots - if not spots in the starting rotation - heading into the 2013 season. Despite some inconsistencies from the staff, it closed out 2012 strong and finished with a 3.99 ERA on the season, good for No. 13 in the MLB.
We can also pencil in Chris Narveson to the battle for a spot in the starting five, which means there were already several candidates to fill out the rotation heading into the offseason. Even still, besides the five-plus years of MLB service Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada offer, there is a noticeable lack of experience among Milwaukee's starting pitching.
So the offseason began, and 17 signings, one claim and one trade later, the Brewers appear to have most if not all of their off-the-field activity behind them. Much to the chagrin of supporters, Milwaukee was unable to reel in a starting pitcher worthy of competing for a spot in the rotation despite making a run at Ryan Dempster. There are still several high-end pitchers available - Kyle Lohse and Joe Saunders just to name a few - but many are demanding money and years that the Brewers simply aren't willing to devote.
Where Melvin and the Brewers did most of their damage was on the reliever market. It began with signing Michael Olmsted in November, followed by trading with Tampa Bay for Burke Badenhop, and then signing Tom Gorzellany and Michael Gonzalez with several minor moves scattered about. We are only midway through January, but pitchers and catchers report to Arizona Feb. 12, and with the Brewers coming off a season with nearly a $100 million payroll - No. 10 in the MLB on opening day - owner Mark Attanasio probably isn't looking to dish out much more cheese before the season kicks off.
That being said, we can evaluate Milwaukee's acquisitions and what kind of impact they may have in 2013 - as well as determine if Melvin and Co. did enough. Playing in the smallest market in Major League Baseball, the Brewers are always looking to get bang for their buck. They may have very well gotten it with Gonzalez, who turned into somewhat of a lefty specialist with the Washington Nationals last season. Against left-handed batters, Gonzalez allowed a .177 opponent batting average and finished the season with a 3.03 ERA.
The question with Gonzalez, 34, is if he has rediscovered his 2009-self when he composed a 2.42 ERA with the Atlanta Braves. Either way, the $2.25 million purchase of Gonzalez gives the Brewers someone who can come in to face left-handed hitters late in games, a non-existent role in 2012. Another lefty who pitched for the Nats last season expected to join the revamped 'pen is Gorzellany, a long-relief option who can spot-start if needed. Gorzellany put together a 2.88 ERA in 72 IP with Washington last season.
Another under-the-radar acquisition, Badenhop figures to be a middle reliever and sure-fire opening day roster member who is also coming off a fine season in which he posted a 3.03 ERA. Now, these moves are by no means Francisco Rodriguez-esque, but all three pitchers danced around a 3.00 earned run average, and Milwaukee would gladly take that this season after what it had to deal with in 2012.
One area of concern could be that these pitchers are coming from more pitcher-friendly ballparks than Miller Park, but the Brewers had no choice but to overhaul their bullpen while dumping payroll at the same time. In that regard, Milwaukee has made some savvy moves and will be giving plenty or arms a look throughout Spring Training.
Were there attractive names fans would have liked to see Milwaukee sign? Of course - despite having a top 3 offense, Josh Hamilton would have looked smashing in a Brewer uniform. But the offense doesn't need to be touched at the moment. Could the starting rotation have used a veteran arm to give the Brewers more security? Perhaps, but once plans fell through to sign Dempster, a top-end deal was out of the question considering the Brewers' financial situation.
Free agents want more and more money these days, and that simply doesn't bode well for Milwaukee. To almost see the Brewers hit the century mark in payroll last season was a shock, and when keeping that in mind, Milwaukee did what it could in free agency this winter.
Penny pushers? Maybe. Just remember where this franchise was payroll-wise pre-Attanasio - dead last.
Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_