Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required) recently wrote that the Philadelphia Phillies had been engaged in discussions with the Texas Rangers about a trade involving Mike Minor, but no deal was close. What was interesting for fans of the Brewers was a statement written almost as an afterthought. Rosenthal mentioned, “The Rangers at one point thought they were close to sending Minor to the Brewers.” He offers no other details, just that a deal was evidently close.
Needless to say, a close deal is still no deal in this case (at least for the time being). What is more interesting is what it says about the Brewers’ pitching needs from David Stearns’ perspective. Our beloved General Manager will never tell, but it is likely that interest in Mike Minor was about one of two things:
1. Having Minor reprise his 2017 season with the Royals and become a left-handed option out of the bullpen.
2. Add a left-handed starter to the rotation.
Adding Minor to the Bullpen
Mike Minor was a force for Kansas City in 2017. During that year as a relief pitcher, Minor struck out more than 10 batters per 9. He had an ERA of 2.55, FIP of 2.62, and BABIP of .272. More importantly the Deserved Run Average (DRA) was strong (2.96). As you will come to see, Minor may be better suited for the ‘pen than the rotation. Maybe the Brewers front office saw a reprisal of his role with the Royals just a couple of years ago.
Add Minor to the starting rotation
Minor’s potential in the bullpen is evident. But the Brew Crew could also use a left-handed starter to balance out the plethora of right-handed arms in the rotation. As a starter in Texas, Minor was mediocre. The left-hander had an ERA of 4.18, FIP of 4.43, and interestingly a BABIP of .259. His K/9 fell to just 7.6, much more in line with his career average than 2017, and DRA was really not kind to him (5.78). He allowed 25 home runs in 28 starts and the long ball has been an issue that has plagued him previously during his career when working from the rotation.
Minor didn’t keep all of the major velocity bump he showed when he resurfaced in the majors in 2017, but his 93.2 MPH average in 2018 was still the second-highest total of his career. He also throws a slider, changeup, and curveball. His 9.9% swinging strike rate last season was nearly a point better than his career average. The command specialist yielded only 2.18 BB/9 last season, on par with his career numbers.
On the surface, it seems odd to bring such a pitcher into the starting rotation of a championship caliber team. However, “In Stearns We Trust” became an actual thing people said, because he, as well as others in the Brewers scouting and analytics departments, built a reputation of finding players with untapped performance and doing something to tap into it. If Stearns saw Minor as a starter with his less than stellar numbers, there was a tweak, a fix, or a change that he and his staff feel will work. Add the fact a change from Texas to Milwaukee would mean an increase in defensive performance behind him, and couple that with the fact he is not likely to get through the order more than twice. All these reasons could add up to a very effective starter ala Wade Miley, Jhoulys Chacin, Junior Guerra, and Chase Anderson.
If the Brewers saw Minor as a reliever, they likely pivoted to Alex Claudio instead. As a result, David Stearns filled the role and the Brewers have what they need. It is too bad, because Minor might be a legitimate stud in the bullpen. He’ll pitch next season at age 31, and is owed $9.5 mil in 2019 and 2020, which may be more than Stearns and his staff want to commit to a reliever.
If Minor was seen as a potential rotation piece then we have something interesting on the horizon. Rosenthal’s innocuous little statement gives us a glimpse into a next, and a very important step in Brewers roster construction. Stearns and Company are searching for an under-the-radar, left-handed pitcher that has untapped value to provide. I bet he finds him, and who is to say it isn’t Mike Minor.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus