During the early phases of this offseason, there was chatter galore bandied about suggesting the Milwaukee Brewers might be open to shopping Corbin Burnes, Willy Adames, and Brandon Woodruff. Newly minted General Manager, Matt Arnold, nipped those rumors in the bud.
Brewers GM Matt Arnold has been asked about Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff & Willy Adames but says they’re not on the block.
“We want to put a really good product on the field in 2023, and those guys have to be part of that if we’re going to do that.”https://t.co/hbuPI0LMXz
— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) December 7, 2022
With just two years of club control remaining on each of them as well as others, such as Eric Lauer and Rowdy Tellez, other teams’ front offices obviously checked in on the availability of these players. Arnold put an end to those rumors with his announcement.
None of this changes the fact that Milwaukee has some decisions to make regarding whether to extend, trade, or let go in free agency so many players that have been vital to the success of the team. Being a small market team that rarely goes beyond $130 million in team payroll, signing all three of Burnes, Adames, and Woodruff seems unlikely. Yet it would behoove them to sign at least one, and that one might be Brandon Woodruff.
Brewers Beat Report for 1/25 —
⚾️ Roles for rookies
⚾️ Adames’ future
⚾️ Remembering Captain Sal pic.twitter.com/XqFVEHSNKj
— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) January 25, 2023
Signing any of the three would make logical since, but there are some intriguing reasons to put Woodruff at the top of the list.
Woodruff is Apt to be More Affordable in Dollars and Years than Burnes:
Corbin Burnes has a Cy Young award under his belt, and most would deem him as the ace of Milwaukee’s staff. Yet Woodruff has been almost as good. When you look at each pitchers’ numbers since 2019, you see two of the best pitchers in baseball. Corbin Burnes ranks second in xFIP, third in FIP, eighth in ERA, sixth in K/9, and sixth in WHIP. Woodruff comes in just behind him ranking seventh in xFIP, ninth in FIP, ninth in ERA, twelfth in K/9, and twelfth in WHIP over the four year period.
In essence the Brewers have two aces, but one (Burnes) is seen as an ace. The other is seen as Milwaukee’s number two or “co-ace” (Woodruff). Corbin Burnes, if he gets to free agency, will command upwards to $40+ million per year, and that deal might be for a decade or more. Woodruff would also command a hefty total, but not quite as much. Woodruff would be considered the ace for contenders like the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Guardians, and Toronto Blue Jays. Pitching in Milwaukee might actually dull some of his cache.
Nonetheless, I imagine most smart people across baseball understand what Brandon Woodruff is, and he is apt to get ace-level dollars if he hits the open market. If the Brewers front office could keep him in Milwaukee, they might get a bit of a discount. Many have suggested the Seattle Mariners, Luis Castillo contract as a comp. Castillo is guaranteed $108 million over five years and could make up to $133 million over six years. If the Brewers could get him for those years and dollars, they would get him at what amounts to be a bargain.
Woodruff has the Potential to Age Well:
As mentioned in the Tweet below, Eno Sarris and Derek Van Riper outlined why Brandon Woodruff’s stuff plus and location plus statistics lead them to believe that Brandon Woodruff will age well. Sarris even comped him to Justin Verlander in that regard.
Alright, I was fully on the “resign Brandon Woodruff” bandwagon before, but after listening to @enosarris and @DerekVanRiper break down why his stuff figures to age reasonably well I’m practically salivating at it. Do the Luis Castillo deal (5/110+) with him already please!
— RD Topp (@RDTopp) January 25, 2023
The reason for the optimism about aging well is all about Woodruff’s pitching arsenal. Woodruff has a 5-pitch repertoire. According to Sarris, his 4-seam fastball rates 123 in terms of stuff plus and 108 in location plus. His change up has a 120 stuff plus rating and a 109 location plus rating. Woodruff’s sinker and slider both rate above league average (100 is league average just like with wRC+) in terms of stuff plus, while his curve rates right at league average (99). In terms of location plus, all three pitches are above league average.
Essentially, Woodruff’s 4-seamer is so good, that any reduction in stuff has room to fall as he ages. His secondary pitches are so good, that even if fastball performance declines, his other pitches should play up. And his command on every pitch is quite good, and it might be the case that location plus gets better with age. Finally very few pitchers can command 5 pitches above league average and have stuff plus above league average on four pitches. Woodruff does, and that should age well.
Woodruff is also a big man with a limited injury history. He had an oblique injury in 2019. He also tweaked an ankle last season and missed time due to Raynaud’s syndrome. It’s not a serious threat to your health, but can be annoying to live with, because it can be difficult to use your fingers. People with Raynaud’s often go for long periods without any symptoms, and sometimes the condition goes away altogether.
Woodruff has had no serious injury to his arm or shoulder to date. That bodes well for him as he is consistently in the upper echelons of MLB in terms of fastball velocity. He ranked #9 in 2022. His height and build are similar to Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Kurt Schilling, Roy Halladay, and Nolan Ryan. Woodruff is built physically for the long haul, and his stuff should carry him for years to come.
Brewers Need an Anchor at the Front of the Rotation:
Shortstops of Willy Adames’ ability are hard to come by, and it could be argued that he should be extended above all others. That acknowledged, ace-level starting pitching that is consistent over time is the single most important commodity in baseball. Brandon Woodruff gives the Milwaukee Brewers that luxury. If they were to sign him long term, the Brewers would have their anchor to build around. That means the Brewers would be in position to win every fifth day. That means young starting pitchers would have a mentor and someone to take pressure off of them as they develop.
Position players are important. Middle-of-the-order bats are vital. A team predicated on run prevention must have starting pitching that is exceptionally consistent to be in position to win ball games. Nothing is more important. Brandon Woodruff offers that, and the Brewers can build around that with the likes of Aaron Ashby and Freddy Peralta as well as future impact arms like Jacob Misiorowski and Robert Gasser.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Rates and Barrels podcast