The 2013 Milwaukee Brewers suffered through suspensions and poor performances from key players, en route to their first losing season since 2010, as they finished in 4th place in the ultra-competitive NL Central with a 74-88 record. The team struggled in all aspects of the game, but pitching was the main culprit for their demise. Fortunately, Milwaukee saddled up and gave Matt Garza the largest free agent deal in the team's history today, signing him to a four-year, $50 million contract worth up to $67 million once one factors in incentives and a 5th year vesting option.
The 30-year-old Garza has dealt with injuries in each of the past two seasons, but has still posted a 3.3 WAR and 105 ERA+ in 259 innings with the Cubs and Rangers. Garza has consistently been an above-average starter since earning a full-time gig with the Twins in 2007. In 8 years with the Twins, Rays, Cubs, and Rangers, Garza has a 3.84 career ERA and 3.98 FIP. He has accumulated an 18.1 WAR and hasn't posted an ERA+ below 100 (league average) since his rookie year in 2006.
Garza will certainly add to a Brewers' rotation that ranked 28th in the majors in starter's WAR (5.8) last year, while also finishing with the 6th worst FIP (4.31) in baseball. He will join a staff that already features Yovan Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada, and Wily Peralta, all of whom are locked up for at least the next two seasons.
Lohse was great in his Milwaukee debut last year, compiling a 3.3 WAR and 3.35 ERA in just under 200 innings. Estrada was also quite solid (3.87 ERA), but made just 21 starts, so a full season of him will definitely be beneficial. Likewise, Peralta had a somewhat impressive rookie season in 2013, finishing with a 4.37 ERA in just over 183 innings.
With the addition of Garza, a full season of Estrada, a steady Lohse, and an improved Wily Peralta, the Brewers' rotation will most certainly be better this season. Still, that leaves Gallardo, who will play a big role in whether the Brewers can contend this year. After gathering a 12.4 WAR and emerging as the team's ace from 2009-2012, Gallardo took a step back last year, posting a 4.18 ERA and 1.7 WAR in 180.2 innings.
However, Gallardo's peripherals suggest 2013 was a fluke. He posted a SO/BB rate (2.18) slightly below his career average (2.57), while his groundball rate (49.2%) was actually the best of his career. Hitters hit .299 on balls in play in 2013, a figure which was the second worst of his career, partially explaining some of his decline. Also, his FIP (3.89) actually suggests that he was a better pitcher last year than his 2.9 WAR 2012 season.
Factoring in the addition of Will Smith and the retainment of both Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler in the bullpen, and the fact that they didn't really lose anyone except Mike Gonzalez (who had a 85 ERA+ last year) this winter, and the Brewers overall pitching outlook in 2014 looks to be better than last year.
An offense led by Braun, Ramirez, Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, and Jonathan Lucroy looks pretty good on paper, and supporting players such as Khris Davis, Juan Francisco, Rickie Weeks, and Mark Reynolds all have the potential to produce at a high capacity.
Again, on paper the 2014 Brewers look like a legitimate contender, but is it enough to even finish 3rd in their own division?
The Cardinals won 97 games last year and could be better this year, and the Pirates have a strong pipeline of young talent that should add to a 94-win squad from last season. The 90-win Cincinnati Reds seem like the only team that Milwaukee has a pretty decent chance of catching, but they still have Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and an incredibly strong rotation. Plus, that's not even factoring in wild-card contenders from other divisions such as the Nationals, Braves, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Giants.
Overall, the Garza signing should make Milwaukee a considerably better team in 2014, but whether or not they will be good enough to compete in a deep National League playoff race is another matter.