MILWAUKEE — Like many at this time of year, David Stearns only knocked a few items off his holiday shopping list, and he got it done just under the wire.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ general manager announced the signings of free agent pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo on Thursday, adding depth to a pitching staff that will be looking for help while Jimmy Nelson recovers from shoulder surgery.
Stearns’ moves weren’t flashy, to be sure.
Gallardo, who spent seven years with the Brewers before being traded to Texas before the 2015 season, has struggled the past two seasons. While with Seattle last year, he was demoted to the bullpen twice before finishing with a 5-10 record and 5.72 ERA.
Chacin, meanwhile, is coming off a solid season in which he went 13-10 with a 3.82 ERA in a career-high 32 starts for the Padres.
“One of our objectives this offseason was to add to the overall quality of depth of our starting pitching, and we think that today’s signings are a nice start to doing just that,” Stearns said.
“We were able to bring in two veteran pitchers who throughout their careers have successfully logged a lot of innings, pitched at a high level and in the case of Jhoulys, is coming off a really strong season.”
Chacin, who turns 30 in January, has spent nine years in the big leagues and is 59-67 with a 3.93 ERA in 195 appearances, including 167 starts. He began his career with the Rockies, posting a 3.78 ERA while pitching in the thin air of Colorado, and will have to rely on that experience after moving from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to Milwaukee’s Miller Park, known for being a hitter’s haven.
“When I was in San Diego, I always tried to keep the ball down,” Chacin said. “I know Miller Park is different than Petco but I think if I keep the ball down, hit my spots and try to throw strikes (I will be successful).”
Since taking over the Brewers’ baseball operation late in the 2015 season, Stearns has made analytics a big part of the team’s decision-making process. In evaluating Chacin, Stearns and his staff identified a number of metrics — he’s among the majors’ leaders in weak contact allowed; dominated right-handers; and allowed fewer than one home run per nine innings — that made the veteran an attractive addition. That’s despite wild splits in ERA (1.79 at Petco Park and 6.59 on the road).
“When we look to pursue a player, we want as many arrows pointing in the right direction as possible,” Stearns said. “In this case, we had a number of arrows from the analytical perspective, from the scouting perspective and certainly from the baseline performance from last year that gave us confidence that this is a pitcher who can help us win games here at Miller Park and someone who is going to help stabilize our staff.”
With Gallardo, the story is a little different but despite his recent struggles, Stearns saw enough upside to offer a non-guaranteed contract.
“He’s had a lot of success in his career ... a lot of success in this uniform,” Stearns said. “He’s still relatively young and he’s been throwing the ball hard. In fact, there was a pretty meaningful velocity uptick last year and we think with a couple of tweaks, he can get back to being the very successful pitcher he was.”
Returning to Milwaukee, where he went 89-64 with a 3.69 ERA in 214 appearances, is a chance to start fresh for Gallardo, who will be 32 when camp opens.
“We all know that the last couple years haven’t gone good for me,” Gallardo said. “I think it’s just a matter of minor adjustments.
“To join a club like (Milwaukee) with a pitching coach (Derek Johnson) that has a young staff and did what he did, it’s a good fit. It’s just a matter of going back to where I was comfortable.
“I spent seven years there wearing that uniform. It’s home. It’s home for me. Just a bunch of good memories, and hopefully keep building on that this upcoming year.”
A second-round pick of the Brewers in the 2004 draft, Gallardo made three postseason starts and set a franchise record by making five straight Opening Day starts. If he wants to make a sixth Opening Day start for Milwaukee, Gallardo will have to prove himself when spring training opens.
“We look at him as a guy coming in to compete for either a starting spot or a bullpen role,” Stearns said. “Obviously, depending on the moves we make over the next couple of months, that may change things a little bit. We certainly believe that he’s capable of starting in this league and being a productive starter. That’s why we signed him.”
Stearns hasn’t closed the door on more additions to the roster. Milwaukee still needs help in the bullpen, could use more pitching depth overall and needs a solution at second base.
“We’re probably about halfway through the offseason at this point,” Stearns said. “There’s a lot of time left. With these additions, we feel like we’ve made progress.
“We think we’ve helped solidify our pitching unit as a whole and given ourselves some options beyond what we have internally. If other opportunities emerge over the next couple of months, we’re not going to turn our back on those, either.”