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Insider

Wolf to the Brewers seems worth it

12/9/2009

After a four-year stretch that saw him miss time with elbow and shoulder injuries -- including Tommy John surgery -- Randy Wolf has thrown more than 400 innings and made 67 starts in the last two years while establishing himself as a solid mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starter, at least in the National League.

He throws a four-pitch mix with good control and a very sharp curveball that was as good this year as it's been since he first blew out his elbow, although he could stand to use it more ahead of his slider. He's been a fly-ball pitcher for most of his career but has had success in Dodger Stadium, which suppresses run-scoring overall but not home runs, so the move to Miller Park should only give him a little additional trouble with the long ball. And he'll have one of the game's best fly-catchers behind him, center fielder Carlos Gomez. (What he'll have in the outfield corners behind him is a matter I'm sure Brewers fans would rather not discuss, unless we're talking about Ryan Braun's bat.) Assuming that Wolf's newfound durability is real, which may be a bit optimistic, his command, control and approach make him worth this kind of gamble, even though the deal is unlikely to prove to be any kind of bargain.

Signing Wolf alone does not give the Brewers an adequate rotation for contention in 2010, and if this ends up as the only major addition they make to their starting staff, it may end up being a hard contract to justify because it pushes them to respectability rather than into a playoff hunt. Wolf becomes the de facto No. 2 starter behind Yovani Gallardo, but behind them sit three starters who project as worse than league average, with only Manny Parra bringing any real upside to the table. The Brewers should again have one of the league's better offenses; they gave up some offense to maintain their defense and save money in center field, though, and will trade some more offense to gain defense and save money at shortstop, but they'll have to continue to improve their run prevention to make up for what they'll lose in run scoring.

Wolf's contract should set a bar for Joel Pineiro -- who may not get three years but should look to match or top Wolf's salary and should also see a wider market as a ground-ball guy who can pitch in tough hitters' parks. Beyond Pineiro and John Lackey, the starting-pitching market is getting very thin; the most appealing names left are guys with injury histories like Ben Sheets and Rich Harden.