Yesterday, it was announced that John Brebbia had signed with the San Francisco Giants on a major-league deal worth $800,000. This is a bargain, even for a reliever that has undergone Tommy John surgery. He is somewhat of a risk as it is unknown how he will pitch when he returns to the mound, but if he can recover fully and pitch close to his previous levels, then this will be a fantastic signing for the Giants, and Brebbia may seem like one that got away for Cardinals fans.
There were reasons for the Cardinals to non-tender Brebbia and try to bring him back on a minor league contract. To begin with, there is the Tommy John surgery. However, the Cardinals also wanted to free up a roster spot and perhaps save money (even if it is only $800,000). There is plenty of bullpen depth in St. Louis, so it seems that the Cardinals believed that they could let Brebbia walk in free agency and then replace him with a younger, in-house option. There is reason to believe that this may be true as Giovanny Gallegos, Jordan Hicks, Alex Reyes, Genesis Cabrera, John Gant, Tyler Webb, Andrew Miller Ryan Helsley, Junior Fernandez, Seth Elledge and Kodi Whitley all have legitimate cases to be in the big league bullpen in 2021. Additionally, there are a number of pitchers who could also be in the starting rotation who could pitch out the bullpen as well. These include Daniel Ponce de Leon, Carlos Martinez, Austin Gomber, Johan Oviedo, and Jake Woodford.
While that is a lot of pitchers, there is also a case to be made that some of these players may be better off starting the season in Memphis. Additionally, it is always good to have strong pitching depth as injuries can occur and it is still unknown as to when the season will start or how normal Spring Training will be. Therefore, even though the roster spot is important, John Brebbia is worthy of a major league contract and a spot in the bullpen.
The right-hander was a key piece in the Cardinals bullpen in 2018 and 2019 as he threw a combined 123 1⁄3 innings in 111 games. Additionally, he posted ERAs of 3.20 and 3.59 in those seasons as well as FIPs of 3.02 and 3.13. Brebbia also posted a strikeout rate above 28% in each season to go with a walk rate below 9% each year. This is strong overall production and reliability from somebody who is 30 years old and has three years of team control left.
Brebbia’s ability to miss bats while limiting baserunners in invaluable to the bullpen as he has posted whiff rates at least 4% above league average in each of the last two years to go with a .279 xwOBA allowed (87th percentile) and 87.9 mph exit velocity (70th percentile) in 2019. For a middle reliever, these are outstanding numbers. In fact, Brebbia may have received a more high leverage role if he was not on the same team as Giovanny Gallegos and Jordan Hicks.
While there is risk with a reliever who did not pitch in 2020 and is recovering from Tommy John surgery, Brebbia has a strong history of success and has given the team no reason to doubt that he can pitch well when he returns. Additionally, losing three seasons of team control on the right-hander who has been a strong contributor to the Cardinals bullpen is also not ideal.
While the Cardinals wanted to open a roster spot and save money, Brebbia was worthy of both, and the Giants may now benefit from the Cardinals decision. The Cardinals will now hope that they can replace Brebbia’s production with a less proven, and slightly cheaper option.