After signing a minor league deal with the Brewers last winter, Colin Rea ended up pitching 119 2/3 innings at the big league level, starting 21 of his 25 games. The right-hander will now look to build off that resume on the open market, as MLB Trade Rumors’ Steve Adams (via X) reports that Rea’s contract contains language that will allow him to enter free agency this winter, even though Rea is still well short of the six full years of MLB service time usually required to become a free agent. Rea entered 2023 with three years and 90 days of service time, and after having his contract selected by Milwaukee in April was shuttled back and forth several times between the active roster and Triple-A Nashville.
Rea spent 2022 with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball, posting a 3.96 ERA in 100 innings of work. As Adams notes, it isn’t unusual for players returning from playing in Japan or other international leagues to have some kind of free agent-related clause in their contracts, giving them a bit more flexibility to seek out a larger deal (whether in MLB or abroad) than they would receive as an arbitration-eligible player still under their team’s control.
Rea turned 33 in July, so it makes sense that he would want to maximize his earning potential now since he could be nearing the end of his career by the time he banked six years of service time. Prior to 2023, Rea had totaled 154 1/3 career MLB innings with the Padres, Marlins, Cubs, and Brewers, pitching in the 2015-16 seasons and then not appearing in the majors again until 2020 and 2021. In the three years between those two stints, Rea pitched in the minors but spent a big chunk of the time recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Rea had a 4.90 ERA over his first 154 1/3 Major League frames, and his numbers in 2023 were pretty similar. The righty had a 4.74 ERA/4.46 SIERA for Milwaukee this season, with strikeout and hard-hit ball rates that were well below the league average. On the plus side, Rea’s 7.6% walk rate and 44.2% grounder rate weren’t necessarily spectacular, but they were both in the 62nd percentile of all pitchers. As has been the case for a lot of his career, home runs hampered Rea’s performance, as he allowed 23 homers in his 119 2/3 innings.
The statistics may not jump off the page, yet Rea was a valuable fill-in arm for the Brewers, getting the call to eat innings and cover starts while Milwaukee dealt with numerous rotation injuries this season. Since teams are forever in need of pitching, Rea has a shot at landing a guaranteed Major League contract in free agency, as he can provide rotation depth or work as a swingman out of the bullpen.