I'll admit to initially being underwhelmed when I finally learned what the return for Yovani Gallardo was. Part of it was that I'm not convinced Luis Sardinas can be more than a utility player. Part of it was that I was hoping for a starting pitcher (like Luke Jackson) much closer to the majors than Marcos Diplan. But mostly I was just worried about what the trade did to the rotation's potential and depth. I eventually realized that I wasn't being fair because I was only looking one or two aspects of this trade.
When looking at a trade one has to consider every aspect. One must consider if the trade return is good or bad. If a team is trying to compete, which the Brewers are, one must also account for all the ways in which the trade impacts the upcoming season. And finally one must also look at how the farm, and by extension future teams, are affected by a trade. So let's do all of that.
In a vacuum is this trade return good, bad, or adequate?
The first thing we must do is reasonably quantify Yovani Gallardo. Depending on how you view him he could be considered A) a dependable workhorse middle rotation starter or; B) a previously successful middle rotation starter with down trending skills. Even if you view him as a starter on the downward curve of his career, the brief nature of his contract mitigates that aspect. So the value between A and B is likely not much. Simply put, he is a mid-rotation starter on a 1 year $10 million contract (that's accounting for the $4 million the Brewers sent) capable of anywhere from a 3.50 ERA to a 4.00 ERA.
Now we must attempt to quantify each prospect included in the deal. This can sometimes be a fools errand. That is because it often takes years for a prospect's true value to be determined. We can't determine their worth exactly but we can estimate a floor and a ceiling.
Luis Sardinas is an excellent defender at shortstop and almost certainly the best defensive shortstop in the Brewers organization. He has a questionable bat. If he can't hit he will either be a low ceiling starting shortstop or more likely a utility player. If he can hit he could be a 2-4 win shortstop and the best in the Brewers organization.
Corey Knebel's talent is not in question. He has the tools and the expectation to be a high leverage reliever. It's possible he is already the best reliever in the Brewers organization. His elbow carries considerable injury risk though. His value likely hinges on how much playing time his health allows over the next 6 years.
Marcos Diplan is the hardest to define. He's an 18 year old right handed pitcher as many as 6 years away from the major leagues. When he arrives he could be a mid-rotation starter or he could be a middle reliever. It's anyone's guess right now. It's also possible he never reaches the majors at all.
So, on the low end the Brewers traded 1 year of a mid-rotation pitcher (potentially with eroding skills) and $4 million for a utility infielder, an oft injured reliever, and a prospect that never reached the majors. That's pretty bad.
On the high end the Brewers the Brewers traded 1 year of a mid-rotation pitcher and $4 million for a solid average shortstop, the best reliever in Milwaukee for the next 6 years, and a future mid-rotation starter. That's pretty great. I mean, take the middle out of that and it reads like this: The Brewers traded 1 year of a mid-rotation starter for 6 years of a mid-rotation starter.
In reality the 3 prospects are likely to end up somewhere in between their respective ceilings and floors. Depending on how that shakes out, this trade is probably perfectly adequate for 1 year of a starter capable of 30+ starts and a 3.50-3.75 ERA at the major league level.
There is certainly potential for this trade to be underwhelming. It's also possible this trade makes the Rangers look incredibly stupid. The unfortunate truth (for some) is that it's going to take maybe as long as a decade to truly know the answer. I mean, I haven't even addressed the potential to trade one of these players in the future.
Ignoring other factors, is the 2015 team made better or worse by this trade?
What has happened to the 2015 team? Well, the Brewers have subtracted one veteran mid-rotation starter. They then replaced his spot in the 5-man rotation with a young and inexperienced, though talented, starter that might be able to replicate the veteran's production.
However in doing that they've also diminished the rotation's depth which is incredibly important and often undervalued by fans.
They've also added a potentially high leverage reliever and a defensively gifted utility infielder who provides stronger insurance at shortstop.
It almost certainly won't, but let's pretend the rotation stays healthy all season. In this instance we're looking at the production lost or gained by giving Yovani Gallardo's starts to Jimmy Nelson. If you believe the metrics then you might believe the Brewers have actually upgraded their potential production from that rotation spot.
Steamer projects Gallardo for 182 inning with a 4.61 ERA and a 4.21 FIP. Steamer projects Jimmy Nelson for 173 innings with a 4.37 ERA and a 4.22 FIP. Basically, FIP says they're similarly capable pitchers. I believe that might actually be true because I do believe Gallardo is on the downward curve of his career. Nelson struggled last year, but every time he reaches a new level he struggles at first before figuring out what he needs to do and excelling. I expect more of the same.
Of course each member of the rotation will not remain healthy and make each of their starts. It's an inevitability. With Nelson in the rotation the 6th starter currently becomes Taylor Jungmann. I really don't know what to expect out of him. He mostly was fine in half a season at AAA, but it was just half a season and he did labor a bit.
After him there isn't much else. Tyler Thornburg might still be recovering from injury. Will Smith might not be able to retire right handers. Michael Blazek might not be a MLB caliber pitcher. I think it's safe to say the Brewers depth is worse off by this trade.
So then do Corey Knebel and Luis Sardinas make up for that?
Regardless of what Sardinas is capable of, this season he would only see playing time as a utility player. I'm not sure he will get enough playing time to be able to provide a marked increase in production over Hector Gomez.
Corey Knebel has injury concerns of his own, but if he's healthy he should be good. However if this trade is never made, Jimmy Nelson would have pitched out of the bullpen. Therefore we need to compare Knebel's potential production to Jimmy Nelson's potential production. Even if Knebel is the better reliever, and I believe he would be, we're talking about maybe 60 innings.
It's hard to imagine Sardinas and Knebel's production above Gomez and Nelson's would entirely compensate for the loss of production going from Jimmy Nelson making spot starts to Jungmann et al making spot starts.
In conclusion, it would appear this trade has made the 2015 team some undefined amount weaker. However, thus far we've only addressed part of the equation. There are variables yet to consider.
Including other factors, is the 2015 team made better or worse by this trade?
The one factor we left out above is the $9 million in payroll saved. That is not an insignificant amount and the Brewers are absolutely going to add to this team. The mustache himself said they're looking to add bullpen pieces and probably a long reliever/spot starter.
We can quibble over whether Nelson is truly capable of producing a 3.50-3.75 ERA in a major league workload, but as noted above the one area where this trade unquestionably weakens the 2015 team is in rotation depth. If they add a competent reliever capable of making spot starts, that fixes the depth issue. Or at the very least it raises the bar back to what is was before Gallardo was traded.
There are some intriguing options available in free agency (hello Brandon Beachy), but I don't want to get bogged down in a discussion of who they might sign. We just don't know so it wouldn't be very productive for the purposes of this article. Suffice it to say, they will get someone. That someone will add to their rotation depth in some capacity.
Once the rotation depth is essentially the same, then we can then add the potential of Luis Sardinas and Corey Knebel on top of everything else. If Sardinas makes the team out of Spring Training he should be an upgrade from Hector Gomez. He could also increase the potential production at second base by facing lefties if Scooter Gennett can't handle them. He also provides much greater security at shortstop if Jean Segura gets hurt or just isn't good. Corey Knebel could very well be the best reliever in the bullpen right now. Given a whole season he alone could add as much as a win or even 2 if he's really good. Let's say together they add the potential for 2 more wins.
That might not seem significant, but it really is. It's possible this team was capable of 85 wins when Gallardo was around. All things considered, and with the addition of a spot starter, it's possible this team would be capable of 87 wins. Those 2 wins could be the difference between going home or going to a Wild Card play-in game.
Is the farm system, and by extension future Brewers teams, made better by this?
We can debate the impact on the 2015 team forever and from a multitude of angles and probably come up with any number of answers depending on one's view of the players involved. But the answer to whether this trade made the farm system better is an unequivocal yes.
Each one of the prospects added should rank within the Brewers top 20 prospects. All the lists are already out expect for Fangraphs, but I expect that to be the case when they release theirs. Fortunately for this discussion, MLB Pipeline updates their list to reflect recent transactions.
They rank Corey Knebel as the Brewers 8th best prospect. They also list Marcos Diplan as the 17th best. That ranking could increase the closer he gets to the majors. Luis Sardinas is absent from that list only because he exceeded rookie limits, but he would have been in the top 10. So there should be no question the farm system is improved to some extent.
As for future Brewers teams, the answer is also an unequivocal yes. Yovani Gallardo was going to be gone after 2015. The only thing that has changed is the potential for a comp pick had the Brewers extending a qualifying offer.
Those picks generally go around the late 20's all the way through the mid 30's. The value of those picks is roughly between $1.6 and $1.8 million.
Corey Knebel was drafted 39th overall in 2013. I would say that is somewhat comparable in value to a comp pick they've have received for Gallardo's departure. It's a little bit lower, but in that area the talent available is pretty nebulous. Theoretically you could get similar values with picks 30 and 39 for example.
Luis Sardinas was considered a top international prospect at the time he signed. His bonus was somewhere in the $1 million range. That was in 2009. Now the amount would likely be somewhere closer to $2 million. He strikes me as someone that might go in a supplemental or second round of the draft.
Marcos Diplan was also considered a top international prospect when he was signed in 2013. His bonus was $1.3 million. Yet again, he strikes me as someone that has equivalent value to the sandwich pick the Brewers might have gotten by Gallardo turning down a qualifying offer and signing elsewhere.
There is a chance the prospect package the Brewers got for Gallardo ends up feeling pretty light. There's also a chance this looks like grand larceny by the Brewers. Realistically it's probably just an adequate return and that's fine. Gallardo was gone after this year anyway.
The farm system and future Brewers teams are better off. How much better off is yet to be learned though.
That being said, I am not arguing this trade was a definite win for the Brewers. The 2015 team could very well be much weaker now. A lot of this hinges on what Jimmy Nelson will do in 2015. If he is the pitcher I think he is, and the Brewers add a competent spot starter, I think with the added potential of Corey Knebel and Luis Sardinas the 2015 team could be marginally to moderately better.
Before the trade I believed the Brewers were an 83-85 win team. After the trade, and assuming the addition of a spot starter, I believe the Brewers will be a 78-87 win team. I know that's kind of weird, but there is a reason I think their win potential will have a wider swing. To put it succinctly, I believe their overall ceiling has increase, but so has their risk.
And hey, if I'm wrong and they suck then they can sell at the deadline which is what half of you want anyway.