Slingin' David Stearns executed his first trade of the Winter Meetings earlier today, sending Adam Lind to Seattle in exchange for three young minor league pitchers. The move continues the Brewers' rebuilding effort that began under Doug Melvin this past season and is the latest example of Stearns' stated goal of acquiring and developing as much young talent as possible.
Lind spent only one season with Milwaukee after coming over from Toronto last winter, but he certainly made it a good one. He stayed healthy enough to appear in 149 games, the most he's played in since 2010, and slashed a strong .277/.360/.460 for a wRC+ of 119. He spent most of the season in the cleanup role for the Brewers and slugged 20 homers along with a club-leading 87 runs batted in. He even performed well in the field, accruing +5 Defensive Runs Saved despite his reputation as a less-than-stellar defender. All told, he was valued at 2.2 fWAR on the season.
Given his solid campaign and the fact that he's due only $8 mil on a one-year contract for next season, there were many that felt underwhelmed with the return Lind brought back to Milwaukee. However this view is probably overlooking that while he's a useful player, Lind still has his flaws. He'd need a platoon partner no matter where he goes given his career .586 OPS against southpaws. His troublesome back and other various maladies have sent him to the DL at least once in four of the last five seasons. Even with his strong year in the field in 2015, he's still rated as an overall negative defender by DRS over his career. While it's easier for us in Milwaukee to overlook these deficiencies since we only saw Lind be successful, they are traits that no doubt affected Lind's value in the eyes of rival General Managers. Derek further explains here how he felt the return was "perfectly acceptable."
The Brewers received no shortage of interest for Lind, reportedly getting calls from 21 other teams on him. After the trade was announced Stearns affirmed that "ultimately we felt like this was the best total package that we could get back." He went on to say that he felt is was a "unique opportunity" to get three pitchers with the long-term potential that Daniel Missaki, Carlos Herrera, and Freddy Peralta possess, even though there is obviously risk involved in working to develop three teenage arms. The potential is there however that one of these pitchers could break out with the proper coaching and guidance as they climb the ladder in the Brewers system. There's also no telling what sorts of biomechanical and scouting information that the Brewers' analytical department may have dug up on the trio that could have made them appealing assets for the organization.
More immediately, the trade opens up a big hole at first base, a position that's seen plenty of turnover since Prince Fielder left Milwaukee. The primary in-house candidate is soon-to-be 28 year old Jason Rogers, and it could certainly be argued that he has earned the opportunity to receive consistent playing time at the big league level. Since being selected in the 32nd round in 2010, Rogers has done nothing but hit in the minors and he holds a career .290/.372/.466 slash line with 69 home runs in 546 minor league games. He was chosen as the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2013.
Rogers got his first significant opportunity at the big league level last season, appearing in 86 games and hitting .296/.367/.441 with four home runs while backing up Lind at first base and serving as the club's primary pinch hitter. His 121 wRC+ was certainly encouraging, as was his solid defensive work at first base (5.1 UZR/150) after struggling to find a defensive home in the minor leagues. Given his relatively advanced age, however, any further upside for Rogers is probably limited. His ceiling is probably that of a league-average first baseman, at best. Stearns calls Rogers an "option" but added "we are also going to evaluate all external options from both free agency and trade."
Beyond Rogers, the Brewers have zero other first baseman listed on their 40 man roster and little depth in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Manager Craig Counsell also quickly put the kibosh on any possibility of Ryan Braun moving from the outfield to first base.
In wake of Lind trade, Brewers still aren't considering Ryan Braun for first base, per Craig Counsell.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) December 9, 2015
There should be some relatively inexpensive options out on the open market, at least. The Brewers have already been linked to lefty Pedro Alvarez, who was non-tendered by the Pirates after hitting .243/.318/.469 with 27 home runs in 2015. While this production amounted to a solid 114 wRC+, his horrid defense at first base limited him to just 0.2 fWAR and that probably didn't justify his projected $8.1 mil arbitration salary. Stearns could roll the dice on a one-year deal for Alvarez and hope his defense at first base improves, which when paired with his left handed power would make him a nice asset to have at the trade deadline. On a one-year deal, the risk would be pretty minimal.
Chris Carter is also available as a free agent after being non-tendered by Stearns' former club down in Houston. Carter is basically the right handed version of Alvarez: a low average, high strikeout hitter with tons of power who plays poor defense at first base.
Speculatively, an intriguing option that might be available on the trade market could be someone else Stearns is familiar with from his time with the Astros. Jon Singleton was once of the top rated prospects in all of baseball and Houston thought enough of him to sign him to a five year, $10 mil contract extension (with three club options) before he even played a day in the major leagues. He struggled significantly in a 95 game audition in 2014, however, producing just a 78 wRC+ and a -1.0 fWAR as a 22 year old. He appeared in only 19 big league games in 2015 and according to The Crawfish Boxes he's been passed up on the first base depth by several other players. Singleton only just recently turned 24 years old and still has plenty of time to deliver on his considerable promise. The left-handed hitter could be a very interesting buy-low candidate and given his years of remaining control (he's not eligible for free agency until 2022), he could easily be a part of the Brewers next contending core of players.