Over the weekend, the Brewers finally completed a trade that, according the GM David Stearns at Sunday's Brewers on Deck event, had been in the works since last October. Milwaukee sent SS Jean Segura and RHP Tyler Wagner to the Diamondbacks in exchange for 2B Aaron Hill, RHP Chase Anderson and infield prospect Isan Diaz.
Hill, 33, had his best season in 2012, when he hit .302/.360/.522 with 26 home runs and 14 stolen bases and won the Silver Slugger award at second base. He played well when he was healthy in an injury-plagued year in 2013, but he's been a disaster at the plate for the past two seasons. Age and injuries have eliminated the running game from his bag of tricks, and he stumbled to a .640 OPS in 2015, the worst of his career.
Defensively, Hill is a bit of an enigma at this point in his career. Once considered one of the better defensive second basemen in the majors, Hill's glove work has tapered off as he's aged. However, he continues to the extraordinary look easy, as Neil Weinberg at FanGraphs discussed early last season.
Hill has spent the vast majority of his career at second base, but he's a versatile defender who has also seen action at shortstop and third as well. Given his age and the steep decline in his production over the past two seasons, Hill probably won't unseat Scooter Gennett as primary starter at the keystone, but he'll take over as the short end of the platoon there -- even in the worst offensive season of his career in 2015, Hill's OPS vs. lefties more than doubled Gennett's career mark. He'll also be a valuable bat off the bench and provide flexibility for a team with more questions than answers in the 2016 infield.
Anderson is a 28-year-old righty who made his major league debut in 2014 and has been a fixture in the Diamondbacks starting rotation ever since. In 48 career starts, Anderson owns a 4.18 ERA, which lines right up with his 4.17 FIP, indicating that he's fairly likely to remain as effective as he's been so far. His GB/FP ratio of 1.18 is right around league average, so the move from the close-to-average confines of Chase Field to more hitter-friendly Miller Park shouldn't have an outsized effect on his production.
Stearns said that Anderson will slot right into the Brewers starting rotation, which could mean that Zack Davies, who pitched well in a short audition with the major league club last season, is headed back to Triple-A Colorado Springs. Davies provides the team more value to the team in 2016 and beyond as starting pitching depth than he would being moved to the bullpen.
At this point, I think Milwaukee is a team that could surprise some people in 2016. Now, please do not take that as "this team has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs" -- that's not what I mean. After a Murphy's Law 2015 campaign in which just about everything that could go wrong did, the Brewers are generally regarded as a bottom-five team. However I think at this point this a team that could flirt with a .500 record this season. I know that's not going to ignite the fan base, but it'll be nice to see the team win some dang games at The Keg this season.
The starting rotation should be vastly improved in 2016. Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta and Taylor Jungmann should (hopefully) continue to develop, while Anderson is a clear upgrade over Kyle Lohse. The big question mark is Matt Garza, whose ERA rose a full two runs last season over his first year with Milwaukee in 2014 (3.64 to 5.63). He's only 32, so there's no reason to think that Garza, with a refocused mind, can't return to the level of production he put up two seasons ago. If he does, Milwaukee should have a starting rotation that ranks right around league average to pair with their bullpen that rates as one of the league's better units.
The offense is the key to Milwaukee's fortunes in 2016. Jonathan Villar will likely slot in as the every day shortstop, Stearns indicated, and while his defense is not quite on Segura's level, he was a much better hitter in 2015. Long term, of course, trading Segura clears the way for top prospect Orlando Arcia, and while many have suggested he could debut sometime this summer, I would be wary of straying from the path of one level per year that he's been following, which has clearly been a positive for his development. While the Brewers suffer downgrades at first base and center field from a season ago, a return to form from Jonathan Lucroy could help to mitigate those losses.
I really don't understand this trade for the Diamondbacks at all. If there's an upgrade from Aaron Hill to Jean Segura, it's a mild one at best -- Segura was worth 0.3 fWAR in 2015, and Hill was worth 0.1. Chase Anderson is what Tyler Wagner hopes to become someday. While Segura and Wagner are both under control for much longer (Segura is in the first year of arbitration eligibility, and Wagner has accrued only a handful of days of service time), Anderson and Hill are likely the pair that will provide more value on the field in 2016.
The Brewers also absorb $6.5 million of Hill's $12 million salary in this, the final year of his contract, so it's partly a salary dump for Arizona. They'll be paying Segura's $2.6 million salary, so they basically save just under $3 million in the swap. However, in a year where they are clearly pushing their chips in to compete for a championship following the surprise signing of Zack Greinke and the massive price they paid to get Shelby Miller from Atlanta, it seems an awkward move to make to simply save $2.9 million. The Diamondbacks refused to sign Howie Kendrick or Ian Desmond because they didn't want to give up another draft pick after surrendering their first round pick to add Greinke, this one the 39th overall pick. However, they ended up paying a much higher price in Anderson and Diaz to add Segura, who is not nearly as good as Kendrick is.
The long term key to assessing this deal will be Diaz, the 19-year-old shortstop selected in the second round of the 2014 draft by Arizona. Diaz was #9 on Baseball America's top 10 prospects list for Arizona this year, the only list released to date for the Diamondbacks. Of course, he was #7 in the organization before the trade, since Arizona sent their top two prospects to Atlanta, Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair, in the Miller fiasco. Diaz was the MVP of the Pioneer League in 2015, hitting .360/.436/.640 in 312 plate appearances. He showed a bit of a power stroke, hitting 13 home runs and 44 extra base hits. The big numbers were inflated somewhat by a .434 BABIP, which will come down and bring his numbers down with it, but it was a very promising sophomore year for Diaz. If he turns into a quality starter in the big leagues, this deal could end up being a major steal for Milwaukee.