It's been 132 days since the Milwaukee Brewers made their final out of the season against the Chicago Cubs on October 4th. In that time, Slingin' David Stearns has made nine trades, claimed four players on waivers, made 16 minor league free agent signings, one major league free agent signing, and two Rule 5 Draft picks. His latest move came last night with the trade of left fielder Khris Davis to Oakland Athletics.
Since making his debut with the Brewers in 2013 and taking over for the suspended Ryan Braun, "Khrush" has split the fan base. On the one hand, he's long been the subject of criticism from the casual observer due to his low batting average (.250 for his career), high strikeout rates (24.3%), and poor throwing arm. A more educated follower of the game, however, can no doubt see that Davis was a productive player during his time with the Brewers and that he was criminally underrated by many fans as well as talking heads.
In 321 games over the past three seasons, Davis has authored a .250/.315/.494 batting line with 60 home runs. With light-tower power, KD's ISO of .244 ranks 10th among the 233 players that have taken at least 1,000 turns at the plate since the time he debuted. His 60 home runs place him fourth among all NL left fielders during that time, and the only player to hit at least 60 home runs in less than 325 games since 2013 is Jose Abreu. His total offensive output as measured by wRC+ of 119 for his career is well above the average for both the league (100) and his position (99 wRC+ last season).
Yes, Khris has a poor throwing arm in left field, but his defense deficiencies are woefully overstated. Nicholas Zettel of Disciples of Uecker did a terrific job of putting Davis' arm into perspective over this past summer, and how it doesn't have a significant effect on the game. Davis is athletic and a good route runner, his efficiency in the field helps compensate for his weak throwing to make him roughly an average defender.
According to Inside Edge Fielding he's converted an above average amount of remote (14.3%), unlikely (50%), even (85.7%), and likely (92%) amount of chances into outs, and has also converted 99.3% of routine plays into outs during his career. Defensive Runs Saved pegs him at -3 runs in nearly 2,300 innings in left field over his career while Fielding Runs Above Average rates him at -4.1 runs over that time. Those are hardly numbers that one can argue have hurt the team significantly over such an extended sample. The Athletics reportedly plan on using Khrush as their regular left fielder while shifting veteran Coco Crisp into a timeshare at DH, so obviously they aren't overly concerned about his defense.
Despite entering his age-28 season, the late-blooming Davis still has four years of team control remaining before becoming eligible for free agency. One cannot argue that the Athletics are getting a good player in Khris Davis, and one they will control for a long-time and through his prime years. In exchange for Davis' services, GM David Forst was forced to pay the Brewers' a very nice price.
The headliner of the deal is obviously catcher Jacob Nottingham, who was recently ranked as the eight best catching prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline and the 66th best prospect overall by Baseball Prospectus. The 20 year old backstop is a player that Stearns is very familiar with as he was a 6th round pick by the Astros in 2013 while David worked for the team. He hit .316/.372/.505 with 17 home runs in 465 plate appearances split between low and high-A in 2015. Nottingham's bat will be what carries him to the big leagues; he is projected for both an above average hit tool and power tool.
Defensively, Nottingham is still a work in progress. He's got a decent arm but needs to work on both his receiving and blocking skills, though scouts have said that he made improvements behind the plate last summer. Still it's probable that he'll never be more than an average defender at catcher, and even that's most likely the best case scenario for him there. Stearns has said that the plan is to keep Jacob behind the plate in spite of his defensive issues, which immediately makes him the projected long-term replacement for Jonathan Lucroy. Nottingham is likely to begin the season at AA and if he continues to develop as he has to this point in his career, he could be in the big leagues by sometime in 2017. He'll be a non-roster invitee to Brewers' camp and should slot somewhere in their top 10 prospects.
The other piece to the deal is soon-to-be 22 year old right hander Bowdien Henry Asa Derby, affectionately known as "Bubba." He's certainly much more than just a throw-in, however. This 80-grade baseball name was drafted in the 6th round of last year's amateur draft out of San Diego State and put up some promising results during his professional debut. Bubba's ability to miss bats in college translated immediately to the professional ranks as he posted a 33% strikeout rate in 37.1 innings split between rookie ball and low-A last season. He allowed just a 1.21 ERA which was supported by still excellent 2.52 FIP. Bubba walked just 7% of opposing hitters and induced a 47.4% ground ball rate.
According to Chris Kusiolek, Bubba Derby throws in the 89-93 MPH range with his fastball and also throws a changeup with decent fade and a slider for which he has decent feel. Particularly notable is that changeup, which he told Baseball Essential that he has dubbed "The Falcon" and that it "drops like a splitter and pronates outs like a changeup."
Chris Mitchell of Fangraphs noted that he could be a high value selection based on where he was chosen shortly after the 2015 Draft, according to KATOH. Given his smaller stature (5'8" and 180 lbs) there are bound to be questions about his ability to remain in the rotation long-term, but Milwaukee is likely to continue to develop him as a starter for as long as he shows he can stick there. Bubba could begin the season in high-A Brevard County given his status as a more advanced collegiate pitching prospect.
While Nottingham and Derby both figure to play into the club's future plans, the trade also has some immediate effects at the major league level. The crowded outfield situation just got a little clearer, as young Domingo Santana now shifts from the fourth outfielder role into a starting slot. It remains to be seen where that will be, though, since he's a superior defender to Ryan Braun.
The club could conceivably shift Braun back to left field and play Santana in right, which would be a notable defensive improvement in the corners over Davis and Braun. The competition in center field figures to remain wide open, but with Davis gone the club now has the ability to carry all three of the out-of-options trio of Rymer Liriano, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Ramon Flores on the big-league roster come Opening Day if they so choose. It is entirely possible that Flores begins the season on the DL as he continues to recover from a gruesome ankle injury last season, though.
The addition of Nottingham also solidifies the catching depth down in the minor leagues, which could make a trade of Jonathan Lucroy much more palatable. I'm not of the belief that the lack of a top-flight catching prospect was necessarily an impediment to any possible Lucroy deal, but it certainly makes it easier for the fan base to understand and accept a trade of the Brewers' All-Star backstop. The fact that Slingin' Stearns has waited until later in the winter to move two of his bigger trade chips in Jean Segura and Davis also supports the idea that he is patient enough to wait until he is offered a deal that he determines is the best one that he will receive. That bodes well for not "selling low" when he does eventually deal Lucroy.
The Brewers now have one open spot on their 40 man roster, though that doesn't necessarily mean another move to fill it is imminent. They could simply carry the opening into Spring Training in case a non-roster invitee makes a strong case to make the team, or it could be filled by another outside addition via trade, waivers, or free agency. The way this busy winter has gone there is certainly no reason to expect that Stearns is done making deals. Perhaps the best thing we can do as fans going forward is to simply expect the unexpected and continue to closely monitor Twitter for more breaking news on a regular basis.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs