Yesterday was perhaps one of the most important and highly anticipated days in the recent history of the Milwaukee Brewers. Our beloved local nine, in the midst of a rebuild, had long been anticipated to be moving at least one of their most valuable trade chips in order to infuse more young, controllable talent into the system.
31 year old GM Slingin’ David Stearns wound up completing two deals yesterday, including one with Texas that was finalized in the moments before the 3 PM CST trading deadline. Including the Red Sox deal from earlier in July, Stearns made three swaps involving four big league players during this season’s non-waiver trade period:
Brewers send INF Aaron Hill to BOS
Receive INF Wendell Rijo, RHP Aaron Wilkerson
Brewers send LHP Will Smith to SFG
Receive C Andrew Susac, RHP Phil Bickford
Brewers send C Jonathan Lucroy and RHP Jeremy Jeffress to TEX
Receive RHP Luis Ortiz, OF Lewis Brinson, and PTBNL
In total, the Brewers brought back seven players (including the one to be named) with a combined 41 years of club control. Bickford, Brinson, and Ortiz are considered premium young talent and all slotted into Milwaukee’s top six prospects according to MLB Pipeline. Milwaukee has re-invigorated their minor league system over the past 20 months or so dating back to January of 2015; what was not too long ago considered arguably the league’s worst minor league system is now one of the best with eight prospects ranked in the league’s top 100.
Andrew Susac is an interesting player despite already having over a year of MLB service time; the 26 year old was considered a top-100 prospect by some outlets not long ago but was hopelessly blocked by Buster Posey in San Francisco. He owns a .716 OPS in 243 big league plate appearances and is hitting .273/.343/.455 with 8 home runs in 58 games in AAA this season. He’s received praise for his defense and though Martin Maldonado is going to get the first stab, I expect Susac to get a shot at the everyday catching gig in Milwaukee before too long.
Of course, the Brewers gave up plenty of value in these deals, as well. Yes, Aaron Hill was a rental, but the other three players each came with multiple years of control.
Jonathan Lucroy may well be the best catcher in the history of the franchise and has a cheap club option for next season before hitting the open market. He ended his seven year tenure with the Brewers with a .284/.342/.436 slash and 79 home runs (111 wRC+) across 3,137 plate appearances and when factoring in his framing numbers, he was valued at 34.1 Wins Above Replacement Player according to Baseball Prospectus.
Will Smith was one of the league’s more dominant relievers between 2014-15 (3.21 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 12.35 K/9 in 129.0 IP) but his velocity and results had taken a step back this season after missing the first two months with a knee injury. He’s controlled through 2019 via arbitration.
Jeremy Jeffress might be the ultimate example of a buy-low player: Milwaukee’s 2006 first round draft pick was re-signed as a minor league free agent mid-2014 and since established himself as a solid back-end bullpen piece. He served as the closer this season and wracked up 27 saves, but his 2.22 ERA is nearly a run lower than his FIP (3.16) and more than a run and a half lower than his Deserved Run Average (3.94) in 44.2 innings. He has below average strikeout numbers, relying instead on getting ground balls and is generally more of a "good" reliever than an "elite" one. He can be also be controlled through 2019 via arbitration.
Stearns didn't use all his bullets, either. Carlos Torres and Blaine Boyer both look like plausible August trade candidates. Jimmy Nelson, Chris Carter, Tyler Thornburg, Ryan Braun, and most importantly Junior Guerra all remain with the team as well, leaving Milwaukee a bevy of players that they could perhaps look to move this winter.
All in all, I am most certainly pleased by the work done by Stearns and his staff this summer. Milwaukee came out clear winners in deals with the Red Sox and Giants, in my opinion. I though the trade with Texas was more of an even deal for both sides, and the player to be named later will be key in evaluating this deal as a whole. Still, the Brewers continued to move their rebuild effort forward and added four players (Wilkerson, Ortiz, Brinson, and Susac) who are currently at the AA level or above and could conceivably begin contribute to the major league ballclub sometime within the next year.
Several young pieces on Milwaukee’s major league team are exceeding expectations this year and their minor league system is stuffed to the gills with premium talent at every level, from rookie ball to AAA. The Brewers are a club that is well-positioned for long-term success and that position was well-fortified by the work of David Stearns and his scouting staff over the past few weeks. For that, he earns an "A" from me.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus