The Winter Meetings aren’t set to start until Sunday, but the preliminary rumors before the meetings begin are already beginning to build. With Shohei Otani agreeing to sign with the Angels, and Giancarlo Stanton refusing to waive his no-trade clause, teams are moving on to other players as they prepare for the 2018 season.
One group that is drawing interest this offseason is the Milwaukee Brewers outfielders. While the Brewers have enough depth for next season, they also have additional depth that could be jammed in the system for a while. A trade could help clear some of that up, and Ken Rosenthal reports that teams are interested:
#Brewers getting hits on all OFers and drawing significant interest in Santana, including from #SFGiants, sources tell The Athletic. Braun, who can veto any trade, least likely to go. MIL would need meaningful return for Santana. Three years control; 30 HRs, .875 OPS last season.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 8, 2017
Make that four years of control on Santana; he has one season to go before he becomes eligible for salary arbitration… https://t.co/lDUZ4jJ1qY— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 8, 2017
Most of the interest here focuses around Domingo Santana, and for good reason. He would be under team control for four years, and his contract should be easily affordable for at least the next two. At 25 years old, he has the potential to be the kind of player that you can build a team around. In 2017, he recorded 30 HR, 15 SB, 85 RBI, a .278/.371/.505 batting line, and a 126 wRC+. It’s clear why any team would want him. Of course, those are also the reasons why the Brewers should keep him.
There’s also the argument to be made that moving Santana now could be a smart move. While the hype around him is high and there’s a lot of hope that he will continue to improve, the same could have been said of Jonathan Villar last offseason. After putting up 19 HR, 62 SB, and a .285/.369/.457 batting line in 2016, his numbers dropped to 11 HR, 23 SB, and .241/.293/.372 in 2017. It was a big step backwards for Villar, so severe that there were some discussions about if he would even be tendered a contract this offseason (he did receive one). There is a big difference between the two cases, though. Villar had three subpar seasons in Houston before coming to Milwaukee. Meanwhile, Santana’s early struggles can be attributed more to injury than ability, and even in his limited time in 2015 & 2016, he’s shown promise. His wRC+ in all three years has been 111 or higher, and his career OBP so far is .353, not falling below .337 in a single season (excluding his few PA in 2014). Betting on Santana here is much better bet.
The other problem with moving Santana would be the return. The Brewers will want a significant return if they gave up Santana in a trade. In addition, prospects likely won’t be enough of a return anymore. Major league players would have to be included in any deal involving Santana, or at least players who are major league ready. The Brewers aren’t rebuilding anymore, and if they are truly ready to compete, the only way a trade makes sense is if it makes the major league team better right now.
All of this makes a trade of Santana unlikely, but there are other outfielders in the Brewers system that could make sense. Lewis Brinson remains a potential trading chip for the Brewers, especially if they are prepared to commit to an outfield of Ryan Braun, Brett Phillips, and Domingo Santana for the next few years. Trading Brinson could have a better chance of yielding a major-league return, especially with his high ranking in the Brewers system. While his numbers in limited action in 2017 weren’t good (.106/.236/.277 in 55 PA), there’s little that can be drawn from that so far, and his Triple-A numbers (.331/.400/.562) were better. The Brewers would also need to get a great return to move him, but he’s a more likely target right now.
There’s also Brett Phillips that could draw some consideration, though the likelihood of him being traded falls between Brinson and Santana. It’s too early to know about Phillips as well, but his limited major-league time in 2017 yielded promising results. In 98 PA, he recorded a .276/.351/.448 batting line with a 104 wRC+. In addition, his outfield defense was top notch, tightening up a defense that has been on the rough side in recent years. He’s another player that’s tough to move since he’s contributing to the major-league team, but the right deal could move him as well.
In an interview with Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel, Stearns had this to say regarding dealing prospects and younger MLB players:
Stearns said those decisions (hanging on to top prospects this past summer after being involved in talks for Jose Quintana and Sonny Gray) did not necessarily mean the Brewers would avoid trading top prospects this winter in the right deal for a young, controllable starting pitcher.
“We’ve been pretty consistent that we don’t have untouchables,” Stearns said. “We’re willing to talk about anyone. That’s always been our philosophy.
“If the right deal comes along that motivates us on certain players, we have to listen. We have some prospects and younger, controllable major-league players that we think highly of. The industry also thinks highly of them. So, if some sort of blockbuster deal emerges that we think make sense, we have to pay attention to it.
Then, there’s the case of Ryan Braun. The hurdles are well-known in his case. He has full no-trade protection, so he would have to approve of a deal to any team. He’s still due $55 million on his contract, though the payroll impact decreases over the three years ($19 million in 2018, $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020). He’s dealing with multiple nagging injuries now that will limit the number of games he can play. Finally, there’s the constant shadow of his PED suspension that hangs over him, making him a tough sell to any fanbase. However, all of that doesn’t mean he’s impossible to trade. He still provides enough value that a team could be willing to take a shot on him. Though he only played 104 games, he still recorded 17 HR, a batting line of .268/.336/.487, and a 110 wRC+ in 2017. There’s an argument to be made that a move to an AL team, where he could DH, could be beneficial long-term for Braun. Plus, in the case of the Giants, Braun may be a little more willing to accept a trade since it is a California-based team, though he has previously stated he would only accept a deal to the Dodgers. He would likely get back the lowest return, and is the least likely of the outfielders to go, but it’s not an impossible scenario.
With the winter meetings ready to kick off, these rumors could be bigger very soon. The Brewers have plenty of talent in the outfield, and trading a piece away could yield immediate dividends for the major league team. Though each player presents their own challenges for a trade, GM David Stearns isn’t afraid to make a move. We will have to wait and see how he decides to play this over the next week and through the rest of the offseason.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs