The Milwaukee Brewers remain in first place in the NL Central, which is a wonderful thing. Things could be even more better, though, as the rest of the division has played poorly and the Brewers relief pitching performance has cost the team several games. The 2½ game lead could very easily be a few games larger.
Are other NL Central teams blowing saves, too, making this point moot? Of course, but the Brewers lead the division. In 36 save opportunities they have 12 blown saves. St. Louis has 30 opportunities and 9 blown saves, while the Cubs only have 24 opportunities and 7 blown saves.
The Brewers have, of course, already made many moves in the pen to try and shore up the situation. Free agency signee Neftali Feliz, brought in to be the closer, was so bad that the Brewers have finally decided to eat his $5 million plus salary rather than have him stay on as an incendiary device on the mount. The following pitchers have also pitched out of the pen for the Brewers this season but are now in the minor leagues or now longer with the org: David Goforth, Rob Scahill, Brent Suter, Jhan Marinez, Tommy Milone, and Taylor Jungmann.
They have added top pitching prospect Josh Hader, Jared Hughes, Oliver Drake, Wily Peralta (from the starting rotation) and Paolo Espino (who has only started, but now sits in the pen).
Would it be wise for the Brewers to give up assets for a reliever in a season that didn’t seem likely to be a contending opportunity? The team could wait until close to the trade deadline to see if they still are close enough to warrant such a move, but they could be out of contention precisely because they didn’t make a move in the pen. A reliever that could help solidify the whole pen by being available when it matters could keep the Brewers in contention for the remainder of the schedule, depending on whether the Cubs remember that they should be a really good team or not. It would appear that the division crown would be the only way in, given the records of the top three teams in the NL West. At this point, it looks like the two teams out of the Dodgers, D-Backs, and Rockies that don’t win the division will be Wild Carders.
My primary choice for a trade target is Oakland reliever Ryan Madson. Madson is in the second year of a three year deal with the A’s which will pay him $7.5 mil this year and next. He’s 36 years old. He still sits in the mid-90s with his fastball, and can tick it up a notch at times. The money is affordable, even while paying Feliz to not pitch. The Brewers have the lowest payroll in baseball and would only be obligated to pay Madson through next season - an important thing when dealing with an aging reliever.
Would the A’s be open to a trade? They sit at 31-38, 14½ games behind the other-worldly Houston Asros and in last place in the AL West. They are within hailing distance of a Wild Card spot, but may not consider themselves truly in that race. Certainly, Madson wouldn’t be a part of their long-term plans and they might prefer a younger player in return.
Is Madson good enough to be considered as an improvement? So far this season he has worked 27.1 innings with a WHIP of 0.988, an xFIP of 2.70, and a K rate of 9.22 per nine. He has accumulated a 0.9 WAR this year. That would work nicely. The negative would be the expectation of injury for an older pitcher. This is a real concern, but is it possible that Madson’s long road back from Tommy John surgery - he was out of baseball for 2012 through 2014 - might mean that there has been less wear and tear than on other similarly aged arms? His performance so far this season says yes. His 29 appearances put him on a pace to approach his games pitched numbers of 68 and 63 from the last two seasons.
So what would a fair return for the A’s be? It’s hard to know what Oakland would feel as a need in return. The Brewers have a deep and talented farm system, and there won’t be room for all of those players as regular major leaguers, so using a couple of them to build for a possible run this season does make some sense. Would Ryan Cordell be an acceptable piece? Would the A’s prefer somebody younger, or another prospect or two in addition?
How much would you be willing to give up to get the aging, well-compensated, but still effective Ryan Madson?
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs