The weeks leading up to the MLB trade deadline are always filled with wild speculation, excitement, and angst. With the Milwaukee Brewers continuing to lead the NL Central as August approaches, it appears GM David Stearns is in a cautious buyer mode. He has a plan for the future, but he recognizes this year could be a special circumstance. It’s a challenging balance, especially for a young GM.
Basically, Stearns probably has one big move in mind that will cost the Milwaukee Brewers a couple high-end prospects and a couple other decent guys. All reports indicate that deal would be for Sonny Gray of the Oakland A’s. Whether or not he pulls the trigger on a trade he find fair remains to be seen.
Regardless of that outcome, Stearns is certainly poring through the less talked-about players to compliment the Brewers’ roster. Keep in mind, some acquisitions are with an eye on September as well, when rosters expand and depth becomes a huge asset. This could include rentals who should cost less in prospects, and controllable talent as well. With that as a backdrop, here are a few under-the-radar guys that could be in play.
- Anthony Swarzak (White Sox): The 31-year-old right-hander is having a terrific 2017. He ranks 8th in WAR (1.5) among relievers and currently has a career-best 9.9 strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9) and 0.962 WHIP while posting a 172 ERA+ (2.47 ERA). The best number might be his 0.4 home runs per 9 innings (HR/9). Swarzak is only signed through this season at $900,000.
- Addison Reed (Mets): A free agent at the end of the year, the 28-year-old righty is 15-for-17 in save opportunities. Reed is allowing just 1.0 BB/9 with a 9.3 K/9 rate. In a setup role last season, Reed had a career-best 206 ERA+ (1.97 ERA) and isn’t far behind this year (173 ERA+). He has allowed more hits in 2017 then he typically does, but with a WHIP of 1.053 and a 9.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio, he’s worth a long look as a rental.
- Jerry Blevins (Mets): The 33-year-old lefty is having a nice two-year run. Lefties have a .158 average against Blevins this year with a minuscule .391 OPS. In his career, lefties hit .208 with a .306 slugging percentage. His walks are concerning this year (4.6 BB/9), but he owns a 12.7 K/9 rate and a 129 ERA+. Blevins had a 178 ERA+ (2.79 ERA) in 2016. He has a $7 million team option in 2018 with a $1 million buyout, and he wouldn’t cost nearly as much in prospects as fellow southpaw, Brad Hand (Padres).
- Tony Watson (Pirates): Pittsburgh’s 32-year-old former closer would be another left-handed option for the Brewers. Though lefties have had more success in 2017, they own a .217 average, .277 OBP and .292 slugging over Watson’s career. His overall numbers have slipped a bit the past couple of years since becoming the primary closer. As a setup man and situational lefty, Watson was an All-Star in 2014 and had back-to-back seasons with an ERA+ over 200. He is a free agent after the year, so the Pirates would be wise to find a suitor - though they may be hesitant to deal with Stearns (see: Keon Broxton).
- Jed Lowrie (A’s): He could come over as part of a Sonny Gray trade or be a lone piece. With Jonathan Villar’s struggles, Lowrie provides a veteran alternative as a switch-hitter with experience around the infield. His stats don’t jump out (.335 OBP, .785 OPS), but he’s been far more productive than Villar. Lowrie is 6th in WAR among second basemen while Villar sits 47th (-0.6) among second sackers with at least 100 plate appearances. He has a $6 million team option for 2018 with a $1 million buyout.
- Daniel Nava (Phillies): It seems like every true contender has a quality, veteran left-handed stick coming off the bench. The 34-year-old outfielder, who is actually a switch-hitter would fit the bill. He is batting .333 with a .420 OBP and an .891 OPS versus righties this year. Nava would also provide some rest for the right-handed corner outfielders, and at this point, be a more reliable hitter than Brett Phillips at this point. He is a free agent after the season, thus the return would likely be small.
- Ivan Nova (Pirates): You’ve probably heard most of the starting pitching names that would be an upgrade, but the Pirates’ starter most talk about is Gerrit Cole. If Pittsburgh decides they’re out, would Nova be a trade candidate? He’s pitched very well since coming to the Steel City, posting a 135 ERA+ (3.16 ERA) in 29 starts with the Pirates. His strikeouts are down a bit, but so are his walks, and he is due to make just over $9 million in both 2018 and 2019. One interesting side note: Nova is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA and 0.842 WHIP against the Chicago Cubs the past two years.
- Yu Darvish (Rangers): This is another team that probably still believes it can make a postseason run, but the best they can do is get a spot in the Wild Card game. Thus, while Darvish has been linked to the Houston Astros, the Brewers should have interest in him as a rental, and possible 2018 free agent target (maybe?). When healthy, the 30-year-old All-Star has some filthy stuff. His strikeouts are down a touch, but he has consistently owned at least a 130 ERA+ since 2013. Texas might also be another team leery of dealing with Stearns, but if they get a prospect they covet, they would do it.
Let the crazy rumors swirl, and enjoy watching teams fight to figure out which mix of players will give them the edge - especially as it pertains to the Milwaukee Brewers and the rest of the National League.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference