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Milwaukee Brewers won’t change deadline approach; still reportedly in strong pursuit of Sonny Gray

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No, the Brewers aren’t “desperate.” But they are still active in trade talks.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers Press Conference Rick Wood-USA TODAY Sports

Having lost 7 of their last 8 games as well as their sole hold on the National League Central, a report emerged this morning that the Milwaukee Brewers were “desperately” trying to turn things around and make some kind of trade. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN later walked back his frantic characterization of Milwaukee’s front office, but the report still prompted Tom Haudricourt of the Journal-Sentinel to chat with Slingin’ David Stearns about his team’s approach at this summer’s trade deadline after their recent slide. Here’s some of what Stearns had to say:

“I don’t think it changes our approach. (W)e had an evaluation of our team coming into this time of year. That’s probably the most evened and disciplined evaluation we’re going to have. We try not to get wrapped up in the emotion of the day-to-day wins or losses. We know this is going to be a competitive division down to the end...We think we’re good enough to be one of those teams. That’s the standpoint from which we’re going to work over the next week.

Making change for change’s sake is not a great approach. We need a reason for making change. We have really good players on our team. They’ve demonstrated that for the balance of this season...We believe in our players, we believe in this group. So, we’re not going to change anything and make an acquisition unless we feel strongly that it’s an upgrade.

We always prefer to acquire players who can be here for multiple years. From a reality perspective, those players often come with a high acquisition cost. As we evaluate the market for players who can be here for multiple years, we’re beginning to get a better grasp of what that might cost us. So, we’re also going to explore players that potentially could help us this year. That can be similarly pricey.

We understand when there are good players available this time of year, there’s going to be competition for their services...Because of our record and our place in the standings, there’s a different perspective from our end...I think we’re going to follow a strategy that has a long-term aspect to it. But, certainly, our perspective and our role in the trade market is different than it was last year. We’re engaged on a number of fronts.”

These statements go right along with the sorts of things that Stearns has been saying all year. The young executive said back in May that if his club was at or near the top of the standings when it got to this time of year, he would have to consider making upgrades at the major league level. He’s mentioned multiple times that the players he would look the hardest at adding would be players with multiple years of control. He’s going to continue to balance both the near-term and long-term consequences of any deal that he makes. And he’s not going to change his organization’s strategy for the rest of the season based off of an 8-game sample. That’s why reports of a “difference of opinion” between he and owner Mark Attanasio are probably getting overblown.

The GM himself echoed Matt Arnold’s recent statement that Milwaukee remains involved in trade talks regarding several different players. They have been linked to most of the pitchers that are known to be available, both starters and relievers. In Crasnick’s report from earlier today, he noted that the Brewers remain interested in lefty reliever Justin Wilson of the Tigers, who has authored a 2.82 ERA/2.81 DRA and 54:16 K/BB ratio in 38.1 innings. He’s due the remainder of a meager $2.7 mil salary this year and is arbitration eligible again in 2018 before becoming a free agent after next season.

Additionally, Crasnick notes that Detroit may want to send Ian Kinsler along with Wilson in order to shed his salary. Now, Kinsler isn’t making anything prohibitive (he’s due the balance of an $11 mil salary this year and has a $10 mil club option/$5 mil buyout for 2018) and has actually been relatively productive in his age-35 season in 2017. His roughly league-average 97 wRC+ hides the fact that his strikeout and walk rates are both better than his career averages and that he’s making the most hard contact (37.8%) of his illustrious 12-year career. If not for what appears to be a bad-luck .260 BABIP (28 points below his career average), Kinsler would be right in line with his career slash. He also continues to grade out quite well defensively at second base, a position that is a question mark for the Brewers. Jonathan Villar has been one of the worst regulars in the big leagues this season and there’s no guarantee that Eric Sogard will be able to continue the career year he was enjoying after recently returning from the DL with ankle troubles.

A report from Joel Sherman of the New York Post this evening also reaffirms Milwaukee’s continued interest in right-handed starter Sonny Gray of the Athletics. According to Sherman, the Brewers and Yankees are still viewed as the two teams in strongest pursuit of Gray, with Houston “still trying” and the Braves recently becoming more involved in talks.

Gray is considered the highest-caliber arm on remaining on the trade market and is in the midst of a stellar bounce back season after struggling through injury in 2016. This year he’s compiled a 3.66 ERA/3.18 DRA along with an 85:28 K/BB ratio in an even 91.0 innings pitched. He’s come on especially strong of late, having yielded just 6 earned runs across his last 33.1 innings (1.62 ERA), covering 5 starts. Gray is making $3.575 mil this season and has two more years of club control through arbitration after 2017.

The Brewers were off today, and a Cubs’ loss to the White Sox means that the Milwaukee Nine sit back atop the NL Central all by themselves. There’s still another week remaining before the July 31st trade deadline, leaving plenty of time for moves to occur. David Stearns and his staff haven’t changed their tune about their outlook for the remainder of the season. Perhaps that means that we as fans shouldn’t either.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus