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Trade Analysis: Milwaukee Brewers rent Anthony Swarzak for pennant race

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He should be a boost to the bullpen during the pennant race.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of rumors, the Slingin’ David Stearns and the Milwaukee Brewers reportedly entered the realm of trade deadline buyers yesterday evening. The club has yet to confirm the deal as of this writing, but the story goes that Milwaukee will be acquiring right-handed reliever Anthony Swarzak from the White Sox to upgrade their bullpen. In exchange, the Brewers will be sending outfield prospect Ryan Cordell to Chicago’s south side.

Anthony Swarzak will turn 32 years old in September and has pitched in parts of 8 big league seasons since being drafted in the 2nd round by the Twins back in 2004 as a prep player. He was a starter when he debuted in the big leagues in 2009 but has pitched primarily in relief during his time in the Show. Swarzak has definitely had what one could call an up-and-down career during his time with the Twins, Indians, Yankees, and White Sox - he owns a 4.31 ERA (96 ERA+) across 532.1 innings covering 258 appearances, having posted a better-than-league-average ERA just three times in 8 years (and one of those was in 2015 when he only worked 13.1 MLB innings). The Florida native has been released or non-tendered three times in his career, including this past winter after compiling a 5.52 ERA in 31.0 innings for the Yankees (with 10 home runs allowed!) in 2016. He signed a minor league deal with the White Sox in January that would pay him a $900K if he was in the big leagues, and he made Chicago’s Opening Day roster.

Though he has an inconsistent track record, Swarzak is currently in the midst of the best season of his career. Swarzak throws just a fastball and slider out of the bullpen, and this season his 94.9 MPH average fastball velocity (per Pitch Info data from Fangraphs) is the hardest he’s even thrown by nearly a mile-per-hour. His hard slider, which averages 87 MPH this year, gets an above-average amount of vertical break and has gotten whiffs 18% of the time.

Using his two-pitch combo, Swarzak has authored a 2.23 ERA so far through 48.1 innings. He’s striking out more batters than he ever has - 28% of those he’s faced, 52 in total - while his 13 walks (7% BB rate) are right in line with his career average. The righty’s swinging strike rate of 14% is far-and-away the highest he’s ever generated. He also seems to have overcome the home run issues that plagued him last season and has allowed just two so far in 2017. It’s likely a big reason for this is that he’s allowed a minuscule 23.1% rate of hard contact this year, well below the league-average of 32.1% and the second-lowest total of his career. His Given his peripherals, FIP feels as though Swarzak has been just as dominant as his ERA suggests, rating him with a 2.34 mark. Deserved Run Average, on the other hand, feels as though he’s been a bit fortunate to have posted such low run prevention totals. Still, his 3.47 DRA comes out to a 74 DRA-, or 26% better than the average MLB pitcher this season.

Given his status as a rental, the Brewers are probably less concerned about his middling performance history and are simply attempting to capitalize on the career year that he’s having this season. Swarzak should immediately slot into the late inning mix and will likely share set-up duties with Jacob Barnes in front of closer Corey Knebel. Swarzak’s addition allows the Brewers to dump whoever they deem as their worst-performing bullpen arm (Carlos Torres? Oliver Drake? Wily Peralta? Michael Blazek?) and move the rest of the admittedly suspect relief corps into less prominent roles. Craig Counsell will no doubt be hoping to ride Swarzak’s improved fastball and strikeout totals to a playoff berth.

You have to give up value to get value, though, and for 2-3 months of Swarzak’s services Stearns and co. were required to part with a solid prospect in Ryan Cordell. The 25 year old right-handed hitter came to Milwaukee just last summer as the PTBNL in the Lucroy/Jeffress trade with Texas. He’s spent the whole season as AAA Colorado Springs, where he has seen time at all three outfield positions as well as third base. Cordell batted .284/.349/.506 with 10 home runs and 9 steals in 292 plate appearances for the Sky Sox, though with park and league adjustments factored in that only equated to solid, but not stellar, 116 wRC+. He’s has been on the minor league disabled list for the last several weeks with a back issue.

In MLB Pipeline’s recent update, Cordell was ranked as the #17 overall prospect in a deep and talented Brewers’ minor league system. Their evaluators give Cordell the ceiling of an average MLB regular. His hit tool grades out as fringe-average but is compensated for by what could ultimately be four other above-average tools: power (55), run (60), arm (55), and glove (55). Pipeline’s scouts describe the former 11th-round pick as “a potential regular whose versatility and athleticism also would make him an ideal fourth outfielder in the big leagues.” Here’s some of the other chatter seen regarding Cordell’s future role:

Cordell is a fine prospect who could very well go on to have a nice big league career, but he was deemed expendable by a Brewers team in the chase for the playoffs. Simply put, Cordell was the oldest and least-regarded of Milwaukee’s stable of advanced outfield depth and wasn’t likely to overtake Brett Phillips or Lewis Brinson on the outfield depth chart. With Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana (who is also younger than Cordell) entrenched at the outfield corners and the continued presence of Keon Broxton, Kyle Wren, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Hernan Perez within the organization, the Brewers could certainly afford to leverage some of their outfield depth into a bullpen upgrade.

Now that the bullpen was addressed for a relatively modest overall cost (all things considered) the possibility remains that the Brewers could make another move before next Monday’s trade deadline. Adam McCalvy said yesterday on 105.7 FM the Fan in Milwaukee that the front office is legitimately open to moving prospects for MLB talent to supplement this year’s team, and that they are considering both rentals as well as controllable players (and obviously just acquired a rental in Swarzak). McCalvy also noted that contrary to prior reports, he’s heard that the Brewers are still “in” on Sonny Gray, and the club reportedly remains involved in talks with the Tigers about Ian Kinsler and Justin Wilson.

Whether it’s a big, splashy blockbuster or another move along the lines of the Anthony Swarzak addition, it certainly feels as though the Milwaukee Brewers will make another addition for the playoff push at some point this week.

UPDATE:

The deal has been announced by the team:

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus

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