The Milwaukee Brewers were quite active on this summer’s non-waiver trade market, acquiring three players for the major league squad while sending away six of their own prospects plus second baseman Jonathan Villar. The Brewers brought in Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop to help shore up the offensive production in the infield and their presence has made a positive difference; since the start of August, Milwaukee ranks tied for fourth in the National League with 55 runs scored. Joakim Soria also joined the bullpen and had allowed only one earned run through his first seven appearances and 5.2 innings in the Cream City, but he landed on the disabled list yesterday with a leg issue.
With their offensive woes more or less addressed, the focus of David Stearns and company this month will likely be on exploring upgrades to a pitching staff that has looked a lot more human recently than it did in the early part of the season. It was reported that Slingin’ Stearns was hot to trot on an addition to the starting rotation before July 31st, with his club linked heavily to high-upside arms like Chris Archer, Zack Wheeler, and Kevin Gausman, as well as depth arms like Matt Harvey and Mike Fiers. Milwaukee’s group of initial out-getters continues to chug along with a 4.01 ERA (11th in MLB) and they figure to get Zach Davies back at some point in the not-so-distant future. But Brent Suter is out for the rest of the year, Jimmy Nelson’s possible return remains a complete mystery, and Freddy Peralta, Chase Anderson, and staff-ace Junior Guerra are all approaching career-highs in innings pitched. Earlier in the summer Stearns was adamant that any addition to this group would be a “rotation leader,” but given the current state of the staff looking into additions of any kind would be sensible.
The club has also been hit hard with injury - and ineffectiveness - in the bullpen of late. Soria, Matt Albers, and Taylor Williams are all on the disabled list, while former All-Star Corey Knebel has been extremely hittable for at least a month now and has lost his hold on the closer’s role. Recent waiver claim Jordan Lyles should help to shore up some of the depth issues with the relief corps, but the club is almost certainly on the lookout for other arms to help supplement a sagging group that’s posted a 8.77 ERA in August and 5.72 ERA since the start of the season’s second half.
There doesn’t appear to be a true difference-maker on this year’s waiver trade market like there was with Justin Verlander last year, but there are several players out there who could be of some help. As is typical of most August trades, none of these players should cost much in terms of prospect capital, either. So with that said, here are a few players that could make sense as possible targets for Milwaukee:
Sergio Romo (Tampa Bay Rays)
The 35 year old Romo has never posted an ERA above 4.00 in parts of 11 seasons as a big league reliever, and to this point 2018 has been no different. Romo has been an opener and a closer in Tampa Bay this year, starting five games and saving 14 while posting a 3.63 ERA across 52.0 innings. FIP- (84) more or less agrees with his level of success, while DRA- (52) feels as though he’s been one of the best relievers in baseball this year. Romo’s 86.7 MPH average fastball is right in line with his last three seasons, but he relies most heavily on his excellent slider (58.8% usage rate, +5.8 runs above average). Romo is missing bats like he usually does (12.9% swinging strike rate, 10.04 K/9), he has cut his walk rate from last season (down to 2.77 BB/9), and he hasn’t allowed an excessive amount of home runs (1.04 HR/9). His impressive postseason resume and three World Series rings don’t hurt, either. Romo is pitching on a one-year, $2.5 mil deal and will be a free agent after this season.
Jim Johnson (Los Angeles Angels)
Another veteran with both closing and postseason experience, Johnson has provided some sound work for the Angels’ bullpen this year. He’s compiled a 3.18 ERA across 45.1 innings for the Halos, although it comes with less-than-stellar peripheral numbers (6.95 K/9, 3.18 BB/9). Johnson’s ability to limit home runs (0.79 HR/9) has helped his keep a respectable FIP- (93), but his lack of strikeouts and high rate of hard contact allowed (39.3%) leads DRA- (118) to be highly suspect of his success. He’s finishing out the last season of a two-year contract he signed prior to 2017, and is owed only the remainder of a $4.5 mil base before hitting free agency.
Francisco Liriano (Detroit Tigers)
The rebuilding Tigers inked Liriano a one-year pact this past winter with the hope that he could eat some innings and provide a veteran presence this season, and he’s done just that to the tune of a roughly league-average 4.37 ERA across 18 appearances (17 starts) and 90.2 innings. His stuff seems to have bounced back a bit this season, as he’s generating more chases (29.3%) and swinging strikes (10.5%) than he did last season and he’s allowing a well below-average rate of hard contact at 29.7%. But his success appears a little tenuous thanks to an incredibly high rate of free passes allowed. His 5.06 BB/9 portends a FIP- (122) and DRA- (122) that don’t expect his modest success to continue going forward. But Liriano would add plenty of postseason experience to the pitching staff and could help ease the pressure on a younger arm like Peralta, who has been battling control issues of his own lately.
Matt Harvey (Cincinnati Reds)
Harvey was exiled from New York earlier this season after posting a 7.00 ERA in 27.0 innings to start the year and earned run averages over 4.50 in each season dating back to 2016. The former ace has performed better since joining the Reds’ rotation, although he hasn’t been good; he’s the owner of a 4.79 ERA in 15 starts and 77.0 innings for Cincinnati. He hasn’t had issues finding the strike zone (2.42 BB/9 on the year) and his velocity has rebounded a bit since heading to the Queen City (94.4 MPH average fastball), but he’s not missing bats (8.7% swinging strike rate) and is giving up a lot of hard contact (37.9%), which has led to some issues with the long ball (1.64 HR/9). Like Liriano, Harvey can’t exactly be called an “upgrade” to the current pitching rotation. But at the very least he could help to cover some of the depth issues, and perhaps some coaxing from Derek Johnson may help to him achieve a level of success closer to his early-career work with the Mets. At one point, it was believed that the Brewers saw Harvey as their “backup plan” if they didn’t acquire a more notable starter at the trade deadline. The 29 year old right-hander will each free agency for the first time following the end of this season.
Tyler Clippard (Toronto Blue Jays)
Clippard hasn’t spent an entire season with only one team since 2014, but he may be running out of time to continue his streak three-year streak of getting traded at least once per season. The well-traveled reliever has spent 2018 with Toronto and posted some solid results, logging a 3.76 ERA across 58 appearances and 55.0 innings. He’s had some issues with allowing home runs (1.80 HR/9), but his velocity is right in line with where it’s been the last few years and he hasn’t had any trouble getting swings-and-misses (10.47 K/9, 14% swinging strike rate). Clippard has also done well limiting both walks (2.95 BB/9) and hard contact (31%). FIP- (107) isn’t a huge fan of his work because of the home runs allowed, but DRA- (85) agrees that Clippard has been a solidly above-average reliever this season. The 33 year old began the year pitching on a minor league deal and will be a free agent at season’s end.
Sonny Gray (New York Yankees)
I wasn’t going to include Gray in this post until I came across this article from River Ave Blues and national writer Mike Axisa, who also covers baseball for CBS Sports. Gray was one of the hottest commodities at the 2017 trade deadline, with the Yankees and Brewers jockeying for his services and New York ultimately giving the A’s the best offer. And while Gray was solid down the stretch in the Bronx last season (3.72 ERA in 11 starts), the wheels have fallen off this year to the tune of a 5.52 ERA in 107.2 innings pitched. After 21 starts, Gray was demoted to the bullpen. He’s lost the trust of his manager and Yankees fans are ready to run him out of town. But the ‘stuff’ still seems to be there for Gray (93.3 MPH average fastball, 10.2% swinging strike rate, 8.61 K/9). There has been speculation that the notoriously anti-fastball Yankees have hurt the right-hander’s game by moving him away from his hard stuff, instead emphasizing the use of a cutter and increased reliance on his curveball. Perhaps ramping up the usage of his secondaries is what’s causing Gray to have so much trouble finding the zone (40.5% zone rate, 3.93 BB/9).
Axisa believes that the remainder of Gray’s $6.5 mil salary combined with his poor performance would be enough for the 28 year old to clear trade waivers. That would allow the Brewers to pursue a reunion between Gray and his former Vanderbilt coach and now renowned MLB pitching coach Derek Johnson, who Gray has called a “father-figure” in his life. If DJ can help Gray get back on track, it could help the Brewers for the rest of this season as well as in 2019, Gray’s final year of club control before free agency.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus