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Trade Analysis: Keon Broxton deal solidifies 2019 roster for Milwaukee Brewers while still building for future

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David Stearns gets a surprisingly bountiful return for another backup outfielder.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Milwaukee Brewers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In quite a few ways, Keon Broxton is the personification of the way Major League Baseball is played these days.

As recently as five years ago, a player of Broxton’s type was labeled as a AAAA-level guy: someone who can do good things defensively and on the bases, but couldn’t make contact consistently enough to be considered an MLB player. That’s part of the reason why he was considered a spare part in the Pittsburgh farm system, traded to Milwaukee along with pitching prospect Trey Supak in return for Jason Rogers in what was supposed to be a “meh” offseason trade for minor pieces.

But something happened during Broxton’s time in Milwaukee — teams (almost entirely) stopped caring about striking out if it meant hitting the ball hard when you did make contact, and with strikeouts and home runs rising across the league, guys who played very good defense and prevented runs gained extra value.

And that is why despite striking out in 36.6% of his career plate appearances and spending 2 of the past 3 seasons bouncing between the majors and the minors, Broxton was able to net Milwaukee three solid prospects — including a possibly useful 2019 piece — in a trade with the New York Mets on Saturday.

The trade should not be seen as a rejection of a player of Broxton’s type or a sign that the Brewers are trying to field a team with a more contact-conscious approach (although removing him from the roster may end up having that end result, at least in 2019). The Brewers still have plenty of those types in their minor league system, including a guy who may end up filling Broxton’s old role as soon as this season or next in Corey Ray.

This deal, like the trade of Domingo Santana, was mostly due to Broxton’s lack of remaining minor league options. David Stearns has always sought flexibility from the last 5 or so spots on his roster, and using one of those spots on an extra outfielder that wasn’t truly needed due to the versatility of other players on the roster never seemed all that likely.

With that in mind, this is a move that might effectively set two position groups for the Brewers heading into spring training — the outfield and the bullpen.

Moving Broxton and Santana creates room for Ben Gamel to slide in as the guy making spot starts in the corner outfield positions, and Cory Spangenberg, whose signing is finally official and whose salary is conveniently close to the raise Santana was due, will be asked to join Hernan Perez in also carrying an outfield glove as part of his utility duties. There’s been some concern from parts of the Brewers fanbase on the team no longer appearing to carry a true backup centerfielder behind Lorenzo Cain, but the team also got through most of last year without Broxton on the Major League roster serving as an insurance policy for Cain, and Christian Yelich is capable of stepping into center occasionally to give Cain his days off. In the event Cain or Ryan Braun needs a trip to the disabled list, Tyrone Taylor was added to the 40-man roster this year and will likely replace Broxton as the emergency “shuttle outfielder.”

The trade may also finalize bullpen picture for the Brewers heading into spring training with the addition of Bobby Wahl. The bearded righty can throw in the high 90s to triple digits and has a good, if inconsistent, breaking ball. David Stearns said Wahl would be given the chance to make the team at the start of the year, but even if he doesn’t, he’s likely one of the new shuttle relievers that can be swapped in and out when a fresh arm is needed in the early middle innings.

Wahl gives the Brewers bullpen yet another high swing-and-miss option, leading all Triple-A relievers last year in K%, K-BB%, and swinging strike percentage. He struck out 73 batters in just 45 innings last year with a 2.20 ERA and was the main piece going back to the Mets in a trade deadline season deal that sent Jeurys Familia to Oakland.

His limited debut in New York didn’t go too well, getting charged with 6 runs in his first 5.1 innings, but was an example of his sometimes shaky control sometimes flaring up. We shouldn’t judge him on 5 innings, though — even Josh Hader had stretches of 5 innings in 2018 where teams teed off against him — and while that control may keep him from having a true late-inning ceiling, he could still present an improvement over the guys the Brewers were using in the 6th inning last year.

While adding another arm to the 7th or 8th inning mix isn’t out of the question for the Brewers yet this winter — I’ll still dreaming about pairing Hader with Adam Ottavino, thanks — the addition of Wahl may very well set the group of relief arms the team is comfortable starting the year with before getting to their usual late-July or August addition. As Kyle noted on Twitter on Saturday, there’s a lot to like about this collection of guys (not all of whom will be on the MLB roster at the same time):

Hader, Knebel, Jeffress and Guerra are the only four pitchers in that group who are likely guaranteed to be in the bullpen the entire season. Wahl and Alex Claudio are the new additions this year who could see significant time in the majors, but also have options remaining, and Taylor Williams and Jacob Barnes both also have one option year left. Houser is out of options, while Deolis Guerra is on a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta could press for a rotation spot (as well as Jimmy Nelson, but we shouldn’t count on anything from him until we see him pitch) but could also serve as multi-inning relievers if needed.

With the prospects acquired, the deal is also an example of the kind of “counterbuilding” the Brewers can do to in order to keep adding prospects to the system while also staying competitive at the major league level. In both the Santana and Broxton trades, the Brewers picked up pitchers they were closely following in the draft but ended up seeing drafted elsewhere before they could become Brewers. Adam Hill is a 6’5” righty whose profile sounds a little like Jimmy Nelson, a little like Corbin Burnes, and if the Brewers can develop him like they did both of those, they may have found themselves another good future mid-rotation starter.

In this deal they also picked up an 18-year-old lottery ticket in Felix Valerio who showed impressive discipline for a teenager. While Valerio may not show up in any top prospect lists, he’s not a bad gamble if he’s showing this kind of discipline already:

Overall, it’s hard not to be impressed with this kind of return for a player like Broxton. While he does have value, most of us likely figured the Brewers would only be able to get someone like Wahl OR a lottery ticket like Valerio OR an average-ish pitching prospect like Adam Hill for him -- not all three. While things can change once players get on the field, it’s hard not to look at this trade as a win initially, regardless of how you felt about Broxton as a player.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs