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Milwaukee Brewers decade in review: the top-5 trades

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Milwaukee pulled off some great trades over the past 10 years

Milwaukee at Chicago Cubs John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Executing a great trade can make or break a team. The swap that brought Rollie Fingers, Pete Vuckovich, and recent Hall of Fame inductee Ted Simmons to the Cream City almost brought the Milwaukee Brewers a World Series title. Over the past ten seasons, the Milwaukee Brewers have been relatively fortunate in trades. Some of those trades have brought amazing players to Miller Park, and in some case have been quite lopsided. There is also what players traded to Milwaukee got back for the Brewers when traded to other teams to consider. In coming up with this list, contribution of the player(s) acquired, lopsidedness of the trade in the Brewers favor, and future return in trade of player(s) acquired by Milwaukee constituted the criteria for the list. With the decade of the teens coming to a close, let’s reminisce about five of the best trades over the last ten years made by the Milwaukee Brewers.

January 25, 2018 - Milwaukee gets Christian Yelich and sends Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz, and Jordan Yamamoto to Miami

At the time, some in the Brewers’ fanbase were not ecstatic about this trade. Christian Yelich had yet to become the Christian Yelich that we know today. What David Sterns and his front office knew about Yelich was his talent level, his age, and his years of cheap control. Around baseball, the Yelich contract was touted as one of the most team-friendly in the sport. The Brewers nabbed the talented young player for three top 100 prospects and another with good upside.

Miami did restock their farm system with young talent, three of which have logged time at the MLB level already. However there is no doubt who won this trade. Christian Yelich went from a very good and talented player in Miami to one of the best players in MLB with Milwaukee. During his tenure in Milwaukee, the Brewers have enjoyed two straight playoff appearances and a 2018 that saw the team get within a game of going to the World Series and an MVP for Mr. Yelich. Since the All-Star Break in 2018, he has slashed .342/.436/.705 with a 190 wRC+. Yelich might be the most impactful player on any one team in the sport.

July 30, 2015 - Milwaukee gets Josh Hader, Adrian Houser, Domingo Santana, and Brett Phillips and sends Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston

At the trade deadline in 2015, the Brewers the decision was made to deal veteran players with the goal of becoming more competitive in the future. This trade went a long way in the creation of the current competitive window enjoyed by Milwaukee.

As most probably remember, Carlos Gomez was supposed to be headed to the New York Mets for Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores. That would have proved a fine trade for Milwaukee, but the New York front office bailed on the trade based on Gomez’ medicals (rightfully so). Milwaukee quickly went into another direction and made a trade with Houston.

Carlos Gomez was not far removed from his Gold Glove season of 2013 and was still seen as a star player. Mike Fiers had pitched quality innings across three-plus seasons in Milwaukee. Those two players were difficult to give up, but what came back in return proved worth the cost.

Josh Hader is the recipient of back-to-back Trevor Hoffman Awards and is generally considered one of the best relievers in baseball, posting back-to-back 2+ WAR seasons from the bullpen. Adrian Houser looked dominant in the bullpen in 2019, and looks to be in line to take one of the spots in the Milwaukee rotation going into 2020. Domingo Santana put up a 30 home run season in 2017 and turned into Ben Gamel and Noah Zavolas in a trade with Seattle. Brett Phillips came to Milwaukee and became a sensation for his on-the-field potential as well as his winning personality. He and Jorge Lopez netted Mike Moustakas as the Brewers marched towards the NLCS in 2018.

December 6, 2016 - Milwaukee gets Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon, Josh Pennington, and PTBNL which became Yeison Coca

Tyler Thornburg had a history with injuries while in Milwaukee, but his 2016 proved to be strong (2.15 ERA, 2.83 FIP, 12.09 K/9 over 67 innings), and the Boston Red Sox saw him as a set-up man that would fall in behind Craig Kimbrel. As a result, they were willing to give up a lot to get him. What they gave up in just one player was back-to-back 30 home run seasons and a middle of the order bat for the 2017 and 2018 season.

Mauricio Dubon became one of Milwaukee’s top prospects. His makeup and strong on-the-field results made him one of the most attractive assets in the Milwaukee system. To bolster their bullpen at the 2019 trade deadline, the Brewers turned Dubon into Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black.

While Josh Pennington is out of baseball and Yeison Coca has yet to materialize into a major league talent, David Stearns got the best of Dave Dombrowski in this one. Thornburg barely pitched for the Red Sox and Shaw netted Milwaukee 7.1 fWAR over his first two seasons as well as a prospect that was in turn dealt for a reliever who contributed mightily to Milwaukee’s September fortunes in 2019.

July 31, 2015 - Milwaukee gets Zach Davies and sends Gerardo Parra to Baltimore.

This trade is just vastly underrated. Baltimore was in contention in 2015 and needed a left handed bat. Milwaukee got back a pitcher that looked as if he should be singing in the Tabernacle Choir as opposed to pitching for a major league team. The fact is, Zach Davies was a good pitcher for Milwaukee. In parts of the 2019 season, Davies kept what amounted to a very suspect rotation from imploding in the first half of the season. His 3.55 ERA was actually a bit bloated as he ran out of gas down the stretch, but he was one of the best pitchers by ERA in all of baseball for much of the season.

Parra would only stay with Baltimore for two months. Davies, on the other hand, pitched for Milwaukee for parts of five seasons and 614.1 innings. He posted a 3.91 ERA and 7.8 fWAR over that time. Stearns decided to trade him and Trent Grisham for younger and more controllable talent. It would not be a surprise to see the young talent in the form of Eric Lauer and Luis Urias emerge into valuable major league assets, but Davies was a solid-to-good pitcher for quite awhile.

July 12, 2011 - Milwaukee gets Francisco Rodriguez and cash for Danny Herrera and Adrian Rosario

K-Rod would become part of a 1-2 punch in the bullpen along with John Axford that would shut down games late for Milwaukee. The two relievers were without a doubt a big reason why the Brewers won the NL Central in 2011 and made it all the way to the NLCS. Unfortunately Rodriguez and Axford could not find the magic again in 2012. In fact they were a significant reason why the Brewers fell out of contention even though the Brewers were third in runs scored in MLB that season. Nonetheless, K-Rod was that “over-the-top” piece that put Milwaukee in contention for a World Series appearance.

Milwaukee would reunite with K-Rod on several occasions and eventually traded him to the Detroit Tigers. In return the Brewers got prospect Javier Betancourt and a PTBNL. That PTBNL turned out to be Manny Pina, who has become a real asset for Milwaukee behind the plate.

There were other trades that very well could have made the list. The deal that brought Zack Greinke to Milwaukee would be one the comes to mind first and foremost. I did not include that trade since it probably benefitted Kansas City more than it did Milwaukee. If you remember, Kansas City received Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress. That worked out well for them. The Adam Lind trade with Seattle for three teenage pitchers — including Freddy Peralta — might climb this board in the years to come too. Jean Segura provided a few years of value as well after coming over as part of the package received from the Angels as Greinke departed. However the five trades listed above provided the most value for the least in trade over the last decade.

Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference