The Milwaukee Brewers are in the midst of a near total re-imagining of their roster, and according to various reports, the only player who can be safely expected to return to the Cream City next season at this point is Christian Yelich. The team is reportedly expected to trim down payroll from last season, so with somewhat limited funds available and a farm system that ranks near at or near the bottom of the league, dealing away players from the current big league roster may the most realistic avenue to plug other holes and remain competitive in 2020.
Besides Yelich, there may not be a more valuable player in the organization than back-to-back National League reliever of the year winner Josh Hader. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported on Sunday night that the Brewers have made Hader available in trade talks this offseason, and he went on to speculate that the Mets could be landing spot for the southpaw based on the Brodie Van Wagenen connection (the current Mets’ GM was formerly one of Hader’s agents at CAA). Andy Martino of SNY was able to speculation a step further, confirming through his sources that New York’s Senior Circuit club is “one of many teams” that are interested in trying to swing a deal for Milwaukee’s closer.
Martino went on to say that it is still unclear if the Brewers will indeed move Hader, and he noted that the asking price would obviously be quite high. Since making his MLB debut on June 10th, 2017, Hader leads all qualified MLB relievers in fWAR (5.9) while pitching to a 2.42 ERA (4th-best) and 2.74 FIP (7th-best) across 204.2 innings (4th-most). His 44.6% strikeout rate in that time is nearly five full percentage points better than the pitcher with the next-highest total, who happens to be current Mets reliever Edwin Diaz. Hader is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter as a Super Two player and projects to earn at least $4.5 mil in 2020. He won’t qualify for free agency until after the 2023 season.
The Mets are also reportedly looking to shed “bad contracts” where possible, and could stand to improve defensively in center field. Brandon Nimmo (-7 DRS in 719.1 innings) and Michael Conforto (-15 DRS in 1,137.1 innings) currently sit atop the depth chart at that position, but both have graded out as significantly below-average there with the glove. That leads this writer to speculate that perhaps a concept revolving around Hader plus newly-minted Gold Glover Lorenzo Cain (who is already reportedly on the block and has 3 years, $51 mil left on his deal) may pique the interest of New York. Well-known as a defensive wizard, Cain had a down season with the bat in 2019, but indicators such as his lowest-ever BABIP of .301 (his career average is .339) despite solid hard contact rates (69th percentile) and exit velocities (58th percentile) suggest that a bounce back is eminently possible next year.
In this hypothetical scenario, coming back to Milwaukee could be Jed Lowrie and the $9 mil that he’s owed through the end of 2020, as well as someone like first baseman Dominic Smith, third baseman/corner outfielder JD Davis, or infielder/outfielder Jeff McNeil. Myriad injuries limited Lowrie to nine games and eight hitless September plate appearances in 2019, but he was terrific for the Athletics in the two years prior to that (122 wRC+). Assuming he’s now truly healthy, he could be penciled in as the primary third baseman for the Brewers in 2020. All three of Smith, Davis, and McNeil finished with wRC+ marks above 130 last year and come with five seasons of club control going forward. Other players could also be involved on both sides, of course. David Stearns has proven to be nothing if not creative in his various quests to upgrade the roster.
At least one of the teams that engaged the Brewers re: Josh Hader is convinced Milwaukee will keep the lefty going into the 2020 season. But it makes sense for MIL to throw out big, big ask for him now -- the Hail Mary request to see if another team will shock them.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 3, 2019
Again, this specific trade scenario is all just personal speculation. Perhaps no team will meet the rightfully high asking price for Hader this winter, but that doesn’t figure to stop the Mets and other interested parties from at least trying over the coming months.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Savant and Fangraphs