The Brewers waited about as long as they could for Jesus Aguilar.
It was actually almost long enough, considering Aguilar had shown signs of possibly breaking out of his season-long slump (and more specifically, his season-long power drought). He put up a .298/.346/.574 line, good for a .921 OPS thanks to 3 home runs and 4 doubles in 52 plate appearances, but as the short end of a platoon, playing time was tough to come by.
Aguilar provided the Brewers with a lot of good memories during his 2.5 years in Milwaukee. He became one of David Stearns’ most successful waiver wire scrap heap pick-ups ever, hit himself to an All-Star appearance and 35-home run season, and gave us an all-time great memory with his “They know they have a problem tomorrow” piece of trash talk aimed at the Cubs following a win to force Game 163 last year.
In the end it was a lack of flexibility -- both positionally and contractually -- that played a role in his time running out. He couldn’t play anywhere but first base for a National League team, and he didn’t have a minor league option remaining to send him down when he was struggling.
Aguilar is an example of how years of team control only mean so much when that player is out of options. Coincidentally, it’s a situation the Brewers may be experiencing again in a couple years with Jake Faria.
The Brewers were never going to get much in a trade for Aguilar -- as both the trade and free agent markets in recent years have shown, there just isn’t a taste for bulky 1B/DH types in today’s game, even with its increasing reliance on home runs. The fact he was struggling for much of this year and could have been on the verge of a DFA if he didn’t turn things around in July didn’t help.
With that in mind, Stearns did pretty well for himself in a rare two-contender deadline swap. Faria may end up being a reliever for good, but he’s young enough and the stuff is good enough to dream on. He’s even shown he can be successful as a starter, putting together a very good rookie season in 2017 that saw him post a 3.43 ERA and 123 ERA+ in 16 appearances (14 starts) in the AL East, striking out 84 batters in 86.2 innings. He made another 12 starts in the majors last year with worse results — granted, that may have been due to injury, thanks to a strained oblique — and has spent this year mostly in relief, making only occasional starts in Triple-A Durham.
His lack of control — and the Rays’ organizational depth when it comes to pitching — may have led to that move to the bullpen, although it’s also allowed his stuff to play up. Faria has walked 26 batters in 60.2 Triple-A innings this year, but he’s also struck out 74.
The stuff plays up in the bullpen, where he could end up being a contributor to the Brewers in the final two months, even though he was sent to Triple-A San Antonio following the trade. Reports are his fastball is up to the mid-90s out of the bullpen, and Fangraphs gave him a 60-grade on his changeup, which is actually a split-change — the pitch that made Jeremy Jeffress so dominant last year (and has seemingly disappeared this year, but that’s a subject for another post).
That combination should be enough to make him a solid middle relief option, where the Brewers have been struggling to find consistent depth all year long. The fact he’s been a solid starter before, accumulating 1.3 fWAR during his rookie year as a starter — it’s admittedly not saying much, but that would be third on the Brewers among starters this year — could mean the team tries to see if he could fill a back-end rotation spot next year.
The potential problem with that, though, is that A: the Brewers will also eventually have to make that starter-or-reliever decision with Corbin Burnes and B: Faria will be out of options starting next spring. That’s part of the reason why the Rays were willing to part with him for a struggling DH type — they’ll be facing a 40-man roster crunch of their own, and didn’t think he’d clear waivers on a DFA next year.
The fact Faria doesn’t have options remaining could end up meaning he gets one of the first cracks at filling out the rotation, barring any offseason moves that would bump one or two arms down the depth chart. Since he’ll have to be on the roster anyway, it might make sense to see what he has first before moving him back into a swingman or middle relief role.
If it works out, the Brewers have the rights to a solid pitcher for years to come. If it doesn’t, though, the Brewers will be in the same predicament they were in with Aguilar — a player you don’t want to give up on, but one that starting next year can’t be sent down to work things out. To this point in his tenure, David Stearns has always preferred flexibility when it comes to his roster construction. This trade would seem to run counter to that, although it could be seen as an attempt to trade from a position of depth for a position of need.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference