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Trade Analysis: Milwaukee Brewers roll the dice on young prospects in David Phelps trade

Three really young pitchers are said to be coming back in return

Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

There was a great deal of fervor around trade rumors and the Milwaukee Brewers prior to the trade deadline. Would Milwaukee be buyers? Would they be sellers? Would would the Brewers acquire? Would would they deal? Where was Josh Hader going to go?

Well we now know the answer. Milwaukee was a seller, but they did not sell big. Josh Hader is still in a Brewers uniform, and the only player traded was his setup man, David Phelps. Milwaukee sent Phelps to Philadelphia for three low level minor league pitchers.

Phelps was outstanding for the Brew Crew in August of 2020. He pitched over 13 innings to a 2.77 ERA, 2.76 FIP, and 1.82 xFIP. He struck out 13.85 per nine, and he had a ground ball rate of 52%. Almost everyone of these stats are career bests for the reliever. With that the case, along with a track record of success in other seasons, did the Brewers get enough?

Milwaukee received the three lower level minor leaguers from the Phillies in exchange. At least that is what is thought, although not authenticated by the teams. The three pitchers reported to be coming back are Brandon Ramey, Israel Puello, and Juan Geraldo. Ramey just turn 20, and the other two are 19.

As BCB’s own Brad Ford laid out, two of the pitchers have yet to get past rookie ball in the states. None appear on any top prospect lists. For a more extensive scouting report of the three pitchers coming back to the Brewers take a read of Ford’s work.

In essence, all three pitchers are young. All probably have strong upside. Two of the three are 6’3” and the other is 6’1”. There is a lot of growth and maturity yet to be had with a couple of these prospects. In each case, the ball is already coming out of their hands from 92-94 mph. There is a strong likelihood that these pitchers have the ability or at least potential to strike out a lot of batters.

Even with the upside of the three arms coming back, is this really a good deal for Milwaukee? On the surface, this in fact does not look like a very good deal for Milwaukee. It also looks like the Brewers gave up one of its best relievers to a team they are competing with for a playoff spot. Compare that to the Baltimore Orioles, who traded Mychal Givens to Colorado for three minor leaguers that are much more advanced than what the Brewers’ got back. An exception might be made for the PTBNL.

If you remember, Givens went to Colorado in exchange for Tyler Nevin, Terrin Vavra, and a PTBNL. Vavra immediately goes slots in at #13 on Baltimore’s top 30 prospect list according to MLB Pipeline. Nevin takes the #23 spot on the Orioles’ prospect list. Plus he is the son of former big leaguer Phil Nevin. This trade might get even better once we have a better idea of the PTBNL.

To be fair, Givens has a more consistent track record than Phelps, who had Tommy John surgery. In fact Givens is flat out good. Nonetheless the Givens trade provides a bit of a baseline from which to evaluate a David Phelps trade. And in this case, the Milwaukee Brewers did not get the SAME kind of return.

The issue though concerns the meaning of “same” in the above sentence. This trade is certainly not the same in terms of the level of player coming back. Nevin and Vavra are close to MLB ready. They both should play for the Orioles sometime in 2020 or 2021. Here is the kicker. In both cases, their future grade is a 45.

Remember they are major league ready, which means their grade is likely closer to who they really are. A future value grade of 45 means Nevin and Vavra are likely to be low level regulars or platoon players. There is nothing wrong with that. You build good teams with those kinds of players. But Mychal Givens is a difference maker that the Orioles just sent packing to Colorado. There is a PTBNL as well, so it is too soon to criticize this trade out of hand. Yet what went to Baltimore is probably less than imagined by some of the baseball pundits. Top 30 team prospect rankings and bloodlines probably have a lot to do with that.

David Stearns did not make the “same” kind of trade. Instead it seems that he is looking for upside in terms of talent and potential. And he has been successful in making this kind of trade in the past. His trade of Adam Lind to Seattle for three 18-year old minor league pitchers comes immediately to mind and is remarkably similar to the Phelps trade. Can one of these young pitchers become the next Freddy Peralta?

Stearns is looking to hit on something bigger than a replacement level or below player. He is looking at these types of trades as a means of building the foundation of the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization from the footers up. Infusing talent throughout makes this organization better overall, and one or more of these guys might hit.

Stearns can get the replacement level players in the market place. He is exceptional at it. Increasing the young talent that can be developed by a really good group of talent evaluators and developers of that talent is what builds a consistent winning franchise. This was not a conservative more by Stearns. He chose to roll the dice a bit. Yet there might be a bit more than luck that comes into play.

With that in mind, it is very difficult to analyze the value of a trade in real time period, much less one that has such young players attached to it. What we do know is that David Stearns has succeeded at this endeavor before. This is more of a gamble than the Givens trade, no doubt. Yet I would bet on Stearns, and I would wager that one, if not more, of these young men contributes in a big way to the Milwaukee Brewers in the future.