A tough playoff exit laid bare the Brewers lack of offense. Here's a few ideas on how to re-tool and hopefully get back to the post season in 2022.
C Omar Narvaez, LHP Ethan Small and SS Eduardo Garcia to KC for C Salvador Perez and IF/OF Whit Merrifield (and cash)
This trade would require the Brewers to take on some payroll (and risk) with Perez being an aging catcher due $64MM over the final three years of his contract. But Perez might just be worth it for the Brewers who struggled immensely against left-handed pitching in 2021 and need an injection of power into their lineup. Perez provides help in both spots, hitting .302/.342/.640 vs southpaws this season and setting a new single-season record for HRs by an MLB catcher with 48. Perez doesn’t walk much and is slower than molasses on the base paths. However, he can still control the running game with his arm and has experience leading a pitching staff to the World Series. Veteran Royals from their World Series winning club have worked out well for the Brewers in the past in the form of Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas.
Perez could make that a trio.
Merrifield shouldn't be overlooked in this deal either. He gives the Brewers a potential RF replacement for either Avisail Garcia or a utility replacement for Eduardo Escobar, depending on how they’d want to deploy him. Merrifield has 197 career starts in the OF but also can play all over the diamond. He’s an elite baserunner who slumped a little in the second half of last year. Still, he led all of MLB in 2Bs and the AL in stolen bases. Merrifield hasn’t missed a game since the 2018 season and is only due a 2022 salary of $2.75MM (with a 2023 club option at $6.5MM). He might have worn down playing everyday at age 32, so some rest and regular rotation might help him. Merrifield doesn’t have pronounced RH/LH splits, but did post a .720 OPS vs LHP in 2021, a 50-point improvement over what the collective Brewers managed last year.
With Perez coming in as the likely everyday catcher, Omar Narvaez isn’t needed and might make an attractive "flip" candidate for the Royals. Narvaez had a great first half in 2021 and reestablished his value, but teams still take advantage of him in the running game and he has to be platooned because he stinks against lefties (.434 OPS in 2021). Narvaez also has a good track record of working with young pitchers with Milwaukee, something the Royals may want if they are going to move the face of their franchise.
Small and Garcia are nice prospects, but not elite names. And that’s realistically all the Royals could probably hope for considering Perez’s combined age and salary. They’ll still probably have to kick in some money to land even those kinds of players back. Small could potentially be an innings eater for a KC rotation to go along with Asa Lacy and Brady Singer and Garcia could end up being their "next" SS in the pipeline once Bobby Whitt Jr. gets called up and likely gets prohibitively expensive in Arbitration.
It’s a trade that makes quite a bit of sense given where each franchise currently is at in their competitive windows. But the Brewers may have to move some payroll somewhere else before they'd pull the trigger. It gives the Brewers two veterans who should help address their primary areas of offensive need and the Royals some payroll relief with an aging player coming off a career year. There’s definitely some financial risk for the Brewers in taking on Perez’s salary. But this is a guy who’s averaged 34 HRs per 162 going back to 2015 campaign (Perez missed all of 2019) and has been a gold glover since the day he put on an MLB uniform. There’s reason to believe he can be productive for another year or two while the Brewers have their Big 3 pitching under club control.
SP Adrian Houser, IF Brice Turang, IF David Hamilton to ARZ for Ketel Marte
This trade would require the Brewers to gamble on Marte’s health, although he has a pretty team-friendly contract for the next three seasons. He’s due $8MM in 2022 with club options in ’23 and ’24 at $10MM and $12MM respectively. There’s also a vesting clause for 2024 based on PAs and health.
Marte gives the Brewers another versatile player who can move around the diamond. He’s played primarily CF and 2B for the D’backs the past two seasons, but he also has 250+ starts at SS and can likely handle either corner OF spot. Marte is a switch-hitter who crushes left-handed pitching, with a 175 wRC+ against them since the start of 2019 (343 PAs), and immediately gives the Brewers options to sit guys like Kolten Wong, Christian Yelich and Jackie Bradley Jr. against tough southpaws or at least move them down in the lineup. Ideally, I think Marte pencils in as the everyday RF but gives you the ability to play CF/SS/2B in a pinch.
If healthy, Marte is a legit MVP candidate on a winning team. In 2021, he finished the season in the top 1% in xBA and also posted great Whiff%, Hard Hit% and xSLG. He has a 139 OPS+ dating back to the start of 2019, but his performance tends to fly under the radar a bit since he has only managed to play in 72% of his team’s games. By moving Marte, Arizona would also clear the way for their new guard of Corbin Carroll, Kristian Robinson and Alek Thomas (all OFs) to break into MLB over the next couple of seasons.
Houser is a valuable piece for the Brewers as a mid-rotation starter, but the hope would be you could replace him with an internal option like Aaron Ashby or Ethan Small or find a veteran FA pitcher towards the end of free agency that doesn’t break the bank. The D’Backs are a team looking for pitching after having brought in Madison Bumgarner on a now-albatross contract and seeing Zac Gallen regress last year. Luke Weaver, Caleb Smith and Merrill Kelly have also struggled for Arizona, so adding a cheap and reliable SP who relies on a power sinker seems like a move the D’Backs should be willing to make.
Turang and Hamilton are speed/defense players who are kind of blocked right now with the emergence of Luis Urias and the trade for Willy Adames. The Brewers also have plenty of middle IF talent in the pipeline with Tyler Black, Eduardo Garcia and Freddy Zamora. Turang has already reached AAA at age 21 but the real get for Arizona might be Hamilton. In his pro debut, he stole 52 bases and carried a .341 OBP between AA and A+ this year. It was an encouraging start to his career for a kid that missed his final year of college at Texas due to an Achilles injury and then had to play Independent ball in 2020 since the minors were shuttered. The Brewers don’t like to run all that much, but the D’Backs have been more open to having big SB threats on the team (Jarrod Dyson and Tim Locastro come to mind) and Hamilton kind of fits the mold of plus speed, plus defense the team has trotted out there.
This trade is another that makes sense for both sides. The Brewers get another big bat in his "prime" to play alongside Christian Yelich, Willy Adames and Luis Urias for at least the next three seasons. And Arizona gets a legitimate MLB SP and some future IF pieces for a farm system that is light on IFs in the upper minors. The D’backs might be able to do better than this package for Marte if they only wanted prospects, but not many teams are going to offer a SP who posted a 3.22 ERA last year with three seasons of club control remaining. Houser gives them a MLB-ready SP who could conceivably bring more than Marte via trade if he has 1-2 good years in the desert.
SP Brandon Woodruff, OF Jackie Bradley Jr., OF Lorenzo Cain to NYM for 3B Brett Baty, SS Ronnie Mauricio, IF/OF Jeff McNeil, RP Edwin Diaz
Okay, let’s get nuts...
I’ve said it before, I think there’s some logic in moving Brandon Woodruff this winter (provided the deal makes sense for the Brewers) and this is the kind of deal I’m talking about. Sure, pairing Woodruff with Jacob Degrom makes the Mets a serious obstacle to get through in a potential playoff series, but hear me out.
First, this kind of trade gives the Brewers TONS of flexibility for the rest of their offseason moves. They free up salary with JBJ and Cain both being shown the door, which hopefully lessens the amount of money the Brewers spend on unproductive players. The trade blows up the Brewers "Big 3" but gives them the ability to go out and play aggressively in FA by clearing $32MM from JB and Cain, with Diaz and Woodruff likely cancelling each other out with their arbitration awards. You also help clear the way to playing time for both a free agent OF bat and Tyrone Taylor, who won’t have a MiLB option next year and will need regular ABs.
They’d also add an elite RP to either pair with or replace Josh Hader, if another team aggressively pursues him. My vote would be to keep both and have the best 1-2-3 punch (Hader, Diaz and Devin Williams) in the bullpen of any team in MLB baseball, but it would be a lot easier to move on from Hader with Diaz in the fold.
Jeff McNeil is a pretty good player who had a down 2021, but he’s a former All Star with a career batting average of .298. He doesn’t strike out (12.5 career K%) and he can play several positions.
It’s a theme in all of these trades, but let’s be honest – the Brewers look for these kinds of guys.
Maybe going into 2022 expecting offensive rebounds from both Yelich and McNeil is too risky for some fans, but I think there’s a better chance a guy like McNeil bounces back than a guy like JBJ. The CF defense takes a hit losing both Cain and Bradley, there’s just no way around that. But hopefully you make up for that by adding another big K/9 guy in the bullpen and getting passable CF defense from a guy like Taylor or an acquisition.
The Brewers would also pick up Baty and Mauricio, two of the better prospects at their respective positions across baseball. Baty could be in MLB as early as next season, with a sweet LH swing and a good showing in the Arizona Fall League (.381/.536/.619) he looks like a potential building block at 3B. The switch-hitting Mauricio has shown a ton of power this year mostly at A+ clubbing 20 HRs, but has struggled a bit with plate discipline (24.7% K-rate in 2021). But the Brewers don’t have a middle IF prospect in their system with the kind of power Mauricio currently sports and he did fare better with his K% in 33 PAs in AA at the end of the year (SSS warning).
The Brewers couldn’t replace Woodruff in the rotation with just one player. And a trade like this means you probably have to hang onto guys like Houser and Small for depth. But with Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and the 2nd half emergence of Eric Lauer, you still have a pretty cheap and formidable top of the rotation. Plus, the Brew Crew would almost certainly enter 2022 with the best bullpen (on paper) in all of baseball with three former winners of a Reliever of the Year award.
And that’s without even considering what they’d do in FA with the additional payroll flexibility.
Would it be possible for the Brewers to entertain a guy like Kris Bryant or Nicholas Castellanos on a 5-year deal with an additional $30MM in payroll for 2022? Maybe, maybe not. But that kind of money should allow them to compete on 2-3 year deal guys like Kyle Schwarber, Chris Taylor, Michael Conforto or even Marcus Semien. It also opens the door to going out and acquiring a higher priced piece via trade like Oakland’s Matt Olson, fellow A Matt Chapman or Minnesota’s Byron Buxton (how about that for replacing lost CF defense?) if they prefer going that route.
This is the kind of trade the Brewers should not be afraid to make with a desperate team like the Mets.
You certainly can’t give Woodruff away for nothing, but if the other team is willing to take some of your aging contracts and give you fair value in prospects/MLB ready players (MLB Trade Values puts this deal at 85.2 for Mil and 83.4 for NYM), you should be willing to pull the trigger.
While it’s true that you can never have enough starting pitching in baseball, it’s also true that small market teams can’t afford to lose out on a valuable trade chip when it’s at its peak value. I personally think Woodruff is at or near that point right now, given his age and amount of wear and tear on his arm - remember, he hasn’t had Tommy John yet in his career. Maybe he is one of the few guys who throws 98mph who can avoid that over his full career, but the Brewers might feel safer playing the odds and using Woody as a way to secure usable pieces for the future and some immediate financial flexibility.