The Milwaukee Brewers took a mixed approach in their reliever acquisitions at the trade deadline. They went for upside with Daniel Norris. They opted for more immediate impact when they acquired RHP John Curtiss, a proven reliever from Miami.
RHP John Curtiss has been acquired from Miami in exchange for C Payton Henry. pic.twitter.com/E9bzeHXrV0— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) July 30, 2021
Despite a rough debut with the Brewers, Curtiss is a presently stellar reliever with years of club control. The Crew would have to return another proven talent or a high-level prospect in exchange. They did just that, sending promising catching prospect Payton Henry to Miami.
John Curtiss has Minor League options remaining and has four years of club control beyond 2021. Pre-arb for '22 and then three arb years from '23-'25.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) July 30, 2021
Henry is a well-rounded catcher who is pacing for a debut next season. He has the potential to develop into Miami’s starting catcher if the offensive breakout he’s had in Triple-A carries over into the majors. He’s slashed .280/.357/.368 in 2021, with good production concentrated in his Triple-A appearances. He’s been a solid defender over his entire professional year and, in recent seasons, developed his footwork behind the plate along with his game-calling and pitcher management.
Despite Henry’s promise, the Curtiss trade looks like a win for the Brewers and Henry, especially since the Brewers system is still otherwise awash with promising catching prospects, including Mario Feliciano, Jeferson Quero, and Zavier Warren.
Then there’s what Curtiss offers. He’s got an effective fastball/slider combination that relies on pinpoint precision to get strikes and poor contact. He’s got a roughly average strikeout rate (52nd percentile), above-average whiff rate (58th percentile), and impressive chase rate (84th percentile). When Curtiss is off the mark by even small degrees, though, he gets walloped. This makes him reliable in middle-inning or low leverage relief but risky in high leverage situations.
The Brewers could have used another bullpen piece like Curtiss for much of the season, and the trade is a nearly certain benefit to the Brewers. However, the team’s COVID-19 breakout means that Curtiss arrives in Milwaukee with timing that’s at once impeccable and terrible.
COVID has hit the bullpen hard, which obviously creates a need for relievers (right time for Curtiss) in various situations (wrong time for Curtiss). As a pitcher who is likely to perform better in lower leverage appearances, it makes sense Curtiss would experience a rude welcome in Milwaukee in the middle of a workplace COVID-19 outbreak that requires him to make high-stakes appearances while the bullpen is in shorthanded but, all things considered, well-managed flux.
When the Brewers bullpen returns to full capacity, hopefully, sooner rather than later, Curtiss should be a valuable bullpen addition down the stretch. This is especially true if the bolstered offense continues to produce and put up big innings.
Overall, the Brewers gave up a lot in terms of upside when they sent Henry to Miami but made the right decision to lock in Curtiss, a proven reliever who can help them down the stretch in 2021 and for years in the future with the club control remaining on his contract.