The Brewers made a splash on Monday after staying quiet at the winter meetings, acquiring All-Star catcher/designated hitter William Contreras from the Atlanta Braves in a three-team deal that also included the Oakland Athletics. The Brewers also acquired two relievers in the deal: Joel Payamps from the Athletics and Justin Yeager from the Braves.
The only player departing from Milwaukee is outfielder Esteury Ruiz, who is heading to Oakland.
It took some time for details of the full trade to emerge, but ESPN’s Jeff Passan confirmed the final pieces from all three teams.
Full trade, per ESPN sources:— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 12, 2022
Atlanta gets: C Sean Murphy
Oakland gets: LHP Kyle Muller, UT Esteury Ruiz, RHP Freddy Tarnok, RHP Royber Salinas, C Manny Piña
Milwaukee gets: C William Contreras, RHP Justin Yeager, RHP Joel Payamps
Contreras became available because the Braves acquired Sean Murphy, who was widely considered the best catcher available this winter, from the Athletics.
The younger brother of new St. Louis Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras, William owns a .260/.338/.471 line with 28 home runs in 571 career plate appearances, good for a 121 wRC+. That includes a 138 wRC+ and 20 home runs in 376 plate appearances in 2022.
That power output is legitimate. Contreras’ career average exit velocity is 91 mph. His career barrel and hard-hit rates are 12.6% and 45.4%.
Additionally, Contreras gives the Brewers some thump against left-handed pitching, a split in which the club ranked 22nd of 30 teams in wRC+ last year. He owns a career 158 wRC+ against southpaws.
Contreras started at designated hitter for the National League in the 2022 All-Star Game as an injury replacement for Bryce Harper.
While his offensive talent is for real, Contreras’ flaw is that he is considered a poor defender behind the plate. In 955 1⁄3 career innings, he has tallied -11 Defensive Runs Saved and received poor marks for his blocking and pitch framing.
Fortunately, the Brewers have excelled at helping catchers improve behind the dish. Most recently, Omar Narvaez went from one of baseball’s worst receivers to a strong pitch framer thanks to guidance from catching instructors Charlie Greene and Walker McKinven.
Contreras is entering his age-25 season and is controlled through the 2027 season. If he can make strides defensively, he could be a long-term solution for the Brewers at catcher.
The 24-year-old Yeager possesses a high-octane arsenal that he struggles to command.
In 52 1⁄3 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2022, he posted a gaudy 37.2% strikeout rate but issued walks at an alarming 14.7% clip. The right-hander could become a legitimate high-leverage piece in a big-league bullpen if he can learn to harness his control, but that’s far from a given.
Payamps, who split 2022 between the Royals and Athletics, posted a 3.23 ERA in 55 2⁄3 innings, but some of his peripherals were less inspiring. He induced ground balls at a 52.8% clip, but his 17% strikeout rate and 43.4% hard hit rate leave much to be desired.
Payamps’ arsenal points toward potential to increase that strikeout rate. His go-to pitch is a low-to-mid-80s slider that falls off the table as it approaches the plate. Payamps’ 4.4 inches of vertical movement above average ranked in the top 30 among qualified sliders.
Despite its unique movement, Payamps’ slider generated whiffs at a subpar 23.2% rate, and opponents hit .302 with a .318 wOBA against it. Improved utilization of the pitch could yield better results.
Meanwhile, Payamps’ four-seam fastball sits in the mid-90s, features some running action, and produced an excellent 28.7% whiff rate (for reference, the whiff rate on Brandon Woodruff’s four-seamer in 2022 was 28.5%).
At worst, the right-hander should be able to eat some innings in middle relief, and he could unlock another level of performance with some adjustments. Payamps is a candidate to fill some of the innings that have gone to Brad Boxberger over the past two seasons.
Ruiz, the only player departing from the Brewers organization, was acquired along with Taylor Rogers, Dinelson Lamet, and Robert Gasser for Josh Hader at the trade deadline.
The speedy 23-year-old continued his breakout season after switching organizations, slashing .329/.402/.459 (134 wRC+) for the Nashville Sounds while sustaining improvements to his strikeout rate.
Ruiz is a threat on the basepaths and stole 85 bases in the minor leagues in 2022. However, there are concerns about his defense and lack of solid contact. An opportunity to turn him into three players, including an All-Star catcher and quality reliever, seemed almost unfathomable, yet that’s exactly what Matt Arnold and the Brewers did.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.