Being a small market franchise, the Brewers often have to make their splash acquisitions via trades instead of in free agency. Below are the top three trades in Milwaukee Brewers history, ranked by yours truly.
#3. January 25th, 2018: Brewers acquire Christian Yelich in exchange for Lewis Brinson, Isan Diaz, Monte Harrison, and Jordan Yamamoto
The 2017 Brewers finished above .500 for the first time in three years but still finished one game out of the final Wild Card spot. That offseason, they turned their focus to the present, sacrificing some high-level prospects with the hope of an instant return and a trip to the postseason.
When they parted ways with the No. 13 prospect in baseball in Lewis Brinson for Yelich, they could not have anticipated the instant spark the All-Star would bring to the lineup. Yelich showed he could be one of the best players in baseball, slashing .326/.402/.598 and an OPS of 1.000 during his first season in Milwaukee. He also saw a major jump in his power, as he launched 36 home runs in 2018, compared to just 18 the season before.
Down the stretch in 2018 is when the Brewers saw how valuable Yelich could be. Trailing in both the division and wild-card races to start the month of September, Yelich carried the Brewers to the top of the NL Central. In September and October, Yelich slashed .370/.508/.804 to go along with a 1.313 OPS and 10 home runs. Those incredible numbers guided the Brewers to a division title and an MVP Award for Yelich.
As good of a season as 2018 was, 2019 looked like it would be even better. Through 130 games, Yelich had already amassed 44 home runs, had an OPS+ of 179, and 97 RBI. Unfortunately, a broken kneecap ended his season early. In just 130 games, Yelich led the NL in average (.329), OBP (.429), slugging (.671), OPS (1.100), and OPS+ (179). The Brewers would make it back to the postseason thanks to his efforts. While his production has dipped since the injury, the Brewers have still made the postseason in four of his first five seasons in Milwaukee, however, the absence of a World Series leaves this trade at number three.
#2. July 7th, 2008: Brewers acquire CC Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians for Matt LaPorta, Micheal Brantley, Zach Johnson, and Rob Bryson
The Brewers didn’t wait until the trade deadline to get their ace down the stretch. By getting Sabathia in early July, the Brewers were able to deploy him for 17 starts down the stretch. At the time of the deal, the Brewers had the third-best record in the National League but still sat in third in the division.
Sabathia’s 11-2 record, 1.65 ERA, and 128 strikeouts with Milwaukee helped the pitching staff find consistency after losing Yovani Gallardo to a torn ACL. The 2007 AL Cy Young winner carried the Brewers, pitching an incredible seven complete games. His first four appearances saw three complete games and four victories. As a team, the Brewers were 14-3 in Sabathia’s starts.
He produced some gems across his three-month stay in Milwaukee. The Brewers almost saw their second no-hitter in franchise history when Sabathia threw a complete game one-hit shutout against the Pirates, striking out 11. That shutout was one of three thrown to finish the season.
The season finale performance against the Cubs was the defining moment of Sabathia’s short time in Milwaukee. Pitching on short rest, Sabathia went out in a must-win game and delivered a masterpiece. He allowed just one unearned run while striking out seven and giving up four hits in the complete-game victory. The stellar performance propelled the Brewers to their first playoff berth in 25 years.
#1. December 12th, 1980: Brewers acquire Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons, and Pete Vuckovich from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano, David Green, and Lary Sorenson
Few moments in a franchise’s history can you point to as a major turning point. In 1980, the Brewers finished third in the AL East with an 86-76 record. The following offseason, the Brewers got a trio of players that would combine for two Cy Young Awards, an MVP, and two Hall of Fame inductions. This trio of players would help the Brewers make it to the postseason for the first time in 1981 and win the American League pennant in 1982.
Fingers, 34 at the time of the trade, was already a seven-time All-Star. Even though he was at the back end of his career, the right-hander was still dominant. In 1981, Fingers recorded an American League-best 28 saves while posting a 1.07 ERA across 78 innings pitched. The AL MVP and AL Cy Young winner in 1981, he continued to have elite-level stuff into 1982, as he recorded 29 saves in 35 chances. Unfortunately for Fingers and the Brewers, he missed the 1982 World Series due to injury. In four seasons with Milwaukee, the 1992 Hall of Fame inductee recorded a then-team record 97 saves and 196 strikeouts
Vuckovich would follow the lead Fingers set in 1981 by claiming the 1982 AL Cy Young Award. The right-hander recorded a league-best 14 wins in 1981, and 18 in 1982. He had a 1.50 WHIP and 3.34 ERA during his CY Young campaign, leading the American League in win percentage at .750. Vuckovich, just like Fingers, was inducted into the Brewers Wall of Fame and was an integral part of arguably the best team in franchise history.
Ted Simmons was a two-time All-Star while playing catcher, first base, and DH with the Brewers. He immediately made an impact, becoming an All-Star in 1981 with 14 home runs and 61 RBI in 100 games. 1982 was another solid season for Simmons, as he slashed .269/.309/.451. Simmons hit two home runs in the 1982 World Series against his former club in the losing effort. The 1983 All-Star played five seasons in Milwaukee and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020.