Brewers trade deadline: Breaking down potential fits, needs, best targets, trade chips
Middle infield help and another starting pitcher are on the trade deadline shopping list
Thanks in large part to a stellar May and offseason pickups Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, the Milwaukee Brewers currently have the most wins and the best record in the National League. The Cubs are right behind them in the NL Central race, however, and the Brew Crew have some obvious needs to address prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Let's break down Milwaukee's situation leading up to the deadline.
For a bona fide contender with the best record in the league, the Brewers sure do have a lot of needs. Middle infield help is a top priority because former top prospect Orlando Arcia played his way down to the minors and Jonathan Villar has been okay at best at second base.The Brewers have been fiddling around with guys like Brad Miller and Tyler Saladino recently and that is not a championship caliber middle infield. Not even close.
Zach Davies has been on and off the disabled list all year and Jimmy Nelson is still recovering from last year's shoulder surgery, making rotation help a trade deadline necessity. The Brewers could really use an innings eater. Their starters don't pitch particularly deep into games. Also, catching help sure would be nice in the wake of Stephen Vogt's season-ending shoulder injury. The Brewers are trying to get by with Manny Pina, Erik Kratz, and rookie Jacob Nottingham behind the plate.
Best trade targets
Chris Archer returned from an abdominal strain earlier this week and was so-so. He looked rusty, more than anything. Truth be told, Archer's days as a no-doubt ace are probably over. He's pitched to a 4.11 ERA (99 ERA+) in 482 innings dating back to Opening Day 2016. That said, he is only 29 and is capable of an ace caliber performance on any given day. Add in an incredibly team friendly contract -- if the club options are picked up, Archer will be owed $26.67 million total from 2019-21 -- and he'd be an ideal pickup for a budget conscious team like the Brewers.
Okay, so maybe Archer is not the ideal trade target. Jacob deGrom is. He's been off the charts good this season and has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since debuting back in 2014. Add in two years of team control beyond this season -- deGrom is likely looking at $25 million to $30 million total through arbitration from 2019-20 -- and you've got a great pitcher who can help you win now and help a young Brewers team win later too. By no means will deGrom will easy to acquire. It's going to hurt to get a guy like this and it should hurt to get a guy like this. deGrom is the type of player who could shift the balance of power in the NL Central race though.
After back-to-back 34-plus home run seasons, Brian Dozier is in the middle of his worst season in several years, and it's coming at a bad time. He's a free agent after the season. It's his walk year. Villar & Co. have set the bar nice and low at second base though, so even the 2018 version of Dozier represents an upgrade for the Brewers. Will the Twins even make Dozier the qualifying offer after the season to recoup a draft pick if he leaves as a free agent? He might be cheaper to acquire in a trade than we all may realize.
Eduardo Escobar is among the league leaders in extra-base hits -- he was a big All-Star snub -- and his versatility makes him extra appealing to the Brewers, who have openings at both middle infield positions. They could put him at second base or shortstop on any given day depending who else on the team is hot. Escobar is a rental and, to me, last year's Eduardo Nunez trade serves as a good benchmark. Two mid-range prospects seems like a reasonable ask for the Twins.
In a not great rental starter market, it seems Nathan Eovaldi has risen to the top of everyone's shopping list. The 28-year-old is on a cheap $2 million contract and he has a 3.35 ERA (118 ERA+) with a stellar 44/6 K/BB in eight starts and 48 1/3 innings since returning from his second Tommy John surgery. Three times in those eight starts Eovaldi has taken a no-hitter into at least the sixth inning. I'm sure the Brewers would prefer a pitcher they can control beyond this season. Absent that, Eovaldi as a depth option makes a lot of sense.
Like I said, the rental starter market is not great. Cole Hamels has really struggled of late, allowing seven runs in back-to-back starts -- he didn't even make it out of the first inning last time out -- and pitching to a 5.48 ERA in his last eight starts. He's allowed 21 home runs in 103 innings overall this season, which doesn't mix well with hitter friendly Miller Park. Two things to keep in mind here. One, Hamels can block a trade to the Brewers:
And two, Hamels is owed the balance of his $23.5 million salary this year, and his contract includes a $20 million team option with a $5 million buyout for next season. That's a lot of money. More than the Brewers might want to take on. And even if the Rangers agree to eat money to facilitate a trade, Hamels can still block it. Plus there's that whole "he's been pretty crummy lately" thing to worry about.
Like Hamels, J.A. Happ has been hit hard the last few times out. He's allowed 20 runs in his last four starts and 22 2/3 innings, though before that he was sitting on a 3.48 ERA. Happ is a rental and, despite his recent performance, reports indicate he remains in high demand leading up to the trade deadline. If he reverts back to his 2016-17 self -- or even his first 14 starts of 2018 self -- Happ can still be a difference-maker for a contending team.
Not a pipe dream!, who would solve their shortstop problem and boost their offense significantly. (Not that scoring runs has been a problem.) The Brewers have the prospects to get a deal done and Machado is an elite player who could tilt the scales in the NL Central race in Milwaukee's favor. Going from Arcia & Co. to Machado might be the single biggest upgrade a contender could make at the deadline. Yeah, Machado is a rental, but success can be fleeting and flags fly forever.
I get the sense Whit Merrifield is atop the list of any contender looking for second base help. He can play pretty much anywhere except shortstop, center field, and catcher, and he's a pesky on-base player with speed and surprising pop. As an added bonus, Merrifield is under team control through 2022, so he'd be a short-term second base upgrade and a long-term addition for the Brewers. Given his production and years of control, the price tag figures to be quite high, however.
Wilson Ramos is, by far, the best rental catcher on the trade market. , but the price tag will be high, and Ramos is a more than acceptable alternative. He's a dangerous hitter with power and is still solid defensively. The catcher position has been a sore spot for the Brewers all season. Ramos would instantly turn it into a strength.
Tyson Ross is yet another rental starter who's struggled of late. He's allowed 15 runs in his last two starts (seven total innings), though, prior to that, he had a 3.32 ERA and was providing a quality start pretty much every time out. The Brewers are an analytical organization and Ross has long been a stathead fave thanks to his high strikeout and ground ball rates, so there could still be a fit here despite his recent performance.
Even after the Yelich trade, the Brewers have a strong farm system with high-end talent that could land them a player like Machado or deGrom. Center fielder Brett Phillips is an oh so obvious trade candidate because he is completely blocked at he big league level and offers 20-20 potential with high energy play. I imagine the Brewers will push Phillips on any potential trade partner, assuming an impact piece is heading to Milwaukee.
Righties Corbin Burnes and Luis Ortiz are having down years statistically but remain highly regarded. Top prospect Keston Hiura is presumably off limits, but others like Trent Grisham and Tristen Lutz figure to be available given the team's outfield depth. The big question: Would the Brewers trade Arcia? He's struggled in his extended MLB looks and the Brewers might not let him stand in the way of a Machado trade. Do they want to trade him? No. If push comes to shove, will they trade him? Possibly.
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Edwin Encarnacion, meanwhile, is doing a nice job rebuilding his stock for free agency