Vibe check: Lauer opens up on Crew's Deadline moves

August 21st, 2022

CHICAGO -- Brandon Woodruff spoke of playing with urgency, Brent Suter of banding together and Keston Hiura of having fun. It might take all three for the Brewers to come up with another late-season surge. 

Hiura homered twice in the final three innings and the Brewers earned a happy flight with a 5-2 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon that sent them on to Los Angeles, where they’ll have a rematch with the best-in-baseball Dodgers after splitting a four-game series in Milwaukee last week. 

The Brewers will be coming off a victory in which Woodruff settled in after a 36-pitch first inning and teamed with Suter, Brad Boxberger and Taylor Rogers on a five-hitter. Rowdy Tellez sparked a comeback with his 26th home run, and Hiura continued a push for more playing time by hitting multiple homers in a Major League game for the first time in more than three years to deny the Cubs a sweep. Talk about a needed victory.

“You know what, I feel like baseball has really, really just punched us in the face the last couple of days,” Woodruff said. “I know we say this -- ‘We’ve got plenty of time’ -- but we also know we’re getting towards the end.

“You just never know what’s going to happen. We can get on a roll here and we can look back at this and talk about it like we always do and say this is a stretch where we got through it and started playing good baseball. We’ll see what happens.”

On the mound Monday night at Dodger Stadium will be left-hander Eric Lauer, who has performed capably in August (2.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) but lost two of his last three starts because the team scored only one run in each of them. On Sunday in Chicago, he offered the most frank commentary from inside the Brewers' clubhouse to date about the team’s decisions at the Trade Deadline, most notably sending All-Star closer Josh Hader to the Padres for Rogers, two prospects and another pitcher, Dinelson Lamet, who would be designated for assignment days later.

“There was a shock factor to it,” Lauer said. “Everybody was taken aback by it a little bit. As far as who we have in the clubhouse and what we have here, I don’t think we’re in any worse position to win as many games as we should. The only thing I can think of was, from the top down it seemed like there was a weird behind-the-scenes message that was sent that a lot of people didn’t jive with.

“It didn’t send us the right message from the upstairs people trying to say, like, ‘We’re doing this and we’re trying to put you guys in the best position and we’re trying to win right now with you guys.’ It seemed more of a, ‘We’re trying to develop for the future.’”

But in his public comments after the trade, president of baseball operations David Stearns tried to explain why both things can be true at the same time. The Brewers, with a payroll that they argue pushes the limits of what their market can bear yet is modest relative to other contenders, cannot so easily go “all-in” at will and deal with the consequences later.

Stearns has explained it like this: The way for a team like Milwaukee to win the World Series is to get as many “bites of the apple” as possible. In other words, make the postseason year after year and give itself a chance to get hot at the right time.

“Our ownership group, they are not interested in a prolonged rebuild -- ever,” Stearns said the day of the trade. “Our fan base is not interested in a prolonged rebuild -- ever. In order to avoid those prolonged down cycles, we believe that, occasionally, making a very difficult decision like this is needed, and that's why we made the move.”

In Lauer’s opinion, the clubhouse needed to hear more.

“Afterward, there was no communication to the clubhouse [about] what changed in the clubhouse. It’s kind of like it was shrugged off,” Lauer said.

He added, “I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the way they described it to the public. I’m not trying to just get a bunch of bites of the apple. Especially if things are going the way they are, the way the Brewers have historically traded [before] paying guys. I don’t know how many bites of the apple we can take in the next few years. We’re not going to be able to afford a lot of guys in this room.

“But it’s not my decision to make. My job is to play baseball and do the best I can every day. That’s what everybody here does. But there’s a certain vibe in the clubhouse, and when a dynamic like that changes, it’s something that needs to be addressed. And it just never was addressed to us. We just kind of left it.”

Brewers officials would take exception to that characterization. Asked about Lauer’s comments on Sunday morning, Stearns said that there was communication between staff and players subsequent to the trade.

“Look, I think anytime a trade is made with a very established player on the team, there is going to be some disappointment and surprise in the clubhouse,” Stearns said. “I think we understand that and we expected it. A number of us -- myself, [senior vice president and GM] Matt Arnold, [manager] Craig [Counsell] -- talked to a host of different players and certainly there was surprise. I also think there was an overall trust in the organization and a recognition that we’re making moves that sometimes are challenging but keep the best interests of the organization in mind.”

When Christian Yelich was asked the day after the trade if players had their questions answered, he said, “We’ve had some conversations.”

Yelich added, “I think David, Matt, Mark [Attanaiso, Milwaukee’s principal owner], they've done really well over the last five years, and I think they've earned the trust of everybody in this room that they have the best interest of this team in mind.”

The players agreed on this: It’s up to everyone to turn things around.

“What we’re putting out on the field, I don’t think it’s all from the Trade Deadline or anything,” Lauer said. “We just haven’t been playing good baseball. We have to get better as a core and as a team in putting together games. What happened at the Trade Deadline, we still have arms, we got great guys back from that trade. It’s not like it was a horrible trade, it’s not like it was the end of the world or anything for us.

“But at the same time, it’s more the feel of the clubhouse. The message that it sends to us kind of inadvertently brought us down. It’s not like we’re trying to be brought down. It’s not like we don’t think we can do it, it’s just that there’s this weird hovering thing over us right now that nobody really knows what the answer is. We just have to get past it.”

Lauer will get a chance to do his part on Monday.

“Winning solves all problems,” Lauer said. “It’s easy to be happy when you’re winning, and it’s easy to point fingers when you’re losing, too. In no way am I pointing a finger for our recent hurt. I don’t think that’s the cause of it. I just think there’s underlying issues that weren’t addressed that are not helping the situation.”

As of Sunday, it was 120 games down, 42 to do.

“We’re banding together.” Suter said. “We’re doing the vest thing, the Starbucks run yesterday, getting back into that normalcy from even 2019 in here. We’re even trying to hang out a little bit more off the field. We’re trying to grow together because we know this is the group we want to win a ring with, and we’re just banding together. It’s great vibes.”