MILWAUKEE -- The smoke-filled rooms are a thing of the past by now, but even as the times have changed, there are still deals to be made at the Winter Meetings. Here are the most notable trades and signings for the Brewers during baseball’s annual gathering.
1. The Blockbuster
Brewers got from Cardinals: RHP Rollie Fingers, C Ted Simmons, RHP Pete Vuckovich
Brewers gave up: OF Sixto Lezcano, RHP Lary Sorensen, LHP Dave LaPoint, OF David Green
Date: Dec. 12, 1980, in Dallas
The Brewers netted an eight-time All-Star catcher (Simmons) and the next two American League Cy Young Award winners (closer Fingers and starting pitcher Vuckovich) -- not to mention a pair of future Hall of Famers (Simmons and Fingers) in a swap that sent Milwaukee on a path to its only American League pennant. A Sports Illustrated headline the following March called it "The Trade That Made Milwaukee Famous." In hindsight, it was a one-sided deal. Fingers won the AL Most Valuable Player Award and AL Cy Young Award the following season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992. Vuckovich tied for the Major League lead with 14 wins in '81 and was the '82 AL Cy Young Award winner, while Simmons made two All-Star teams with the Brewers and, following a long wait, finally was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2019. Meanwhile, Lezcano and Sorensen never came close to matching the production they'd posted in Milwaukee, pitching prospect LaPoint was a journeyman for 12 Major League seasons, and injuries and off-field troubles contributed to Green, a premium prospect at the time, never making a significant impact.
2. Coop to the Crew
Brewers got from Red Sox: 1B Cecil Cooper
Brewers gave up: 1B George Scott and OF Bernie Carbo
Date: Dec. 6, 1976, in Los Angeles
In all the years he ran the Brewers, Bud Selig takes credit for only one trade. In it, Milwaukee sent slugger Scott back to the Red Sox along with Carbo for a soon-to-be 27-year-old first baseman. “You keep making trades like this,” a rival GM called Selig to say, “and you’ll be in last place forever.” But Cooper hit .302 over the next 11 seasons in a Milwaukee uniform, becoming a five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner. Sports Illustrated credited Cooper for coining the nickname “Harvey’s Wallbangers” after Harvey Kuenn took over as manager in 1982. Cooper hit .313 with a career-high 32 home runs that season and delivered arguably the biggest hit in franchise history to date -- a go-ahead single in the decisive Game 5 of the American League Championship Series that sent the Brewers to their only World Series. He’s fourth in club history in runs, hits, extra-base hits and total bases, and third all time in batting average and RBIs.
“I made that trade, and I quit,” Selig said. “I knew I couldn't make another deal as good as that one. Cecil Cooper became one of my all-time favorites, and there was a seven- or eight-year period when he was as good a hitter as there was in baseball."
3. Brewers get Benji
Brewers got from Tigers: OF Ben Oglivie
Brewers gave up: RHP Jim Slaton and LHP Rich Folkers
Date: Dec. 9, 1977, in Honolulu
If you can't beat him, get him on your team. That was essentially the story when the Brewers traded organizational mainstay Slaton for 28-year-old Oglivie, who had tormented Milwaukee pitchers while with the Tigers. He went on to play nine seasons with the Brewers, making three All-Star teams, twice hitting better than .300 and tying Reggie Jackson for the AL home run crown with 41 long balls in 1980. His arrival coincided with Milwaukee's rise to prominence, from 95 losses in 1977 to 93 wins in Oglivie's first season in '78, starting a five-year stretch in which the Brewers won at a .570 clip to tie the Yankees for the second-best mark in baseball behind the powerhouse Orioles.
4. Melvin stockpiles starters
Brewers got from Blue Jays: RHP Shaun Marcum
Brewers gave up: INF Brett Lawrie
Date: Dec. 6, 2010, in Orlando, Fla.
It was not just the trade itself -- Marcum logged a 3.54 ERA and topped 200 innings for the Brewers the following season – but the after-effect that made this trade special. General manager Doug Melvin, sensing the Brewers had a championship-caliber offense but needed starting pitching, started laying the groundwork with the Royals on a blockbuster trade for Zack Greinke. But there was a hitch: Greinke wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause. So Melvin pivoted to Blue Jays right-hander Marcum, closing the deal just as the Winter Meetings were getting underway. Greinke apparently noticed.
“We were in the office before Christmas break, and for some reason I remember Doug and I being the only two there, just going over some things before we left,” said Zack Minasian, one of Melvin’s top front-office lieutenants. “He’s sitting there playing his messages on speakerphone, and I remember all of a sudden there was a message from Greinke’s agent. ‘Hey Doug, just FYI, Zack would accept a trade to Milwaukee.’”
Minasian celebrated by calling up a holiday song on YouTube that suddenly seemed apt: "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Nine months later, with Grienke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo atop a strong starting rotation, the Brewers were celebrating their first division title in 29 years.
5. Prince’s coronation
Brewers got from Blue Jays: RHP Dave Bush, OF Gabe Gross and LHP Zach Jackson
Brewers gave up: 1B Lyle Overbay and RHP Ty Taubenheim
Date: Dec. 7, 2005, in Dallas
Bush was a decent starter for the Brewers -- he was the winning pitcher in Game 3 of the 2008 National League Division Series, Milwaukee’s first postseason victory in 26 years – but the Blue Jays probably won this trade. Nevertheless, it marked a turning point for the Brewers in that it opened first base for 21-year-old Prince Fielder, who’d slugged his way through the Minors before making his big league debut in ’05. Overbay was extremely popular, but Fielder became one of the best power hitters in franchise history, slugging 50 homers in 2007, leading the Major Leagues with 141 RBIs in ’09 and, with Ryan Braun, leading the Brewers back to the playoffs for the first time in a generation.
Other notable Winter Meetings deals:
Dec. 3, 1989, in Nashville, Tenn.: Signed Dave Parker as a free agent.
Dec. 5, 1990, in Rosemont, Ill.: Signed Teddy Higuera to an ill-fated, club-record free-agent contract.
Dec. 13, 1999, in Anaheim: Traded Jeff Cirillo and Scott Karl to the Rockies for Henry Blanco and Jamey Wright. Colorado traded Justin Miller to Oakland. Oakland traded Jimmy Haynes to Milwaukee for cash.
Dec. 13, 2004, in Anaheim: Traded Scott Podsednik, Luis Vizcaino and a player to be named (Travis Hinton) to the Chicago White Sox for Carlos Lee.
Dec. 9, 2009, in Indianapolis: Signed Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins as free agents.
Dec. 6, 2016, in Washington, D.C.: Traded Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubón, Josh Pennington and a player to be named (Yeison Coca).