WASHINGTON -- After two years of "acquire, develop, retain," Brewers general manager David Stearns finalized a move Wednesday that reflected his club's ahead-of-schedule rise to the top of the National League Central standings. This one was all about "acquire."
After both clubs finalized reviews of medical records overnight, the Brewers and White Sox announced a swap that sent reliever Anthony Swarzak to Milwaukee for outfield prospect Ryan Cordell. Swarzak, a pending free agent in the midst of a career year at 31, will help the Brewers immediately. The White Sox will have to wait for 25-year-old Cordell, who is on the Triple-A disabled list with a lower-back injury and is still a few weeks away from playing in games.
It was the sort of move the rebuilding Brewers had been on the other end of in recent years.
"That's how it's supposed to work. You're supposed to get good enough where you trade for these guys," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who expects to have Swarzak in the bullpen beginning Thursday. "I think it means we're in the hunt for a playoff spot."
When it was suggested that the trade represents a detour from rebuilding, Counsell pushed back.
"Things can change," he said. "At different times, with where you're at, there are different ways to make the organization better. The goal for David is to build a team that's going to be in the playoffs and compete for a championship. Sometimes, the exact target of that changes.
"This isn't a detour, this is the path you want to take. We're trying to win baseball games and get to the playoffs. That's not a detour. That's the highway, man. That's how you make the playoffs."
The Brewers optioned rookie outfielder Brett Phillips to Triple-A Colorado Springs after Wednesday's 8-5 loss to the Nationals to make room on the 25-man roster for Swarzak's arrival Thursday.
Milwaukee already had an opening on the 40-man roster, so there was no need to make a move there when the trade became official.
"It's been an uneasy feeling, because you don't know what's true and what's not," Swarzak said of playing amid trade rumblings. "I never doubted myself as far as this type of success. But changing teams midseason like this is definitely new territory."
Swarzak's fastball-slider combo will join All-Star closer Corey Knebel and setup men Jacob Barnes and Jared Hughes at the back end of the bullpen. The Brewers liked Swarzak because he has success against hitters from both sides of the plate, his velocity and swing-and-miss rate are up this season and he can pitch multiple innings when needed.
Swarzak's 2.23 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings are all career highs.
What explains his big step forward at age 31?
"Sometimes guys find it at different stages of their careers," Stearns said. "He certainly wouldn't be the first guy, or the first reliever, who had it click at a little bit of a later stage. But we think what he's done for the first three months of the season is real, and we expect it to continue."
In moving Cordell, who ranked 17th on MLBPipeline.com's newly updated rankings of the Brewers' top prospects, for a rental, Stearns was operating from a position of depth.
"Ryan is a very solid player, solid prospect -- I don't know that we looked at him as one of our truly top guys," Stearns said. "But nevertheless, any time you're going to trade a young player with talent, it's going to sting a little bit."
Is Stearns content with this trade, or is he aiming to do more? Milwaukee has talked to teams about both starters and relievers, controllable players and so-called rentals.
"I don't know that we're ever content. We're still active on a number of fronts," Stearns said. "At this point, it's very tough to say. When I woke up [Tuesday] morning, I wouldn't have necessarily said that we were going to make a trade. These things can pop up quickly, and we're certainly staying involved in a number of discussions."