Will Brewers again be buyers at Deadline?

August 27th, 2020

MILWAUKEE -- Industry chatter plus a deadline typically produces action. Will this strangest of Trade Deadlines follow that familiar pattern?

Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns reported that general managers are talking trades ahead of Monday’s 3 p.m. CT Deadline. For Milwaukee, it’s an opportunity to augment a team that has pitched relatively well but not hit nearly as much as expected when Stearns & Co. constructed a roster that prioritized depth over star power.

“David's doing his work,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I know that every year, where you're at in the standings matters. That matters for every club. We're no different from that. I understand we're in a spot where we can probably sway some decision-making in the next week. We went into the Trade Deadline last year in a pretty similar spot, standings-wise, and I know there was a lot more time left in the season behind the former Trade Deadline, but that's how the frame of reference has to be.”

An important wrinkle to this year’s Trade Deadline is that teams can only trade players who are part of their 60-man player pool (assigned either to the big league team or the alternate training site). Clubs are permitted to include players to be named later in trades, however. Additionally, scouts have not been allowed to attend games in person, so all assessments of prospects have been done based on provided video and data and past knowledge.

Buy/sell/hold: Buy
The Brewers can help nudge Stearns in this direction with a strong run-up to Monday’s Deadline, but that would require avoiding a repeat of last weekend’s letdown in Pittsburgh during a rematch with the Pirates this weekend at Miller Park. Stearns declined to tip his hand this week. He did predict that trades swapping Major League talent for Major League talent may be easier to complete this year than the traditional “players for prospects” deals of years past. In the dugout, meanwhile, the goal is to just win.

“The more games you win,” Counsell told an MLB Network Radio audience this week, “the more aggressive it’s going to help your front office be.”

What they want: Hitters with control beyond 2020
First baseman Justin Smoak and catcher Omar Narváez are finding some success at the right time, but the Brewers have other spots on the roster at which a hitter would fit. Maybe a left-handed hitter for third base, where Eric Sogard has underperformed, though not as dramatically as utility man Brock Holt, who was released on Thursday.

The Brewers have been playing Avisaíl García in center field since Lorenzo Cain elected not to play the rest of 2020, and while García has held his own, he may be more suited for a corner spot if the Crew can find a true center fielder.

“We don't have 162 games to play out,” Stearns acknowledged. “We don't have as much time to maybe mix and match and find the complement that works for us in a given year. That is something that we've done in past years. and I think patiently, and ultimately successfully, found a mix of players each year that works from a roster-construction perspective and that works from a clubhouse-dynamic perspective, and we don't have as much time this year. We recognize that. So we are going to be forced to make evaluations in a shorter timeframe than we otherwise would.”

What they have to offer: Pitching?
At most Trade Deadlines in recent memory, the Brewers have been seeking pitching. But perhaps this is a year they might dangle an arm to get a bat, maybe even listening to offers for electric reliever Josh Hader. As was the case last offseason, they would have to be wowed by an offer to consider moving the two-time National League Reliever of the Year, who has three years of club control left. But it doesn’t hurt to listen.

If not Hader, Milwaukee has other valuable, controllable arms in the Major Leagues and a handful of prospects worth watching. One of them, Aaron Ashby, was just added to the player pool this week.

“We are always a little reluctant to trade from the top of our system,” Stearns said. “We've done it at times in very specific scenarios. It's not something we really think we need to make a practice of doing. We're never going to close the door on any one concept, but I think it's a little more challenging this year to trade prospects, especially for a player who doesn't have significant team control remaining beyond the current year. I think when you're talking about players who could be with a team for multiple years to come, that could change the equation a little bit compared to a player who might only be here for a month or two.”

Chance of a deal: 75/25 in favor
History says Stearns will make a deal. He added in 2017, ’18 and ’19, and his acquisitions played significant roles in helping the Brewers reach the ’18 and ’19 postseasons. Even in an unconventional 60-game regular season, Stearns' instinct is to want to add.