Crew acquires Winker, Toro from Seattle for Wong

December 3rd, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers and Mariners got a jump on what’s expected to be an active Winter Meetings with a trade that injected some power into Milwaukee’s lineup and opened a starting job at second base.

The Brewers sent second baseman Kolten Wong and cash to the Mariners for outfielder Jesse Winker -- a longtime thorn in the side for Milwaukee -- plus a longer-term project in switch-hitting infielder Abraham Toro. If Milwaukee's newcomers share one thing in common it's this: During a magical regular season in Seattle, they personally had seasons to forget. Now comes a fresh start.

"Playing against the Brewers was always very, very tough, very challenging, so I’m looking forward to being on the other side of that," Winker said. "It’s an amazing place to hit. You can see the ball. It’s just a great spot. It’s definitely one of my favorite places I’ve ever played and I’m excited to get this thing going."

The $1.75 million going from the Brewers to the Mariners in the deal represents the difference in 2023 salaries between Winker ($8.25 million) and Wong ($10 million), who are both free agents following next season. Toro, who turns 26 next month, was a key to the deal from Milwaukee's perspective, since he has experience at both second base and third base and has four years of contractual control remaining as an arbitration-eligible player.

Both players coming the Brewers' way are coming off 2022 seasons to forget. Toro slashed .185/.239/.324 with 10 home runs in 352 plate appearances last season and has yet to live up to his high ceiling as a hitter, with a career .621 OPS across Houston and Seattle. Winker, a left-handed slugger who was traded to the Mariners in March coming off an All-Star 2021 season with the Reds, slumped to a .219/.344/.344 line while battling injuries in Seattle in ‘22.

But there isn’t a team in baseball more aware than the Brewers that Winker is a better hitter than that. He went to Seattle a career .288/.385/.504 hitter, including .344/.440/.591 in 32 games in Milwaukee. Among active opponents, only Nolan Arenado (1.021) has a higher OPS in Milwaukee than Winker (1.013), and both players have posted those numbers against a Brewers team regarded for its pitching.

Injuries were a factor; Winker had to miss the Mariners’ American League Division Series against the eventual World Series champion Astros and subsequently underwent two surgeries. One procedure cleaned up the meniscus in his left knee, and another replaced a herniated disc in his neck. Winker is scheduled to resume light baseball activities after Jan. 10 and anticipates being ready on Opening Day.

"When you’re dealing with things like that, it challenges the fun of the game," Winker said, describing shooting pain down his arms and in his back. "But this is a no-excuse league. I didn’t have a good year. I had a bad year. So I got some things taken care of, and I’m looking forward to being healthy."

The outcome of those procedures could play a role in where Winker fits in the field, if at all. He has been a below average outfield defender by Statcast’s outs above average metric every year of his career and by defensive runs saved in every season but the pandemic-shortened 2020, and his arm strength does not profile well for right field. Ditto for the Brewers’ incumbent left fielder, Christian Yelich.

One possibility is designated hitter. The Brewers cycled numerous players in and out of that spot last season and have no clear frontrunner to DH in 2023 at the moment. Or the Brewers could flip Winker in a subsequent deal, as they have done with a number of pending free agents.

The Brewers had been shopping Wong since picking up his club option following the World Series, confident they could find good value given the number of clubs looking for a second baseman. The Brewers have multiple options to fill that spot including their top infield prospect, Brice Turang, a natural shortstop who has a .756 OPS over parts of the last two seasons at the Triple-A level. Turang bats left-handed; other options include the switch-hitting Toro or right-handed hitters Mike Brosseau and Luis Urías, if the Brewers acquire a third baseman and don’t need Urías there.

Brewers GM Matt Arnold resisted committing to either a primary position for Winker or naming a frontrunner for second base, saying there was too much offseason ahead.

Toro gives the Brewers an 11th player eligible for salary arbitration. He’s eligible for the first time this offseason as a Super 2, and Cot’s Baseball Contracts projected a salary in the neighborhood of $1.2 million.

“When you talk about our team on Dec. 2, it’s just a snapshot in time," Arnold said. "There are a lot of guys here in our mix that we like a lot, including the guy we just got here in Abraham Toro that we’re excited about. A lot of our players in our mix have a lot of flexibility; you guys know that we value that very much as a franchise. Having added depth across the entire infield is something that we feel really good about.”