Crew's OF depth attracting interest at Meetings
Stearns says it would take impressive haul to deal 25-year-old Santana
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Brewers general manager David Stearns confirmed Monday that outfielder Domingo Santana has been drawing interest from rival teams, but he suggested it would take a haul to move a player coming off a 30-home run season with four years of club control remaining.
Santana, 25, is part of a deep stable of young Brewers outfielders that includes 23-year-old center fielders Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips and 27-year-old, 20-homer/20-stolen base man Keon Broxton. With Ryan Braun under contract through 2020 and looking less and less likely to be dealt, rival executives recognize that an outfielder may be Stearns' best currency to help fill the Brewers' need for starting pitching.
"Deciding to trade young talent is hard," said Stearns, who has spent most of his two-plus years in his current job trying to acquire it. But with the Brewers coming off an 86-win season that left them one game shy of the second National League Wild Card spot, he said, "We're at the point where I'm at least winning to consider that."
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Santana, however, would come at a cost.
Stearns was Houston's assistant GM when the Astros sent Santana and Phillips with pitchers Josh Hader and Adrian Houser to Milwaukee in a July 2015 trade for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. Santana was the Brewers' Opening Day right fielder in 2016 but was beset by injuries before breaking through in 2017 with an .875 OPS in 151 games.
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"It's natural when you have depth at any position to get calls on players at this positions. So that's what happens," Stearns said. "But it's also natural that if we're going to even consider trading someone who is such an important part of our team, we are going to expect a sizable return."
Why would the Brewers trade a young, productive player who will cost only a few thousand dollars above the league minimum in 2018 and won't reach free agency until after the 2021 season? Potentially, to get a good, controllable player in return.
The Rays, for example, are shopping for outfielders while dangling starting pitchers Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. The Giants and A's are among other teams that could be good fits for Santana.
Without discussing any specific clubs, Stearns said, "At this point, it's still just conversation. … Just because we have depth at a particular position doesn't mean we have to trim that depth."
Questions at keystone corner
While acquiring starting pitching remains Milwaukee's top priority, it is not their only focus. They are also open to upgrading at second base, where the decision to bring back free-agent Eric Sogard on a one-year deal and to tender a contract to arbitration-eligible Jonathan Villar put the pieces in place for a potential in-house platoon.
If they add from the outside, the Brewers' free-agent targets include Neil Walker, who posted an .843 OPS in 120 at-bats for Milwaukee last season after being acquired through an August trade with the Mets.
"I think we're in a really good place at second base, because I think we have very good options and I think there's obviously players available," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "I thought how Neil played last year for us was pretty significant. He played very well for us the last month of the season. He made a big impact on us. I think he was a really balance to our lineup. The little bit of versatility helped as well in some spots.
"Jonathan, he had a tough year. Guys have tough years. He has a really big year under his belt, too. So that leaves us at 'we'll see.' I think he's got something to prove certainly. You can't say you know exactly what to expect."
Stearns wouldn't say whether he had a meeting on the books with Walker's representatives from Excel Sports Management, the firm that also represents free-agent starter Lance Lynn.
Wisconsin native Pat Neshek was nearing a two-year deal to return to the Phillies on Monday as the relief-pitching market continued to move. That's another area of interest to the Brewers, who are set with closer Corey Knebel but lost setup man Anthony Swarzak to free agency after the season. Swarzak was productive for the Brewers (1.03 WHIP) in 29 appearances after a trade with the White Sox in July.
He's represented by Jet Sports Management, which has fellow free-agent reliever Wade Davis.
"It certainly seems that the relief market is the market that seems to be moving at this point, maybe a little bit faster than the others," Stearns said. "That happens at the Winter Meetings sometimes, where you get a couple of relievers to sign and the dominoes begin to fall. It wouldn't shock me if that happened over the next couple of days."