MILWAUKEE -- A 5-1 loss to the Pirates on Sunday at Miller Park took the Brewers to the cusp of Monday’s 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline.
Will they have reinforcements on the way by the next time they take the field?
“I don’t know,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said just before Sunday’s first pitch. “From an industry-wide perspective and conversations we’re engaged in, I think there is plenty of volume, sufficient volume, to make trades.
“Whether a trade gets done or not, it’s tough for me to handicap.”
Sunday’s loss, in which Brandon Woodruff surrendered home runs to Gregory Polanco and Josh Bell in a five-inning outing, snapped the Brewers’ seven-game winning streak against the Pirates at home dating to last season. It also highlighted the Brewers’ need for a more consistent offense.
After hitting four home runs on Friday and coming from behind in the eighth and ninth innings on Saturday, Milwaukee's bats went into hiding against five Pirates pitchers on Sunday, the Brewers put a runner on base in every inning Sunday, but they went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13 men on base.
“It was a day of pressure, but not the big hit,” manager Craig Counsell said.
The Brewers reached the Deadline with a 15-18 record, sitting 4 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Cubs, but only a game behind the Cardinals for second place and a playoff spot. The Brewers have yet to sit above .500 this year.
“Honestly, with what this crazy season is, we're still in the thick of things,” Woodruff said. “If we can just rattle off four or five [wins] here in a row, September is kind of our game.”
Can you imagine Woodruff and the Brewers going for it in September without Josh Hader at the back of the bullpen? It’s not completely out of the question, since Hader, who still hasn’t allowed a 2020 hit, could fetch a significant return. USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale said Sunday that he was hearing “a growing sentiment among executives” that Hader could be traded, though he noted the price was high.
Predictably, Stearns declined to weigh in on that report.
“I think trade rumors are inevitable, always,” Stearns said. “Everyone has a job to do. There are going to be reports out there. Some of them are spot on, and some of them aren’t spot on. That’s one of the things that makes this time of year fun and exciting for anyone.”
Here are a few things we know for sure: The Brewers aren’t philosophically opposed to trading Hader. Under Stearns, they have shown they are not opposed to trading anyone, although it’s difficult to see them moving Christian Yelich months after signing him to a nine-year contract. But to move a player like Hader, the two-time National League Reliever of the Year Award winner, it would take a “bananas” offer, as a source put it to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal recently. We also know that a number of teams have asked the Brewers about Hader’s availability.
But here are some things we do not know for sure:
- How do the Brewers project Hader’s next few years? Hader’s fastball velocity is down this season and his slider usage is up, creating a better pitch mix. Perhaps the velocity is tied to the shortened camp or the empty seats. Perhaps it is tied to the volume of pressure-packed innings Hader has pitched over the past two years while compiling the highest strikeout rate of all time.
- Could the Brewers get more for such a premium asset in the winter? There has never been a Trade Deadline with more uncertainty, and just like any market, uncertainty is typically bad for deal-making.
- Is money a factor? Hader is making a prorated $4.1 million this season after losing an arbitration hearing in February. Since he was a Super Two player, he has three arbitration years remaining, and Hader’s salary almost certainly will continue to rise.
Even if the Brewers don’t get an offer that makes them think about moving Hader or Corbin Burnes, another controllable pitcher reportedly receiving interest, that doesn’t mean Milwaukee won’t make a deal. Stearns has made multiple acquisitions at each of the last three Trade Deadlines. Among his adds -- with varying degrees of impact -- were Drew Pomeranz, Jordan Lyles and Jake Faria in 2019, Mike Moustakas, Joakim Soria and Jonathan Schoop in ‘18, and Anthony Swarzak and Jeremy Jeffress in ‘17.
Any GM’s desire is to add. But would Stearns be comfortable if Monday comes and goes without a trade?
“Sure, that’s always an option,” Stearns said. “Sometimes you can get through a Deadline and determine that’s the best option.”
When the Brewers take the field again, they will know the outcome.