Brewers send Hader to Padres in 5-player deal

August 1st, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- Sometimes it seemed as if , already twice traded as a prospect, appeared in more trade rumors than in ballgames for the Brewers while winning three National League Reliever of the Year Awards and making four NL All-Star teams. But now he’s actually been dealt.

On Monday afternoon, the Brewers sent Hader to the Padres for lefty reliever Taylor Rogers, who until recently was San Diego’s closer, plus right-hander and prospects Robert Gasser and -- a move that seems confounding on its surface since Milwaukee has led the NL Central for most of this season and has World Series aspirations.

So, why would the Brewers make such a move? President of baseball operations David Stearns has long maintained that the best strategy for a smaller market team to win the World Series is to give itself as many opportunities year over year as possible, and with Hader inching closer to free agency, the window was closing for him to be a part of that. Hader, 28, is earning $11 million this season and has one more arbitration year remaining, so in dealing him the Brewers are maximizing his trade value.

“These are difficult decisions,” Stearns said. “As we've done our best to determine how we can extend our window of competitiveness as long as possible, how we can avoid some of the deep downsides that certain organizations have experienced, we believe that making decisions like this -- regardless of how difficult they may be at that point in time -- is really essential.

“Mark [Attanasio, Milwaukee’s principal owner], his family, our ownership group, they are not interested in a prolonged rebuild -- ever. Our fan base is not interested in a prolonged rebuild, ever. In order to avoid those prolonged down-cycles, we believe that occasionally making a very difficult decision like this is needed and that's why we made the move today.”

After years and years of trade rumors, Hader said he wasn’t surprised to be dealt while he still has a year-plus of control remaining. He said of the Brewers, “they obviously have a vision for what they think the team is to win a World Series,” and urged disappointed fans to “stick with the Brew Crew.”

“Obviously the fans could be a little shocked because it’s something different,” Hader said. “I’ve been here my whole career so they’ve seen me grow up as a player and a person. For something like that to just disappear and change, that’s the hardest thing for a lot of people.”

He began this season as good as ever, rattling off saves in each of his first 18 appearances, a Major League record, on the way to 19 straight scoreless appearances to begin this season and 40 scoreless regular-season appearances in a row dating to last season, matching the Major League record set by the Astros’ Ryan Pressly from 2018-19.

But Hader has been wobbly by his high standard since then, especially in July, when he surrendered at least one run in five of 11 outings while taking three losses and a blown save in San Francisco on July 15, when he surrendered six runs on a trio of home runs including Mike Yastrzemski’s walk-off grand slam. Two days before that in Minnesota, Hader surrendered a three-run walk-off homer to the Twins’ Jose Miranda.

“Players are allowed to have hiccups,” Stearns said. “Players are allowed to occasionally struggle. Josh has performed at such a high level that I don’t read too much into that.”

Indeed, poor outings like that are outliers for Hader, who has been among baseball’s most effective relievers since being acquired by the Brewers from the Astros at the 2015 Trade Deadline and making his MLB debut in 2017, with his long hair and whip-like delivery from the left side confounding hitters. His 44.1 percent strikeout rate is highest in history for a pitcher who has worked more than two career innings, and Hader’s 0.88 WHIP is best among pitchers who have worked at least 70 innings. Earlier this year, he became the second-fastest in history to 500 strikeouts, getting there in 293 2/3 innings.

Hader worked a multi-inning role for the Brewers in '17 and much of '18 but then started racking up his 125 saves as a true closer, moving in on Dan Plesac’s franchise record of 158. Hader secured the final outs of the 2018 NL Central tiebreaker game at Wrigley Field, one of the most satisfying victories in franchise history, and he had a 1.88 ERA over 11 career postseason appearances.

But Hader also was on the mound for postseason heartbreak in recent years. Those moments include the Nationals’ comeback in the 2019 NL Wild Card Game featuring Juan Soto’s go-ahead, bad-bounce single, and Freddie Freeman’s go-ahead home run off Hader in Game 4 of last year’s NL Division Series. In both instances, the loss ended the Brewers’ season.

“He has contributed to some of the biggest moments in Brewers history,” Stearns said. “That’s how he’s going to be remembered here, and deservingly so.”

The Brewers never made an outgoing call to shop Hader in all the years they had him, Stearns said, but a couple of clubs made offers too good to pass in recent weeks. The Padres stepped up with the best mix because it met Milwaukee’s standard of helping both today and tomorrow.

Rogers, 31, was an All-Star for the Twins last season and has 28 saves this season, but he was recently removed from San Diego’s closer role. He would be an option for Brewers manager Craig Counsell to close games, perhaps in a tandem with righty setup man Devin Williams, but Rogers is a free agent after this season. The Brewers made another trade Monday for Rangers right-handed reliever Matt Bush, who is in the midst of a stellar season and will also join the late-inning, high-leverage mix.

Rogers leads the NL with 35 games finished this season, and he has 48 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings (10.5 K/9) with a 4.35 ERA. He's held left-handed hitters to a .203 batting average and a .550 OPS with a 35% strikeout rate in his career.

Like Rogers, 30-year-old Lamet is seeking a rebound. He finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award balloting in 2020, but injuries limited him to 47 innings in 2021 and 12 1/3 innings so far in ’22. 

He’s earning $4.775 million this season and will join the Brewers as a reliever with one more arbitration year remaining. The Brewers shifted injured reliever Miguel Sánchez to the 60-day IL to clear a 40-man roster spot.

“In Taylor’s case, a lot of this was and is reliever volatility that we can see,” Stearns said. “We think this is a good pitcher who’s going to perform for us. And we think our staff will be able to get the best out of him.”

Whomever Counsell selects to close, Hader said, “I think that back end of the bullpen is still going to stay solid.”

He’s headed west.

“That’s what’s next, San Diego. A new chapter,” Hader said. “Being able to stay in touch with everybody is the biggest thing. I think this baseball world is a small world and everybody will stay connected. We all know it’s a business.”