Brewers' brass breaks down Hader trade

August 6th, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- As the Brewers celebrated their past on Friday and tried to get the present back on the rails, principal owner Mark Attanasio and president of baseball operations David Stearns responded to fan backlash stemming from the surprising trade of All-Star closer Josh Hader to the Padres.

A 5-1 win over the Reds helped put everyone in a better mood, especially with and banging early home runs with the 1982 Harvey’s Wallbanger Brewers in the stands at American Family Field, and Tellez showing that power hitters can steal bases, too.

“We had a tough stretch in Pittsburgh. Put that behind us,” Tellez said. “It was good to put up runs early and allow ourselves to be free.”

It was the Brewers’ first victory since the Hader trade, which generated a series of common criticisms over the past few days. Here’s how Attanasio and Stearns responded to them.

Criticism No. 1: Trading Hader means the Brewers are cheap
“Cost-cutting had absolutely nothing to do with this,” Attanasio said.

In parting with Hader along with the approximately $3.67 million he’s due the remainder of this season and taking on Taylor Rogers from the Padres (about $2.4 million), Trevor Rosenthal (about $1.3 million) and Matt Bush ($275,000) in a series of trades, the Brewers actually added a bit to the 2022 payroll. But while Bush has two arbitration years remaining, Rogers and Rosenthal are free agents after this season, and the Brewers are no longer responsible for paying Hader’s salary next year in his final year before free agency.

But the fact Hader had a year of arbitration remaining was among the reasons the Brewers considered trading him now, with two Octobers of control left. More on that to come.

“With the addition of Trevor Rosenthal, the payroll went up,” Stearns said. “And look, we had additional payroll flexibility to make moves.”

Said Attanasio: “Every player that was available, we had the resources to pick up -- not just for the balance of this season, but for other seasons in their contract. Dollars didn't come into the mix at all -- in that or any trade that we did or weren't able to get done.”

He added, “There were no budget problems -- even with Juan Soto.”

Criticism No. 2: They care more about making the playoffs than winning the World Series
“Every presentation that I get at the start of a season has a goal of winning the World Series,” Attanasio said. “I love that the fans are so passionate. When I got here in 2005, we hadn't been to the playoffs in 23 years, so all we wanted to do was get to the playoffs, and now I love that the bar has been raised so much higher.”

“We certainly care about winning the World Series,” Stearns said. “Consistent competitiveness leads to a World Series. That is how you win a World Series, is you give yourself as many chances in the playoffs as you can possibly have. We believe that. I think that is the right approach. It is the approach that I have tried to set this organization up for since my time here. We are trying to avoid the 'boom or bust' cycle.

“We want this organization this year, next year, three years from now, five years from now, seven years from now, that when fans come and watch a Brewers game, they are watching a meaningful game. They are watching a game and a team that can and does go to the playoffs, and a team that has a legitimate chance to win a World Series. That is our goal with our moves, and I believe our fans share that goal.”

Criticisms No. 3 and 4: They didn’t get enough, and they didn’t get a bat
“We were engaged with a number of players the day before the Deadline and the day of the Deadline that had we been able to pull off a deal, our payroll would have gone up even further,” Stearns said. “And ultimately, we didn't make those deals because I made a decision that the talent asked was too high. But we had the payroll flexibility to do so if we had deemed a talent ask appropriate.”

Stearns doesn’t play the game of floating names of players he pursued and didn’t get, but other sources said the Brewers’ targets included the Royals’ Andrew Benintendi, the Reds’ Brandon Drury, the Giants’ Joc Pederson and the Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez among others. Benintendi (Yankees) and Drury (Padres) were traded, Pederson and Martinez were not.

In general, fewer hitters moved than the Brewers believed going into the Deadline would move. That had an impact on the result that all of Milwaukee’s additions were relievers.

In terms of the criticism that the Brewers didn’t get enough prospects for Hader, Stearns defended the additions of left-hander Robert Gasser (now Milwaukee’s No. 8 prospect) and outfielder Esteury Ruiz (No. 9).

“They are two very high-ceiling prospects and they’re two prospects who are at the upper levels of our Minor Leagues, and that is, I think, also important here,” Stearns said. “These are not rookie ball, A-ball players -- and we have made significant trades during my time here for rookie ball, A-ball players, but in this case, we thought bringing back players who are closer to the Major Leagues and have the ability to impact this to the near future was important, and that's that's what we did.

“Robert Gasser was a pitcher that we targeted out of the [2021] Draft. We know him exceptionally well. He is someone who is in Double-A now and can move fast from Double-A, and we believe he can be a very effective Major League starter for a long time. And Esteury Ruiz is arguably the most exciting prospect riser in Minor League baseball this year. He has had a tremendous season. He's one of the fastest players in Minor League baseball and is beginning to develop some power. Is a tremendous kid.

“And so, adding those two types of high-upside, high-level talents to our organization, in addition to bringing in someone with a pedigree of an All-Star closer in Taylor Rogers, is why we made the deal. With all that said, I understand why there is still some frustration losing Josh Hader because he is so well known to our fanbase and has played an important role in a lot of meaningful moments here.”

Asked why he didn’t wait until the winter to trade Hader for prospects, Stearns said, “I think history has taught us that oftentimes there is additional leverage created by a Trade Deadline midseason where there is a scarcity of supply, particularly for players like Josh, and sometimes that scarcity may not exist in the offseason.”

Criticism No. 5: They broke the clubhouse
The raw reactions to the Hader trade, particularly from Devin Williams, as the Brewers were swept by the Pirates this week created the impression that the Brewers have a problem in the clubhouse.

“I proactively reached out to a number of players on the day we made the trade and then the day after, to make sure that they knew they had a path to talk to me if they wanted,” Stearns said. “I want our players' priority to be 'win now,' win today at the Major League level. That is their jobs. So when they see a move where a very good player is no longer on the team, and a player that a lot of them had very close relationships to, I think it is very natural to have some surprise, and in some cases, some disappointment. And that's what we felt, and that's what we saw.

“I think, from what I've heard from our players, our players also trust this organization, believe in this organization, and understand that any move we make -- even a really challenging move -- is going to have the best interest in mind for the organization.”

Criticism No. 6: They shouldn’t have traded Hader, period
“All of us in the team and in the community get attached to the players and the last several years here, one of the guys we all got quite attached to was Josh Hader. I got a call from David Stearns and [general manager] Matt Arnold and I actually sat down,” Attanasio said.

But he let his baseball operations folks make the trades they believed were right.

“My first many years here … I was criticized that I stuck my nose in too much,” Attanasio said. “Now maybe I'll be criticized for not sticking my nose in enough because of how I feel as a fan … They made a move they wanted to make. They had hoped to make other moves. I don't think in David's tenure I've vetoed anything -- in either direction -- that he's wanted to do. As an owner, there's accountability and responsibility, but it's hands-off and David runs the baseball operation.”

He added, “In an interesting way, the more extreme the fan reaction, the better I feel because it shows how tied they are to our [team]. Sure it's painful, but it would be more painful if nobody cared. That would hurt a lot worse. I love that the fans were so attached to him. I wish we could keep all of our guys. No team does that. Again, I'll probably get criticized for not sticking my nose in, which is OK. I'm at the top so I'm accountable. Everyone here is accountable for doing their jobs in business and in baseball.”