MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers and Padres made a pre-Thanksgiving splash on Wednesday with a five-player trade centered around infielder Luis Urías, who entered 2019 as the 16th-ranked prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline.
In a deal first reported by MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi, the Brewers are getting 22-year-old Urias, left-handed starter Eric Lauer and a player to be named later or cash from the Padres for up-and-coming outfielder Trent Grisham and steady starter Zach Davies in a swap between clubs aiming to contend in 2020.
The Brewers landed the versatile infielder they’d coveted plus a controllable lefty for a rotation long dominated by right-handers. The Padres got what they wanted in a left-handed-hitting outfielder who can man all three spots, plus a more established starting pitcher. And both teams got plenty of upside.
“This is one of those trades -- and they don’t come across all that often -- where you really are lining up on team needs with another team,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “This isn’t a case of one team in a competitive cycle and one team in a build cycle. These are two teams that intend to be competitive next year. We believe we’re lining up on a good trade that helps both teams.”
In Urías, the Brewers are acquiring a versatile defender and a potential alternative for underperforming shortstop Orlando Arcia, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and whose status will be clearer following Monday’s tender deadline. If the Brewers opt to keep Arcia, he would have to compete for the job with Urías, who can also play second base and third. Second base is occupied in Milwaukee by hitting star Keston Hiura, but third base is a question mark, with arbitration-eligible Travis Shaw in a situation similar to Arcia’s as Monday’s tender deadline approaches.
Urías appeared in the Majors for the Padres in each of the past two seasons, slashing .221/.318/.331 in 302 plate appearances. He is a .308/.397/.433 hitter in the Minor Leagues through six seasons while demonstrating “elite zone control and elite contact skills,” Stearns said. Those same qualities were among Stearns’ motivations for the acquisitions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain two offseasons ago.
As for where Urías will play, Stearns said, “The good news is we have plenty of time to work through that. He can play all three [second base, third base and shortstop], and we believe he is a very good defender at all three.
“Look, we did not have good shortstop production last year, and we have been open about that. For us to ultimately do what we want to do, and be the type of team we want to be, production from that position has to improve. Having competition at that position is not a bad thing.”
Lauer, 24, was the Padres’ first-round Draft pick in 2016 and is 14-17 in the big leagues with a 4.40 ERA in 261 2/3 innings over the past two seasons. Like Urias, he sped through San Diego’s farm system. He comes with five years of MLB control and should be well-refreshed. When he learned about the trade Wednesday morning, Lauer was about to leave for a Hawaiian vacation.
“I think what the Padres were doing was great,” Lauer said. “They were building. They were definitely on the upswing. But if you ever get traded, you definitely want to go to a team that’s already there. You're never going to complain about going to a contender, so I'm excited for it. I can't wait for playoff baseball."
Of Urías, Lauer said, “He's one of my favorite players. He's a hard worker, a tough little guy. He's fun to be around. He's a little spark plug. ... He's one of those little 'dirtbag' kind of players, and I think that's what every team needs."
Stearns declined to characterize the final piece of the deal, a player to be named or cash. The Brewers and Padres have six months to finalize that.
“The appeal here is being able to land two young players who have really streamed through the Minor League system and have already impacted the Major Leagues at a very young age, and we think fit our team very well now and into the future,” Stearns said.
Grisham is 23 and a former first-round pick of the Brewers, who helped him change his point of contact prior to a breakthrough 2019 season. Grisham logged a .738 OPS in 51 games for the Brewers during the second half and helped the team overcome a devastating season-ending injury to National League MVP candidate Christian Yelich.
For all the good he did, Grisham’s final moments in a Brewers uniform were tough. His misplay of Juan Soto’s spinning base hit in the eighth inning of the NL Wild Card Game produced a go-ahead error in Milwaukee’s season-ending, 4-3 loss to the Washington Nationals.
“I want to make this clear -- this is not a trade designed to move Trent Grisham,” Stearns said. “This is a trade designed to get multiple players that we’re very excited about. Trent is a good Major League player. … The play I’ll remember Trent by is the leadoff homer in Miami the first game after Christian got hurt. That’s the play I’m going to remember. There’s no way we get to the playoffs without Trent Grisham. Until today, I fully expected him to be a big part of this organization going forward. Look, I give him a lot of credit for turning himself into the player he has become, and I give a lot of credit to our player development staff for continuing to work with him to get him to this point.”
The Padres are acquiring two years of control with Davies, who bounced back from a 2018 season ruined by injuries to go 10-7 with a 3.55 ERA for the Brewers in a team-leading 159 2/3 innings in 2019.
“We saw it as a good baseball trade,” Padres general manager A.J. Preller said. “Sometimes there are deals because of salary issues. Sometimes there are deals because someone's getting toward free agency, because clubs are contending or not contending. In this case, it's just a good baseball trade that fits for both clubs.”
The Brewers’ next big decisions come Monday, when they must either tender contracts to their long list of arbitration-eligible players and go through the process of determining those players’ salaries for next season, or non-tender players and cut them loose into free agency. Arcia, Shaw, pitcher Jimmy Nelson and utility man Tyler Saladino are among the players potentially on the bubble.
“We’ve got a lot of decisions to make on that front. We have a very heavy arbitration load,” Stearns said. “And generally there are lots of conversations between now and then that inform us about those tender decisions -- with representatives, with other teams. We’ll continue to have those conversations.”