With the Milwaukee Brewers looking to be cutting salary this offseason, their roster only has 10 returning players on it from its 25-man roster that they ended the 2019 season with. On top of that, President of Baseball Operations David Stearns has doubled down on that sentiment, all while wanting to keep the franchise competitive and in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Cutting money while remaining competitive is quite a tough ask for any team, but especially for a small-market franchise like the Brewers, who rely on offseasons like the last one that occurred where below-market values dominant the going rates, which bring players like Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal to the team. With both players having signed elsewhere, the Moose signed on for four years with their National League Central rival Cincinnati Reds and Grandal went south and signed with the Chicago White Sox, the Brewers now need to look elsewhere for big-time offensive and defensive contributions for 2020.
This offseason has also been in a state of flux due to the willingness of the Brewers to include any player – but Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich – in trade talks, with center fielder Lorenzo Cain, star second baseman Keston Hiura, and All-Star closer Josh Hader. While any sort of movement made on a deal involving Hiura looks to be null, and with Cain’s large contract for a player coming off of an injury-riddled season looking harder to move by the day, Hader is the most likely option to be traded.
While one team involved in trade discussions with the Brewers about Hader described the likelihood of him leaving as pretty much zero and that they expect him to be on the roster for the 2020 season, it is a smart way to measure his going rate by throwing him out there to now to see if a godfather offer would come along by a team looking to make it big and hit a home run in the trade market.
With that outlook in mind, here are three potential trade packages that could be of enough interest to the Brewers to actually pull the trigger and send Hader out of town before he gets a big-time pay raise through arbitration eligibility.
New York Mets
Mets receive: LHP Josh Hader
Brewers receive: 2B Jeff McNeil, 1B Dominic Smith, 3B Mark Vientos (#6 prospect), Will Toffey (#24)
Starting with the team that was mentioned in pretty much all reports of having already opened up a dialogue with the team, the New York Mets would stand to vastly upgrade their bullpen, especially after their big move of last offseason, acquiring All-Star closer Edwin Diaz, did not pan out as well as they had wanted to, so far.
While they engaged in a deal with the Seattle Mariners that saw them give up a few great minor-league pieces, including big-name Jarred Kelenic, the team looks to be willing to engage in big deals yet again even if they have been burned in the past. And if they were to seriously want to bring Hader to the Big Apple, then they would need to give up a few big pieces to do it.
Headlined by second baseman Jeff McNeil, the Brewers would want some sort of immediate contributors back in any deal that they would make, and McNeil would be a great first step for that to happen. The Flying Squirrel, as he is so affectionately known, is coming off a very solid rookie campaign and would become a great option in the team’s infield moving forward.
Outside of McNeil, first baseman Dominic Smith, who was displaced from first base due to Pete Alonso’s emergence, has tried out some playing time in the outfield, with limited production. He would immediately become the best – and only, at this moment – first baseman on the team, and that would be a great everyday role for Smith to take on to help him break out.
Mark Vientos would represent the first of two dips into the Mets’ farm system, and Vientos is on track to make a difference at the big-league level at some point in 2020. With the opening at the hot corner readily available, Vientos could eventually become the everyday starter for the team, as soon as after the All-Star break.
While this deal would be a 50/50 split in terms of current major-league/minor-league talent coming back in this deal, there are some pieces that would help this team still compete in 2020, while also helping plan for the future.
Twins receive: LHP Josh Hader
Brewers receive: OF Alex Kirilloff (#2), OF/1B Brent Rooker (#8), RHP Zack Littell
While there are only three pieces involved in this deal going back to the Brewers in the return for Hader, the Minnesota Twins offer a ton of high-upside minor-league pieces that could turn into key competitors as soon as sometime later this year.
Starting with outfielder Alex Kirilloff, the second-best prospect in the Twins’ system and one of the highest regarded outfielders in all of the MiLB, the Brewers would need to ask for one of Minnesota’s best prospects, and shortstop Royce Lewis is pretty much an automatic no chance.
Kirilloff could jump to the big-league level when ready, take on the role that recently-traded outfielder Trent Grisham had, and become a toolsy fourth outfielder for this team that offers a great offensive and defensive option off of the bench.
For outfielder and first baseman Brent Rooker, the Twins’ eighth-best prospect could slide into a backup outfield role while having an inside track to being the team’s starting first baseman sooner rather than later.
While a bit unproven still, Rooker could become one of Stearns’ projects, betting high on his upside while understanding the realistic contributions that would come with him.
The final player in the return package, right-hander Zack Littell, would be a really interesting player to throw into the mix at the back-end of the bullpen. With a big of closing experience for the Twins in 2019, Littell has the arm to become a seventh-inning specialist for this team – think of Jacob Faria, but a higher upside and more proven potential.
Tampa Bay Rays
Rays receive: LHP Josh Hader
Brewers receive: 2B/SS Vidal Brujan (#3), RHP JJ Goss (#10), LHP Ben Brecht (#28), UTL Joey Wendle
In the final proposed deal in this piece, it actually involves two small-market franchises swapping players. For the Tampa Bay Rays, they have sat on their hands for long enough, and while they did make the American League postseason last year, they are far from content with a Wild Card exit.
With the type of farm system that the Rays have built up over the years, no better time than now to actually cash it in and make good on the development of some of their players. While left-hander and two-way player Brendan McKay would be an absolute pipedream return for Hader, the likelihood of the Rays engaging in serious talks involving McKay seems hard to fathom.
With that being the case, the Brewers can move onto the team’s third-best prospect, second baseman and shortstop Vidal Brujan. Brujan, who could pair with Hiura at second base and recently-acquired Luis Urias at third base, to form one of the league’s youngest and highest-upside infields.
Outside of Brujan, the Rays’ tenth-best prospect in JJ Goss would be a logical addition to any deal, as he has the potential to become a middle of the rotation pitcher when he arrives at the big leagues. Having just been drafted in the Competitive Balance A round of the 2019 draft with the 36th selection out of Texas A&M, Goss has a ton of time to make it to the big leagues, which would represent a down-the-road addition that the Brewers would be interested in.
To help alleviate losing their best left-handed option out of their bullpen, lefty Ben Brecht could be a likely third piece in this five-person deal between the two teams, even though Brecht would not be expected to arrive at the big-league level for a few seasons. Profiling as a back-end starter who could transition to the bullpen due to his solid control and 6-foot-7 frame, Brecht is an interesting piece situated towards the bottom of the top 30 for the Rays’ system.
For the final piece in this proposed deal, the Rays would have to be really lenient on giving up on Joey Wendle already, as they waited for him to progress their minor league system and arrive at the big leagues. Wendle would be a great utility option for the Brewers, helping fill in for the type of production that incumbent Hernan Perez provided for the past few seasons.
Regardless of what type of deal the Brewers take and if they decide to move Hader at all, they would be smart to at least evaluate the type of market for the All-Star reliever. Looked at as the best left-handed reliever available through a trade this offseason, this topic will be monitored throughout the winter until a resolution is discussed.