David Stearns and the Milwaukee Brewers struck a deal on the final day of the Winter Meetings, acquiring left-handed reliever Alex Claudio from the Texas Rangers in exchange for the Brewers’ competitive balance pick in the 2019 draft. The trade fills the need of having a second left-handed reliever behind Josh Hader, as the Brewers failed to tender contracts to both Dan Jennings and Xavier Cedeño at the outset of the offseason.
Claudio comes to Milwaukee with a history of solid on-field performance during his time in Texas. He owns a career ERA of 3.20 spread over 230 innings of work, appearing in 208 games in that span. The lefty saw his best success during 2017, when he hurled 82.2 innings over 70 games, racking up 11 saves and a 2.50 ERA. He experienced somewhat of a step back in 2018, as he saw his ERA rise to 4.48, but many of his peripherals stayed essentially the same.
Claudio fits the profile of being an extreme ground ball pitcher. In 2018, he induced a ground ball on 61% of balls put into play against him, and that number was even higher in 2017 at 67%. This is the type of pitcher that could see great success in Milwaukee, where the Brewers’ aggressive defensive shifting tends to allow ground ball pitchers to see great success. That should allow him to return to sporting an ERA in the low-3.00 range, which will make him a welcome addition to the middle of the Brewers’ bullpen.
One area in which Claudio does struggle is striking hitters out. For his career, he holds a K/9 rate of 6.16, and logged a rate of 5.4 K/9 in 2018. This is certainly not ideal for a relief pitcher, with many of the most successful ones in the game today being strikeout artists. However, Claudio makes up for his strikeout deficiencies by greatly limiting the number of batters he walks. Last year, he only walked 1.71 hitters per nine innings, which is an excellent mark. Pairing this with his ground ball prowess is what makes him effective.
The return to the Rangers is somewhat surprising on the surface, as the Brewers will give up the 39th overall selection in this year’s MLB Draft. Given all of the deadline deals that sent Brewers’ prospects packing in 2018, that 39th selection could have immediately jumped into the Brewers’ organization top-10, and perhaps the top-5 even. However, Stearns seems to be going for the “win-now” mode of operating, as that draft pick likely would have arrived in the major leagues in 2021 at the earliest, and more likely in 2022 or 2023. By then, Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain would have been nearing the end of their contracts, and the team perhaps could be falling out of contention. There is a lot of uncertainty involved with trying to look at what the Brewers’ competitive scenario will be 4 years into the future. Given that Claudio has three years of controllability remaining, this deal makes perfect sense given the current outlook of the team and their “win-now” mentality.
Claudio will join a bullpen that is led by the trio of Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, and Jeremy Jeffress. Given the acquisition of Claudio, it is likely that Stearns will not go for any of the big names on the relief market, and will fill out the rest of his bullpen with either low cost or internal options.