Heading into “Deadline Day”, David Stearns and the Milwaukee Brewers had holes to fill. With Brandon Woodruff and Jhoulys Chacin out of an already shaky rotation due to injury, starting pitching looked to be a target even with the acquisition of Jordan Lyles earlier in the week. The bullpen also seemed to be an obvious area of need, as the Crew lacks consistent high-level relief production outside of Josh Hader.
With these priorities in mind, Stearns completed three trades on Wednesday, acquiring pitcher Jacob Faria from the Tampa Bay Rays, pitchers Ray Black and Drew Pomeranz from the San Francisco Giants, and cash considerations from the Minnesota Twins. Let’s take a look and grade each individual deal made this week.
The Trade: Brewers acquire SP Jordan Lyles from Pittsburgh in exchange for minor-league RP Cody Ponce.
Brewers’ fans are very familiar with Lyles – this is the second straight deadline that he has made his way to Milwaukee. Lyles pitched well for Milwaukee down the stretch in 2018, posting a 3.31 ERA over 16.1 innings, with the caveat that most appearances were very low-leverage. When the Brewers made the decision to not tender Lyles a contract this off-season, Pittsburgh swooped in to make him a member of their starting rotation. He started the season off hot, posting a 3.09 ERA in 10 starts through the month of May. Then, the wheels fell off, and his ERA jumped to 5.36 after his performance over the following two months.
The front office has said they believe they can make adjustments to Lyles to fix his woes, but odds are it won’t turn him into a playoff-caliber starter. Nor should we expect him to be anything near that. This deal was made to get a starting pitcher that can eat some innings and hold it down until Woodruff and Chacin return. Giving up Ponce, a minor-league reliever that would have needed to be added to the 40-man roster in the off-season, is a price that has little to no chance of hurting the Brewers in the long-term. Overall, this deal is unexciting, but can’t hurt. Grade: B-
The Trade: Brewers acquire SP/RP Jacob Faria from Tampa Bay in exchange for 1B Jesus Aguilar.
There were rumblings earlier in the week that the Rays were interested in Aguilar, and that interest was acted upon on Wednesday to the surprise of some Brewers fans. Aguilar, who became a fan favorite over his two-plus years in Milwaukee, became expendable due to a combination of his offensive struggles and lack of versatility. With the Brewers looking for controllable young pitching, dealing him for Faria makes sense.
Faria comes with four more years of controllability and has the potential to either pitch out of the rotation of bullpen. After seemingly breaking out in 2017 with a 3.43 over 16 appearances (14 starts), he took a step back in 2018 with a 5.40 ERA that led to his demotion to Triple-A. He has only thrown 10 major-league innings in 2019, all being out of the bullpen. His Triple-A numbers have been solid but unspectacular, as he has posted a 4.07 ERA while splitting time between starting and relieving.
This trade is geared towards the future, giving the Brewers pitching depth that could potentially turn into a rotation piecedown the road. If Faria turns into a starter, this trade is a steal. If he remains in the bullpen, it could be a big miss. Grade: B
The Trade: Brewers acquire cash considerations from Minnesota in exchange for minor-league RP Marcos Diplan.
The Brewers designated Diplan for assignment earlier in the week to make room for the addition of Jordan Lyles to the 40-man roster. Diplan, who ranked in the Brewers top-30 prospects prior to being traded, had seen his prospect star dim in recent years as he failed to overcome control issues. Once seen as a potential mid-rotation starter, Diplan has been transitioned to a bullpen role, and the front office clearly did not see enough progress to warrant a 40-man spot. This trade looks to be pretty inconsequential at the moment – a lower-level minor leaguer would have been nice, but the cash can’t hurt. Grade: C+
The Trade: Brewers acquire SP/RP Drew Pomeranz and RP Ray Black from San Francisco in exchange for minor-league SS Mauricio Dubon.
What I will dub “the trade that made Twitter shake” brought two likely relievers to Milwaukee for the Brewers’ #3 prospect. When reporter Robert Murray tweeted that the Brewers had agreed with the Giants on a “significant trade”, fans immediately reacted with joy thinking the Crew had acquired either Madison Bumgarner or Will Smith. Just minutes later, those hopes were dashed when they saw the real return – Pomeranz and Black.
Despite the reaction, this is not a bad trade for Milwaukee. They get a current bullpen piece that can start in a pinch with Pomeranz, in addition to a future bullpen piece in Black that can reach triple digits with his fastball. Pomeranz sports a 5.68 ERA on the year, making 17 starts and 4 relief appearances. While he may appear to be having a terrible season, it really was just a terrible month of May in which he had a 19.16 ERA. His 3.61 ERA outside of those months is what the Brewers are hoping shows up down the stretch, where they plan to use him primarily out of the bullpen.
Black is an interesting second part of this trade. He has seen good success in the minor leagues, but faltered to a 6.17 ERA over 23.1 innings in his first taste of MLB ball in 2018. He has thrown just two big-league innings in 2019, while posting a 5.16 ERA in 22.2 innings of relief at Triple-A. What stands out most is his strikeout ability – he has a 14.29 K/9 rate thus far in 2019 in the minors. If he can put it all together, he could be downright filthy.
What made this trade hard to stomach for Brewers fans was parting with prospect Mauricio Dubon. He was one of the Brewers’ top minor-league prospects, but in my opinion his status had been elevated in the minds of many due to the Brewers’ depleted farm. His .297/.333/.475 slash line at Triple-A only gave him a wRC+ of 91, meaning he was actually 9% worse than the league average player on offense. If that doesn’t sound right, consider that overall offensive output has skyrocketed at the Triple-A level due to them using the (potentially juiced) MLB baseball in 2019. Dubon has the ceiling of an average starter, with a realistic role being a platoon-player or utility infielder. I would say that giving that up for two potential impact relievers is a fair price. Grade: B-
Overall, Stearns and the front office did a solid job acquiring small pieces with the limited resources they had at their disposal. However, the lack of a truly impactful starting pitching acquisition limits this club’s ceiling. Given the injuries that the rotation currently has to deal with, failing to go get a reliable starter could turn into the difference between a playoff berth and a September disappointment. Incremental improvements like these can only get you so far, so it will be up to the rest of the roster to play more consistently and provide a real push.
Overall Trade Deadline Grade: B-