Assessment: Stearns’s Trades | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

By my count, according to the MLB.com transactions log, GM David Stearns‘s trade of Khris Davis was his ninth notable deal of the offseason. Entering spring training, the Brewers will feature a cast of new faces at the MLB level, and a set of intriguing prospects that have yet to unseat most of Doug Melvin‘s impact prospects from 2014-2015 (this is a good thing for the organization, not a criticism of Stearns). Since Stearns added a load of prospects to the low minors, his players will not make a significant dent or a minor league signature for the GM for some time (unless the system has another charmed year like 2015, please). So, while becoming familiar with the players, and judging each trade, there is a real sense that no one can truly grade any of these trades yet. However, fans and analysts can pick through the logic of each deal, in order to understand each trade’s potential to be good/valuable/productive, “interesting”/unclassifiable, or costly/problematic/unproductive/bad.

Key Terms:
“Rebuilding”: Generally used to convey trades that send away MLB contracts in favor of minor league prospects.

“Counterbuilding”: This could be used to describe any trade that opposes (or counters) the expected logic of an MLB front office. So, a “rebuilding” club like the Brewers would make a “counterbuilding” trade while sending away prospects for MLB players.

[All teams SHOULD rebuild or counterbuild, so neither term is meant to be a judgment. They are meant to be descriptive terms.]

Potential Grades:
5. Valuable: Clearly turns one contract into assets that either have some desirable combination of high potential, high floor, significant depth, and/or low cost[risk].
4. Clever: An unexpected deal that may have unknown dividends, but could result in surprising value from roster assets.
3. “Standard”/Good: Just a solid baseball move, nothing thrilling, but nothing bad either.
2. Questionable: Moves an unnecessary (or unexpected) roster asset for significant risk, low potential/low floor, or expensive players; alternately, acquires a player without a clearly known need or benefit.
1. Risky: Uses a roster asset in a manner that returns unnecessary risk compared to that player’s current/known/expected value.

Brewers Trades Traded Away Received Type of Trade Grade
November 18 2015 RHP Francisco Rodriguez 2B Javier Betancourt (minors) / C Manny Pina (minors) Rebuilding 3 (Good/Standard)
November 19 2015 RHP Cy Sneed (minors) SS Jonathan Villar Counterbuilding 3.5 (Good/Standard & Clever)
November 20 2015 SS Luis Sardinas OF Ramon Flores Counterbuilding 2.5 (Questionable-to-Good/Standard)
December 9 2015 1B Adam Lind RHP Carlos Herrera / RHP Daniel Missaki / RHP Freddy Peralta (all minors) Rebuilding 3 [AVG] (Risky & Valuable)
December 10 2015 cash 3B Garin Cecchini Counterbuilding 5 (Valuable) / Completely no risk
December 17 2015 1B Jason Rogers CF Keon Broxton / RHP Trey Supak (minors) Counterbuilding 4.5 (Clever-to-Valuable)
January 28 2016 LHP Trevor Seidenberger (minors) OF Rymer Liriano Counterbuilding 2.5 (Questionable-to-Good/Standard)
January 30 2016 SS Jean Segura / RHP Tyler Wagner RHP Chase Anderson / IF Aaron Hill / SS Isan Diaz (minors) / cash Counterbuilding 4 (Clever / or Good/Standard-to-Valuable) / Best possible prospect return
February 12 2016 LF Khris Davis RHP Bubba Derby / C Jacob Nottingham (all minors) Rebuilding 3.25 [AVG] (Questionable-to-Risky & Valuable)
Summaries 7 MLB players / 2 minors / cash 7 MLB players / 9 minors / cash 3 rebuilding / 6 counterbuilding 31.25 / 3.47 Average (Good/Standard-to-Clever)

Trades Ranked By Author Preference:

Jason Rogers / Broxton-Supak [Strong Grade, 4.5]
Overall: If the Adam Lind trade was one of Stearns’s most conventional rebuilding moves, his least conventional 1B move may have paid the highest dividends. While there is some sense that Jason Rogers could have flourished with a chance to start in Milwaukee, Stearns flipped that question mark into a “2nd chance / change of scenery” centerfield option and high risk, high reward RHP. If you thought Devin Williams, Marcos Diplan, Cody Ponce, and Miguel Diaz were enough to keep track of down in the low minors, Supak headlines an incoming class of intriguing young RHP that doubles that previous class of potential impact prospects.

Minor League Risk: Extreme. Supak’s potential ceiling is high if one dreams on his frame, fastball, and curve. But the knock on the youngster is his injury history and command, which are certainly not categorical derailments. After a couple of Rookie ball stints, Supak should hopefully get a chance to make his first big career leap in 2016.

MLB Level Impact: Depth. Keon Broxton remains a work in progress, but the centerfielder could have the perfect opportunity to put things together in Milwaukee. If one dreams on Broxton, the 26-year-old (2016 age) has the athleticism to add a bit of pop and speed to his glove. In the middle of the diamond, for a rebuilding team no less, it’s worth keeping that dream for at least a couple more years. Critics could be inclined to point out that Michael Reed may be a more worthwhile recipient of a CF chance in 2016, given his glove and extreme patience-discipline batting profile. However, since both Broxton and Reed both have options, the strength of this deal is that Broxton does not truly block anyone’s path to Milwaukee while he’s working to solidifying his own.

Personal Note: This is the type of clever, completely out of left-field move that leaves me confident about Stearns’s rosterbuilding vision and ability to assemble a consistently competitive club.

Adam Lind / Herrera-Missaki-Peralta [Standard Grade, 3.0]
Overall: Stearns’s best rebuilding move came with this deal, and it also is arguably his best move of the offseason. The GM turned a one-year contract into extreme depth and even SP potential in the low minors (an area of relative need compared to the advanced minors).

Minor League Risk: Extreme. Stearns’s best deal is arguably the best if one projects the ultimate pay off from a couple of these three-pitch RHP (or even one of them). The risk does not pay off if follow some national opinions that these RHP are nothing more than relievers. Even with solid ceilings, this move is exceptionally risky, especially when one adds Missaki’s known injury to the fact that these guys may be as many as two years removed from the advanced minors.

MLB Level Impact: No additions. “Addition by subtraction” initially gave Jason Rogers the starting job, but the Rogers trade cleared the way for Chris Carter. In this sense, it is arguable about whether Carter’s controllable contract is better than Rogers’s, but Rogers undoubtedly yielded a haul that made this strategy worthwhile.

Personal Note: For a deal involving players so far from the MLB, I like this one an awful lot.

Cash / Garin Cecchini [Easy Grade, 5.0]
Overall: This may be Stearns’s most low-risk move of the offseason. The GM lands a recent top prospect that needs a change of scenery, and he only had to surrender cash to do so. There is literally no criticism available of this deal, even if it never works out.
Personal Note: Win that 3B job, Garin! Go get ’em!

Khris Davis / Derby-Nottingham [Good Grade, 3.25]
Overall: This deal is one of Stearns’s toughest rebuilding acts of the offseason, as the GM moved one of the most productive, cost-controlled members of the MLB roster for prospects. It may not be a “traditional rebuilding” move in terms of knocking off a one-year contract for prospects, but it is indeed a rebuilding move in terms of trading MLB production for future depth and production. The harshest possible grade of this trade is “questionable” if Nottingham moves off C and/or Derby does not reach his potential, as there was absolutely no necessity to move Davis’s contract.

Minor League Risk: Moderately High. Some scouting reports like Bubba Derby as a closer-potential reliever, and if you like the closing potential, chances are you might see Derby moving quickly through the minors. This makes Derby a relatively low risk prospect, although he has yet to make the leap into the advanced minors. Jacob Nottingham is another question entirely, as one must weigh the catcher’s power potential against his ability to stick at catcher, and his potential defense behind the plate. Obviously, there is a sense that simply grabbing power is a strength for the Brewers’ system, and it doesn’t matter where Nottingham plays. But there is another sense where one can weigh the value of Nottingham at catcher against his value at 1B or a corner outfield spot. The main risk of Nottingham is that defensive question, but his exceptional power (even for the California League) leads one to moderate that risk somewhat. Like Derby, Nottingham also has to show he can make the leap into the advanced minors; Brewers fans should have that question partially answered in 2016.

MLB Level Impact: No addition. “Addition by Subtraction:” Domingo Santana and Ryan Braun can now split the corner spots. The reason I stated that there was no necessity for this move is that Santana has a remaining option year, which serves the same effect of clearing left field. I absolutely understand that Santana does not have anything to prove at AAA, and needs MLB plate appearances, but the impact of this trade can be judged against the lack of necessity to move Davis. If the return wasn’t right, Santana could have played CF (as he did at the end of 2015), or received an optional minor league assignment. This does not necessarily make the trade return “bad,” but it opens the door to questions should the return fail to pan out.

Personal Note: BOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Yes, I see the logic, but BOOOOO! Davis’s exceptional power would look good on a club PECOTA picks to flirt with the near-80 win mark. If Davis plays a full season, he will be among the American League home run leaders.

Cy Sneed / Jonathan Villar [Very Good Grade, 3.5]
Overall: Crafty “counterbuilding” trade, where club uses minor league depth (RHP) to improve MLB roster. This may be the opposite of a classic “rebuilding” move, but it’s exactly the type of move an MLB team should entertain when they can improve their MLB roster.

Minor League Risk: None.

MLB Level Impact: Creative / “we’ll see”: Villar immediately provided a shortstop logjam, but the Sardinas and Segura trades cleared that issue. The acquired infielder can also play all over the diamond (especially 3B, 2B and CF), which gives the Brewers fantastic depth once they advance prospects in place of Villar’s starting job. If Villar shows he can start at SS, there is a chance he could move to other positions once Orlando Arcia arrives.

Personal Note: This deal is so freaking crafty. If you catch me on the right day, I’d pick Villar as 2016 breakout Brewers player. Just to check my judgment, though, ask me my favorite Beatles song, too.

Segura-Wagner / Anderson-Diaz-Hill [Strong Grade, 4.0]
Overall: When I first wrote about this trade, I noted that I wasn’t certain if the trade was “good” or “interesting,” which isn’t necessarily a knock on the trade (but not a clear endorsement, either, I suppose). If one views the trade simply from the perspective of adding Diaz to the minor league pipeline, there is a case to be made that it is an extremely good deal. On the other hand, one must note the talent surrendered (MLB level SS, AAA/MLB RHP depth) and judge it against the return (again, things look good here). Anderson may end up as the best and clearest victory in this trade package, for the RHP instantly improves the depth and quality of the rotation. Taking on some of Hill’s contract may either be viewed as a necessity to grab high-reward potential, or as contributing to a rather strange infield logjam (or both).

Minor League Risk: Extreme. As glowing — gushing, even — as the infield and offensive comps are for Diaz (Robinson Cano (!!!), Carlos Gonzalez (!!!)), the 20-year-old (2016 age) has not yet played above rookie ball. Of course, some scouting reports noted that the youngster has already made a mechanical adjustment to improve in professional ball, Defensive reports on Diaz have varied widely, which may simply reflect the youngster’s lack of experience and clear defensive position at this point and time.

MLB Level Impact: Here, there are completely split developments. Aaron Hill serves as a potential 2B platoon, or even a starting 3B on some viewpoints, and has a contract that does not necessarily match his recent or expected production. The “what if” is simply whether Hill can reclaim his strengths that previously defined his approach. On the other hand, Anderson’s what-ifs are muted by the instant experience (relative to the Brewers young rotation), stuff, and production he adds to the rotation. There is an argument to be made that this trade is worthwhile even if Anderson is the only player to work out. That’s what makes this trade interesting, and ultimately, perhaps even a good trade.

Personal Note: I wish I could have seen another Tyler Wagner start at Miller Park. Good luck to Jean and Tyler!

Francisco Rodriguez / Betancourt-Pina [Standard Grade, 3.0]
Overall: Classic “rebuilding” move, trading from a position of strength and depth (RHP relief) and removing a short-term contract (one year) from the books. In return for financial relief, Brewers receive relatively high floor prospect.

Minor League Risk: Average. Betancourt has yet to make the leap into the Advanced Minors, but Betancourt is also a glove-first prospect with a noted “advanced” plate discipline approach. Betancourt may not end up with a bat carrying him to the MLB level, but scouting reports cite his glove and character as reasons he can at least make the MLB as a utility infielder.

MLB Level Impact: No additions. The Brewers did not place Pina on the 40-man roster. “Addition by subtraction”: Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress can close.

Personal Note: What are the odds Betancourt becomes a more productive MLB second baseman than Diaz? Brewers fans can now chew on a fun new “who is the face of the future at 2b?” debate.

Trevor Seidenberger / Rymer Liriano [Moderate Grade, 2.5]
Overall: Another “counterbuilding” move for Stearns, this one made in order to grab an attractive waiver wire ex-prospect. Stearns doubled down on the outfield crunch, but it only cost him advanced minors LHP depth (an underrated aspect of the Brewers’ system). Unfortunately, it’s almost certainly MLB-roster-or-nothing for Liriano, who would be a stunning waiver clearance at the end of spring training.

Minor League Risk: None.

MLB Level Impact: The jury is out: Liriano is one of five players Stearns has acquired without a minor league option, which means that player must clear waivers (being exposed to other MLB teams) in order to play in Milwaukee’s minors. Inexplicably, three of those non-option players appear in the Brewers’ outfield, which is especially strange as Michael Reed received a potential shot at an MLB job prior to appearing in the Arizona Fall League. Stearns obviously wants his own guys in the outfield, even if that means Flores / Nieuwenhuis / Liriano over Davis / Reed.

Personal Note: If I had to bet on an outfielder to make it out of the options crunch and onto the MLB roster, I’d bet on Liriano. Moderate power/speed potential is too much to ignore in an outfield depth option.

Luis Sardinas / Ramon Flores [Moderate Grade, 2.5]
Overall: This deal may be one of Stearns’s head-scratchers. In the middle of an offseason that already saw an existing outfield crunch, Stearns added a fourth outfielder / corner OF type without a minor league option.

Minor League Risk: None.

MLB Level Impact: The jury is out: Dealing Sardinas cleared up some space at shortstop, which is beneficial even if Flores does not help the outfield crunch. If Flores makes the MLB roster, his plate-discipline profile arguably improves the club at its margins, which is a positive for the team. If Flores does not make the MLB roster, and does not clear waivers, the team literally dropped Sardinas (who had an option) for nothing more than a Spring Training trial. Even if you assign the most brutal assessment to Sardinas, there is still more valuable in a glove-only utility infielder with options than losing a corner-profiling depth outfielder to spring training waivers.

Personal Note: I had no idea Brewers fans felt so strongly (bad) about Luis Sardinas until this deal. Yikes!

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