As the trading deadline approached in 2015, the Brewers thought they had a deal with the New York Mets. However, the deal fell apart after it was announced, supposedly because of a medical issue with Carlos Gomez, the centerpiece of the deal. The next day, fan favorite Gomez was traded to the Houston Astros along with pitcher Mike Fiers. The Brewers got top Astros pitching prospects Houser and Hader along with power hitting outfielder Domingo Santana and elite CF prospect Brett Phillips. Brewers’ fans were mostly unhappy with the deal, but a year later most observers agree that the Brewers got the better end of the deal.
Rumors and more rumors
As the deadline approached, fans were once again abuzz about the possible departure of All-Start catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Luc had all but guaranteed his departure when he stated during the offseason that he wanted to play for a winner and did not want to be part of a rebuilding effort. Regardless, he was having an excellent season and continued to be an active member of the community. Early in the week, rumors of a trade with the NY Mets emerged, which involved trading Mets catcher Travis D’Arnaud and two highly ranked prospects for Lucroy. The Brewer fan sites on social media were evenly divided on whether this was a good deal or not.
After a few days, rumors started to circulate about a deal with Cleveland. On Saturday night, the deal was announced, sending four high-level Cleveland prospects, including their #4, highly rated catcher prospect Francisco Mejia, in exchange for Lucroy. Brewers’ faithful debated overnight whether the four prospects coming from Cleveland were enough to justify the loss of their favorite player. All that remained was for Lucroy to waive the no-trade clause in his contract, since Cleveland was one of eight teams he could not be traded to.
The First Deal Collapses
On Sunday morning, just before the Brewers’ game against the Pirates in Miller Park began, Lucroy refused to waive the clause. Supposedly the reason was that the Indians would not guarantee he would be the full-time catcher in 2017, and planned to also use him as a first baseman and DH. Lucroy also wanted the Indians to waive the team-friendly $5 MM option in his contract for 2017, which they refused to do without reducing what they would give up to the Brewers. Just like in 2015, what was supposed to be a “done deal” was just “done.”
Brewers’ social media immediately lit up with fans taking all sides of the issue. Many were upset at Lucroy for declining a deal that would have brought so many good prospects to the talent pipeline, calling him a traitor, a liar, and a hypocrite. Their argument was centered on the fact that Lucroy had stated he wanted to play for a winner and Cleveland currently fits that description. Others responded that he was just doing what he needed to do to protect his financial interests by enforcing a deal which was included in the contract the Brewers gave him. Respected baseball writers Mike Bauman and Bob Nightingale both agreed that Lucroy was right to nix the deal. Still others were just glad that Luc was still a Brewer, and hoped that this would lead to a contract extension in the offseason. The failed deal gave the fans an opportunity to see Lucroy appear in a game as a Brewer when he pinch-hit in the eighth inning of the game to standing ovations and chants of Luuuuuc as he popped out in what would be his final plate appearance for the team he entered the majors with.
Surprise non-Lucroy Deal With San Francisco
In 2015, the Crew pulled off a much less publicized deal than the high profile Gomez trade, one which netted them an important additional talent, starting pitcher Zach Davis from the Baltimore Orioles. On Monday afternoon, as the deadline approached, the Brewers announced another surprise trade, this one not involving Lucroy at all. LH relief pitcher Will Smith was traded to the SF Giants in exchange for their current #1 (MLB #65) prospect, pitcher Phil Bixford, and their former # 1 prospect from 2015, catcher Andrew Susac. Both the NY Mets and the Indians proposed deals had involved catchers, and now Brewers’ GM David Stearns had his replacement catcher, a very good one who was blocked in SF by Buster Posey.
Just in Time – A New Deal is Done
Just before the deadline, the other shoe dropped, much to the chagrin of Brewer fans who hoped Lucroy would be staying in Milwaukee. Texas, who for weeks had been discussed as a possible landing place for Lucroy, agreed to send two top prospects and a player to be named later to Milwaukee in exchange for All-Star catcher Lucroy and Brewers close Jeremy Jeffress. Coming to Milwaukee from Texas are #2 prospect (MLB #21) OF Lewis Brinson and #3 (MLB #63) RHP Luis Ortiz, both currently toiling in AA ball. The third piece of the deal, the P2BNL, won’t be selected and announced until after the MiLB season ends, but potentially could add significant additional value from the deal for the Brewers.
Brewers fans reacting on social media were mostly divided over whether the Crew gave up too much in their catcher and closer for what they got in the Texas deal. Almost without exception, they agreed that the team got the better of the deal in the SF Giants trade. Pundits evaluating the trading deadline action were in agreement that the Brewers get an A+ from the combined trade.
Evaluating the Impact
Perhaps the best way to evaluate the effect of the two deals is to look at the Brewers talent just before the tandem deals, and then look at it after. On July 29th, the Crew had five of the 100 players on the Top 100 Prospects list. On August 2nd, they have eight. With 100 players and 30 teams, one would expect statistically that each team would have 3.33 players on the list. With eight on the list, the Crew has almost 2.5X the expected number. In addition, they also acquired another player (C prospect Susac) who was on the list one year earlier and is no longer on it because he has played too many games at the MLB level and is no longer eligible. All of the newly acquired prospects were assigned to the Brewer system MiLB clubs. Brinson and Susac will join the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in AAA. Pitchers Ortiz and Bickford will join the Biloxi Shuckers in AA and the Brevard County Manatees in High-A respectively. It is not too surprising that the team did not want to immediately send their new pitchers into the altitude and rarified air of Colorado Springs.
After the deadline, the SF Giants have a top-tier LH back end of the bullpen pitcher in Will Smith to solidify their pennant push. Likewise, the Rangers acquired the Brewers’ All-Star catcher and successful young closer to solidify a roster trying to hold on to first place in the AL West against the resurgent Houston Astros. Their focus is on winning in 2016, and they acquired players from the Brewers who will help them do so. Meanwhile, the Brewers are in the middle of a major rebuilding effort, and today they continued the process of restocking and upgrading a talent pipeline which should make them very competitive in 2018 or 2019 and for many years thereafter. In one day, they acquired two more likely members of their starting rotation, another future OF starter, and potentially their catcher of the future. In the lifecycle of baseball franchises, it was a very good day for all involved. Except for the many Milwaukee Brewers fans who will miss the days of chanting Luuuuuuc! when a now departed fan favorite steps to the plate.
Deja-vu All Over Again – In A Good Way for the Crew
In 2015, the Brewers sent a fan favorite player and a resurgent pitcher to Houston in a deal which significantly upgraded and restocked their talent pipeline after an earlier deal fell apart the day after it was announced. It appears that in a Yogi Berra “deja-vu all over again” moment, a deal negotiated with another Texas team, on the heels of one announced earlier which collapsed, may have once again brought valuable prizes for the Brewers’ future. Like last year, a secondary deal, like the one with the Orioles that brought Zach Davies into the fold, a secondary and less publicized deal may have also put additional trophy talent on the Crew’s increasingly bulging cupboards.