The Major League Baseball trade deadline is less than a week away, and since there’s only one trade deadline this year, we could be — and hopefully are — in store for a flurry of trades before the clock strikes August 1.
The Milwaukee Brewers — like many teams in the National League — have a tough decision to make. Should they buy? They currently sit in third place in the NL Central with a record of 54-50 record, though they trail the first-place Cubs by just 2.0 games. General manager David Stearns has repeatedly said he’s always on the look out to improve the team, and the trade deadline is the perfect time to do just that. And why wouldn’t he want to make his team better? The Brewers are above .500 and within striking distance of a playoff spot. It makes perfect sense for Stearns to perform his magic and go get one, two or 65 starting pitchers, and no one would fault him for doing so.
But is it the smart, fiscally responsible thing to do? The Brewers have problems nearly everywhere you look. They have a -12 run differential, the third-worst starting rotation in terms of ERA in the National League and an untrustworthy bullpen with a 4.58 ERA. Can Stearns really make enough moves to vault his team into World Series contention?
If the Brewers decide to push all-in — a phrase uttered by Mark Attanasio this offseason — they’ll surely start by fixing the rotation. Saying it needs to be upgraded is an understatement. It desperately needs a rebranding and a complete makeover. With Brandon Woodruff expected to miss at least six weeks, and Jhoulys Chacin — who realistically should have been removed from the rotation weeks ago — headed to the injured list, the need is even more dire.
Here are a few starting pitchers Milwaukee should be targeting:
There have been talks that the Brewers are interested in Mets’ starters Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler. Now, Syndergaard will cost an arm and a leg, or maybe two of each. He doesn’t become a free agent until 2022 and isn’t yet making break-the-bank money. In relation to his teammate, Wheeler wouldn’t be as expensive to acquire. He’s scheduled to hit the open market after the season, and his current 4.69 ERA will likely drop his cost. Syndergaard has an equally high ERA, but like Wheeler, his peripherals look much better. Plus we know the talent his possesses. Both arms would aid the Brewers rotation, though it remains to be seen if the Mets sell, and even if they do, prying Syndergaard away will probably be next to impossible, especially with the lack of top-tier prospects in Milwaukee’s system. Keston Hiura would assuredly be part of that deal.
Despite the fact that Madison Bumgarner doesn’t want any player to have fun playing baseball, he’s been a solid starter in 2019. Due to his decline in velocity, Bumgarner has been throwing fewer baseballs with encouraging results. He owns a 3.66 ERA with an even lower FIP, and his strikeout rate of 24.6 percent and walk rate of 5 percent rank 26th and 9th, respectfully. He’ll be hot commodity at the deadline, though with San Francisco’s recent out-of-this-world hot streak, one wonders if they’ll even sell. They should, but that doesn’t mean they will. The Brewers are on Bumgarner’s no-trade list, but that’s most likely just a leverage play. Parting with two upper-tier prospects for someone of Bumargner’s pedigree makes sense, even if he’s destined to leave via free agency in 2020.
Stroman might be my favorite guy on this list, particularly because I have a thing for ground-ball pitchers. Stroman is second-best in the majors at generating ground balls with a grounder rate of 57.1 percent. Milwaukee’s infield defense — though not the best — is more than capable of gobbling up those grounders for outs. Stroman doesn’t strike many people out, but he’s still managed to post the lowest ERA and second-lowest FIP of his career. Like Syndergaard, though, he’ll come with a hefty price tag (he’s not due to be a free agent until 2021) and is probably destined to end up with a big-market team.
Stearns loves players who still have years of team control, and although that means getting rid of more assets, it’s usually the wise move to make when you know you’re limited in the free agency game. If I was Stearns, I’d be all over Ray. He’s under team control until 2021, he’s on a team that — just like every team in the NL — might sell and he strikes out more batters than every other starting pitcher but seven. He has walk issues and sometimes gives up too many home runs, but he’s consistent and you know exactly what he’ll bring every time he steps to the mound. He could be a key piece in Milwaukee’s rotation not just for this year’s playoff run, but also for 2020 as well.
The Brewers — if they truly believe they can make another deep playoff run — will need to improve their bullpen as well. A reunion with Will Smith could be in the cards. Maybe they could even package him with Bumgarner. Toronto’s Ken Giles will likely be moved, and Baltimore’s Mychal Givens and Seattle’s Roenis Elias could be of interest to the Brewers.
If the Brewers push their chips even more into the middle than they already have, the pitchers above should be on top of their wish list, though all will have plenty of suitors. With all that being said, though, I’m not sure I believe the Brewers should make significant trades and gear up for an attempt at the postseason. I just don’t think this year’s team is good enough, even with one or two major upgrades. The Brewers came into 2019 believing they were a better team than their 2018 club, despite gigantic question marks in the rotation. Those question marks have become exclamation points because of just how bad nearly every Brewers starter has turned out to be. Stearns failed to make rotation upgrades in free agency, and now the team is paying for it. Should he really plunder a minor-league system and potentially hurt the future of the franchise for a chance at the playoffs? Maybe it’s best to retool during the winter and focus on 2020. But maybe they think they have another magical late-season run in them.
And perhaps they do. Hopefully they do.