Amidst all the hullabaloo following the Juan Soto trade (Nationals are officially a poverty franchise now, by the way), the Padres’ deal for Josh Hader has been brushed aside, tucked under the rug, becoming an afterthought. It was one of the most surprising trades of the deadline. Nobody expected the Brewers to trade Hader away during their hunt for their fifth straight playoff berth and third division title in the last five years. Yet, despite their standing in the NL Central, the Brewers pulled the trigger, presumably moving Devin Williams to the full-time closer role, and shipping the National League’s saves leader to California.
Why? Was it even a good deal? Sure, I know Hader isn’t having his greatest season, but prior to his two consecutive appearances on July 13 and 15, at Minnesota and at San Francisco, respectively, Hader had accrued a 1.82 ERA and 52 strikeouts across 29.2 innings pitched. That would be the second-best ERA of his career and right on par with where his strikeout per nine rate has been over the last half-decade. Sure, there were some worrisome stats. His ERA-plus had dipped under 100 for the first time in his career. His barrel rate was nearly three times higher than his 2021 rate. His hard-hit percentage was the second-highest of his career, but despite all that, his expected ERA (xERA) was still 3.29, a more than serviceable figure, and definitely not something so horrendous that it warrants being traded away.
Did the Brew Crew really give up all hope on Hader after those two outings? If not, why trade him? Even if they wanted to move Williams to the closer role full-time, Hader has served as an incredible set-up man in the past to both Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress. Maybe Hader isn’t suited to that role anymore, but you’ll never know unless you try, and trading him away before you can figure that out, especially in the middle of a playoff run, is a tragedy.
I mean, for goodness sake, Milwaukee is three games ahead of the Cardinals right now. While the Cardinals were heavily linked to Juan Soto up until the very end, the Brewers weren’t making moves, they were making reductions. The Brewers’ top competitor in their division was vying for a division title and I can’t help but think Milwaukee was playing for a wild-card berth with this move.
But let’s give Milwaukee the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the package the Padres offered was too good to pass up.
Taylor Rogers had a decent stretch from 2017 to 2019, but the only statistic that really pops out for him since then is his saves count and that boils down to opportunity more than anything. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has taken a major hit in 2022 as well. Not a lot of good signs pointing his way. He doesn’t have Hader’s resumé, longevity, or skill set. Dinelson Lamet showed flashes of greatness in 2020, only to struggle with injuries in 2021 and fight a losing battle with inconsistency when given the opportunity to play in 2022. He’s basically regarded as nothing more than a bullpen arm with some potential at this point. The focal points of the trade were the prospects, Esteury Ruiz and Robert Gasser. Both players should be ready for the Majors by 2024, and both are already top-10 prospects in the Brewers’ system. They make this a good deal, but not a great one. Keep in mind, the Padres’ were still playing for Juan Soto at this point and didn’t have to give up anybody who could’ve become a piece in the Soto trade. That’s not good for Milwaukee.
For someone as talented and accomplished as Hader, you’d expect at least one top prospect to head the Brewers’ way. I’m talking like top five, not borderline top 10. You could argue that Lamet fits that description, but I’d argue that that’s no longer the case. Even worse, Hader was heading into arbitration this offseason. Given that Hader currently holds an ERA over 4, it’s likely that the Brewers could’ve re-signed him for considerably less than his current $11 million salary, especially if they moved him out of the closer role entirely. At the very least, the Brewers could have retained Hader for the playoff run and re-signed him to a friendlier contract, thus drawing much more attention from teams looking for a reliable closer. I don’t think it’s crazy to say they could’ve gotten a larger haul.
It’s just irritating to see a team in a position to win a division title give up a key piece of their bullpen like this. Sure, the closer position isn’t viewed as highly as it once was, but ask any Dodgers fan whether or not they think having a reliable bullpen is important. They refused to bring back Kenley Jansen after one bad postseason. Then, they brought on Craig Kimbrel to replace him only for him to fall apart worse than the MCU after Avengers: Endgame. Bullpens become all the more important when the postseason rolls around and the Brewers just parted ways with one of the best southpaws in the game.
Yes, the haul was decent, but Milwaukee undoubtedly got worse with this deal. It’s heartbreaking to see a team, leading their division with one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, make a trade like this. Perhaps if they’d made some other big splash trades I’d feel more comfortable about their position moving forward. Matt Bush, who’s having his first halfway decent season in five years, is not the game-changer Milwaukee needs to stay atop the NL Central. The Cardinals didn’t make the big move for Soto like many thought they would, but they did land a reliable left-handed arm in José Quintana. They got better in an area where they desperately needed help. Can’t say the same for Milwaukee, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this move comes back to bite them in the ass come late September.