Only one game back in the NL Central but featuring one of baseball’s worst farm systems, the Brewers are kicking around ideas to address their beleaguered pitching staff. Per Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, Milwaukee has had internal discussions about moving one of its productive big leaguers, Yasmani Grandal or Mike Moustakas, to bolster other areas of the roster. As Rosenthal notes, each player is scheduled to hit free agency after this season.
To be clear, such a move would not be part of a broad sell-off. Instead, Milwaukee would consider moving a veteran position player only to add to a starting rotation in desperate need of aid. Injuries to ace Brandon Woodruff and Opening Day starter Jhoulys Chacin in the past week have dealt a blow to what was already the roster’s weak point, while Gio Gonzalez left Friday’s start with shoulder tightness (although fortunately he appears to have avoided another serious injury). Even with Woodruff’s stellar contributions, Milwaukee’s rotation ranks 20th in park-adjusted ERA and 17th in park-adjusted FIP. The current crop of Gonzalez, Zach Davies, Chase Anderson and Adrian Houser hardly inspires much confidence as Milwaukee looks to remain afloat in a crowded NL playoff field.
While there’s little harm in considering creative solutions, it remains difficult to imagine this working in practice. Any club acquiring Moustakas and Grandal would need to be contending this year themselves, since both players are rentals. Given every contender’s reluctance to thin out their pitching depth, it’s hard to find a match on paper. (Indeed, Rosenthal notes it’s possible these discussions haven’t actually led Milwaukee’s front office to contact any potential trade partner yet).
Further, it’s not entirely clear moving one of their top performers would be anything more than a lateral move for Milwaukee. Grandal and Moustakas trail only Christian Yelich among Brewer position players in Fangraphs WAR in 2019. Each has been a strong hitter; Grandal’s 126 wRC+ has been fourth-best among regular catchers, while the Moose’s 119 wRC+ might finally have him poised for the multi-year contract that has so long eluded him.
Replacing Grandal, one of baseball’s best pitch framers, might also have cascading effects on the questionable pitching staff inspiring these talks in the first place, to say nothing of the clear offensive downgrade to backup Manny Pina and/or any veteran stopgap Milwuakee could bring in to replace Grandal behind the dish. Moving on from Moustakas could be easier, Rosenthal opines, with rookie second baseman Keston Hiura raking and veteran Travis Shaw on hand at the hot corner. Shaw, though, has had a woeful offensive season that led Milwaukee to demote him to Triple-A just last month. While he hit well in the minors since then and was an above-average player in each of his first two years in Milwaukee, handing a player sporting a season .160/.273/.283 line a full-time job with little depth on hand may prove too risky.
Given the challenges, it seems more likely than not Milwaukee will hold Grandal and Moustakas and make smaller additions to the pitching staff by moving lower-level prospects. General manager David Stearns and his front office have had success over the past few years turning such seemingly marginal acquisitions (including Shaw himself) into productive big leaguers, so it may be best to hope the player development group can work some more magic. Nevertheless, it’s at least noteworthy to hear the club exploring nontraditional ways to improve. The addition of Grandal and Moustakas to the trade market, if it does end up happening, could change the outlook of the crowded National League race.