Brewers’ star reliever Josh Hader is “available” in trade, reports the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. While Rosenthal indicates that no deal is close, Hader’s inclusion on the trade market could make for one of the more fascinating storylines of the coming months.
The 25-year-old southpaw has emerged as perhaps the best reliever in baseball since making his MLB debut in 2017. For his career, Hader has tossed 204.2 relief innings with a 2.42 ERA and an otherworldly 44.6% strikeout rate. Working without a set role and capable of handling multiple innings in an outing, Hader has exceeded 75 innings each of the last two seasons, all the while recording dominant strikeout numbers.
If there’s a blemish on Hader’s resume, he was a bit home run prone in 2019. He was hardly unique in that regard, of course, but Hader’s 15 home runs allowed pushed his ERA to a career-worst (albeit still stellar) 2.62. That’s not to diminish, though, just how dominant Hader has been. His 47.8% strikeout rate last year was easily the league’s best (minimum 50 innings); the 6.1 percentage point gap between Hader and second-place Nick Anderson equaled the gap between Anderson and fifteenth-place Chris Sale.
Why would the Brewers consider moving Hader coming off back-to-back playoff berths of which he was an integral part? Rosenthal argues it’s simply the nature of being a low payroll organization; the front office can never afford to completely shut itself out from any opportunity. That’s not to say Hader’s priced himself out of Milwaukee. Hader qualified for Super Two and is projected for an extremely affordable $4.6MM salary, although Rosenthal notes that Hader’s reps at CAA figure to argue for something a bit greater based on Hader’s status as a player of “special accomplishment.”
Regardless of whether that argument proves successful, Hader certainly remains a bargain. He won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season. His employer, be it the Brewers or some eventual trade partner, wouldn’t be committed to any long-term expenditure if he were to regress and/or suffer an injury. Perhaps no reliever in history can boast of Hader’s recent combination of dominance and volume.
One speculative target whom Rosenthal points to is the Mets, although he adds it’s unclear if New York and Milwaukee have actually discussed a Hader trade. New York is certainly on the hunt for bullpen help, and Mets’ GM Brodie Van Wagenen co-represented Hader at CAA before taking over in Flushing. As Rosenthal notes, Van Wagenen has shown an affinity for pursuing his former clients in trade and/or free agency. While the Mets’ farm system has been depleted in recent months (most notably when Van Wagenen parted with Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn to bring in former client Robinson Canó), Rosenthal speculates that New York could move pieces directly off its big league roster to facilitate a deal.
That said, virtually every present contender- or team angling towards contention in the near future- figures to have some level of interest in Hader. He’s affordable enough to fit into any team’s budget, and he would be the biggest weapon in essentially any bullpen he’s part of. As Rosenthal notes, some clubs could have concerns that Hader’s unconventionally high volume might eventually catch up with him. To this point, though, Hader’s shown no sign of letting up. Any slight downturn in performance in 2019 can be explained by the liveliness of the baseball, and he’s never had a stint on the injured list.
With all the appeals in Hader’s profile, Milwaukee has little urgency to make a move. If no one meets their exorbitant asking price, the Brewers could certainly bring Hader back and hope for similar dominance moving forward. Listening to offers is hardly the same as aggressively shopping a player. Perhaps nothing will come together in the long run.
Yet Hader’s situation will be fascinating to follow. With free agency starved for relievers, teams set on acquiring one with a high-end track record will have to work the trade market. No one can quite match the track record Hader’s put together over the past few seasons, setting the stage for a potential blockbuster.