The NL Central has been full of surprises this season, from the Cardinals’ shocking failure to get off the ground early in the season to Cincinnati’s recent torrid stretch catapulting them into contention. The one team seemingly immune to the division’s upheaval, at least so far, is the Brewers.
Entering play today, the Brewers sport a 44-39 record that leaves them tied with the Reds for the division lead in a relatively weak NL Central division. The club is currently two games into a ten game stretch against division rivals ahead of the All Star break; after splitting its first two games in Pittsburgh, they’ll play the Pirates in a series finale today before returning to Milwaukee to face the Cubs in a four game set. They’ll then finish up the first half with three games against the Reds. With so many games against their top division rivals, the club could take a much firmer hold of the division lead or slip in the standings somewhat prior to the All Star break.
Despite that lingering uncertainty, the club’s front office seems to have its course largely set with less than a month to go until MLB’s trade deadline on August 1. MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy discussed the club’s plans with GM Matt Arnold yesterday, and the GM was rather candid about his planned approach as we enter trade season.
“Look, we want to be competitive here in 2023,” Arnold said. “We will be opportunistic to try and improve this team where we can, responsibly, I think we have a lot of good players here.”
Arnold went on to point to right-hander Brandon Woodruff, left-handers Aaron Ashby and Justin Wilson, and outfielder Tyrone Taylor as potentially impactful “additions” the team could benefit from in the second half, and when prompted to elaborate on what he meant by behaving “responsibly” discussed the importance of balancing the farm system’s longer term outlook and the immediate value of pushing in to win now.
Those comments from Arnold certainly seem to indicate that the Brewers are unlikely to make a major splash by buying at the top of the trade market this month. Such a measured approach to the deadline is fairly typical of Milwaukee in recent years. The club’s biggest deadline acquisition in recent memory was rental infielder Eduardo Escobar during his All Star 2021 campaign. Other recent deadline additions have been smaller, such as the additions of Jordan Lyles and Drew Pomeranz in 2019 or the club’s acquisition of Matt Bush last season.
Of course, the most impactful deal by Milwaukee at the trade deadline in recent years happened last season, when the club shipped closer Josh Hader to the Padres for a four-player package. That deal has had some positives to it, as the club managed to ship outfielder Esteury Ruiz out in a three team deal that brought back catcher William Contreras this past offseason and left-handed prospect Robert Gasser is pitching fairly well at the Triple-A level. Still, the deal is often looked at as having sunk the club’s chances last season as the Brewers finished the season just 29-31 following the trade and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Arnold suggested a similarly surprising sell-side deal isn’t in the cards this year. When asked if he would consider moving a player such as ace right-hander Corbin Burnes or All Star shortstop Willy Adames, Arnold firmly shut the possibility down, saying, “We’re not looking to move any of those guys. They’re huge parts of our team right now… I mean, I’m sure we’ll get phone calls on these guys, because they’re very good. But that’s not something we’re considering.”
It’s hardly a surprise that the club is disinclined to move either Burnes or Adames, considering neither of the pair has played up to their typical standards this season. Following a three year stretch that saw Burnes post a 2.62 ERA and 2.40 FIP in 428 2/3 innings of work, the 28-year-old righty has put up a rather pedestrian 4.00 ERA in 17 starts this season, only 6% better than league average by measure of ERA+. Meanwhile, Adames is in the midst of the worst offensive season of his career. His .203/.290/.373 slash line, good for a well below average wRC+ of just 81, would be a career worst in all four aforementioned stats if maintained over the rest of the season.