As we’ve been talking about almost every day for the beginning part of this week, we are inching closer and closer to one of the most interesting trade deadlines ever, both in a Red Sox-specific sense and for the league. As far as the league-wide view goes, nobody really knows what’s going to happen. There are more teams in contention which could make things more lucrative for sellers, but there’s also that pesky pandemic and uncertain financial future that could make teams less willing to give anything up for this season. I still tend to think it’s going to be a very quiet deadline, but that is obviously based on nothing but gut feeling because we’ve never had to deal with anything like this.
With the Red Sox part of it, they are obviously a seller this year, and as I just mentioned this should theoretically be a seller’s market given the expanded playoff field. The Red Sox don’t have a ton of viable pieces to trade unless they inexplicably try to shop Xander Bogaerts, but they have some pieces that could bring a solid return. In trying to find potential trade partners, the best course of action is to look for teams with offensive woes but good pitching, and specifically issues with their outfield or the DH spot. That was the case with the Indians, who we covered on Tuesday, and it’s also the case with the Brewers, who I want to focus on today.
Milwaukee has found itself in contention for the last couple of years after getting Christian Yelich from the Marlins and having him turn from a very good player to one of the truly elite players in the league. This little run has mostly been defined by offense, but this year it’s the pitching that’s kept them afloat. As we sit here on Wednesday morning, Milwaukee is in a postseason position in second place in the National League Central with a 10-11 record. By FanGraphs WAR they’ve had the seventh best pitching staff in baseball so far this year but they rank as the third worst group of position players.
Obviously, the Red Sox aren’t going to help many teams in the pitching department, but they have some position players that could be of use to this Brewers roster. The most obvious answer would be J.D. Martinez, who may be struggling a bit this year but his track record should still entice teams in need of a big bat. The slugger also has the added bonus in this scenario of being reunited with hug partner Brock Holt.
It’s not a seamless transition to get Martinez onto the Brewers roster neatly, though, because they already have an aging former star at the DH spot in Ryan Braun. However, they are not resigned to never having Braun play in the field as he’s played some corner outfield and first base this year and in the recent past. He is also struggling mightily. To get Martinez’s bat in the lineup everyday they could put move Ben Gamel to the bench — a move they’d presumably like to make as he was thrust into a starting role when Lorenzo Cain opted out of the season — and put Braun in right field or in left with Yelich shifting to right. Additionally, they could give Justin Smoak some more days off as he’s been struggling and put Braun at first. They’d be giving up a little on defense, but this team needs runs.
Still, this could be a tough nut to crack for the fit and other reasons as well. For one, Milwaukee doesn’t have the biggest reputation as spenders. To be fair they have bucked that trend in recent years, both with the extension for Yelich and also signing players like Cain. They’ve shown a willingness to push in, which can’t be said for other “small” or “mid-market” clubs. That said, it’s possible they won’t want to take on Martinez’s contract, particularly with him unlikely to opt out into next winter’s uncertain terrain combined with the lack of clarity on whether or not the DH will still be in the NL or not in 2021.
So, if Martinez is indeed off the table, that would mean moving on to some of the more periphery pieces, which could still be of interest. As I said, the Brewers probably want to get Gamel out of the everyday lineup, and they probably also want to move Avisaíl García back to a corner. He has been playing center field since Cain opted out, but he has spent basically his entire career to this point in a corner. (It’s worth pointing out the metrics have been impressive in center field so far, but the sample is so small that it’s not really worth paying attention to.) That would make someone like Jackie Bradley Jr. or Kevin Pillar a valuable addition that wouldn’t cost much. Perhaps the Red Sox could also include a Brandon Workman or Matt Barnes — Milwaukee has a very good bullpen but you can always use more relievers — or Mitch Moreland if they’re out on Smoak. Again, the return wouldn’t be monumental, but they’d get something of value.
Really, this potential trade partnership relies largely on what the Brewers are thinking in this moment. Are they willing to give more time to Braun in the field? Are they comfortable taking on salary beyond this season? Do they think the DH will be around in the National League for 2021? If they are comfortable with these answers, Martinez could be a great fit and could put them more firmly into the murky NL playoff picture. And even if not, a smaller deal for Bradley or Pillar (and potentially more) could make sense too.