The biggest story of the Brewers’ offseason is whether Ryan Braun will be traded. That topic has already been covered extensively (here by Julien Assouline), and I’m sure it will be addressed from various other perspectives throughout the offseason. However, the Brewers also have other players on their roster who might have some value in trades and the organization could deem expendable.
Matt Garza is the most obvious candidate for this section, as he is a veteran starting pitcher on an expiring contract. Prior to the 2016 season, I would have guessed that there was no chance any contending team would take Garza just because he was so awful in 2015. Among all pitchers with at least 140 innings in 2015, his 5.89 DRA was sixth-worst and his -1.5 WARP was seventh-worst. But he rebounded in 2016! His 4.29 DRA and 1.3 WARP aren’t exactly good, but they also aren’t in the category of “worst pitcher in baseball.”
The tricky part of a Garza trade is who would want him. Contenders are obviously always searching for starting pitching, but at this point in the offseason I imagine that teams would be shooting higher and hoping for a better pitcher than Garza. It may take a specific series of events—an offseason or spring training injury, or someone with a rotation hole who strikes out on all their targets—for the Brewers to actually find someone willing to take Garza off their hands. Even when that trade partner does come, the return cannot possibly be very high.
Gennett had a bit of a breakout in 2016, as he got the most plate appearances of his career and was the most productive he’s ever been. As the regular second baseman (542 PAs and 136 games), Gennett was finally a league-average regular. He is heading into his age-27 season, so there is reason to be optimistic, with him just heading into his prime and coming off the best season of his career.
However, that is an equally attractive reason to trade him. For one, Gennett had been a disappointment up to this point, and this past season’s breakout was a bit of a surprise, so there remains a distinct possibility that his improvement was just a mirage. As someone who has never believed in Gennett, I would be nervous that he regresses and is then both unplayable and untradeable.
Another reason to feel comfortable trading Gennett is the presence of Jonathan Villar. Villar was impressive offensively last year, but he was then moved to third base once Orlando Arcia came up to the big leagues. However, his bat plays better at second base than at third base; his .291 TAv in 2016 would have tied for seventh among second basemen but been eleventh among third basemen. If Gennett were to be moved, then Villar could slide over to second base.
But this is contingent on the Brewers’ getting a suitable return. Third base remains a hole for the organization, and no one is knocking on the door from the minor league system ready to play every day, so there is no real hurry to force Villar off of third base.
Much of the logic for Gennett also applies to Villar: he performed much better in 2016 than he had in any of the three previous years, so there is reason to be both optimistic and nervous about regression. The question for trading one or the other is which will provide the greatest return, whether on the Brewers or on another team. The Brewers appear to be close enough to contention that one of these two players could very well be in the starting lineup for Game 1 of their next playoff series.
However, the question is which one. Villar was obviously much better than Gennett in 2016, so theoretically the Brewers would be able to get more back in a Villar trade. However, he is also likely to be better going forward, so the club will have to decide whether the gap between trade returns for Gennett and Villar makes up for the difference in on-field value.
I do not think that this gap in trade value makes up for the difference on the field. Villar is a year younger than Gennett and had never previously been given a full-time job, so the chance that his breakout is real seems more plausible. Holding on to Villar and giving him the opportunity to play second base every day seems like the best use of the Brewers’ capital.
Carter is an interesting trade candidate because he doesn’t appear to be very valuable overall, but he hits a lot of home runs. His .321 OBP just isn’t high enough for someone who is such a large negative at first base, but the 41 home runs is a shiny number. It feels safe to assume that most (if not all) front offices at this point will not be fooled by the massive home run total, but I don’t want to rule out the idea that someone sees the home runs and thinks their club’s player development staff is the one that will get through to Carter.
If a team comes to David Stearns with an offer that values Carter as anything close to an everyday starter, then the Brewers should take that trade simply because the likelihood that Carter ever becomes consistently league-average is diminishing each year.
I am going to use Guerra as an opportunity to talk about the Brewers’ team-building philosophy, because I think he is emblematic of a choice that the front office has to make. Surprisingly (to everyone except Kyle Lesniewski), Guerra appears to be a competent major league pitcher. And if this were the 2013 Astros, he would almost definitely be out the door because that organization had the philosophy that they were going to trade every quality big-leaguer they had until their farm system was ready to compete. Despite David Stearns’ presence in that front office, this Brewers team clearly is not following that philosophy—as evidenced by the continued presence of Ryan Braun.
Trading Guerra makes sense if the team is trying to stockpile young assets, but the Brewers have already done that. Their farm system has been reloaded in the past two years, and the club is now in excellent shape for the future. With Arcia making his debut last year and players like Lewis Brinson and Josh Hader hopefully on the verge of the big leagues this year, that system is starting to bear fruit. At some point, the team has to start competing again, and that may be as soon as 2017 or 2018. When the competition window is so close, trading Guerra simply doesn’t make sense. He isn’t as big a regression candidate as the other players on this list, so it isn’t as if the Brewers are trying to cash in on someone who will be more valuable in a trade this winter than he will be on the field next season. Instead, trading Guerra would seem to be more of a running-in-place type of move.