The outcry surrounding the Milwaukee Brewers’ trade of Josh Hader to the San Diego Padres on Monday has been loud and it has been continuous.
And yes, management is well aware.
To that end, both president of baseball operations David Stearns and team principal owner Mark Attanasio spent considerable time prior to the team’s series opener against the Cincinnati Reds at American Family Field on Friday further explaining their rationale in dealing one of the best closers in baseball.
“We have a really passionate fan base, and that’s one of the things that makes this such an enjoyable place to work,” Stearns said. “We have a fan base that cares a great deal about this team and they want us to win. And we’re united in that goal. I think that is important that we’re united in that goal.
“And so, when you make a move, again, that takes away a very recognizable, prominent figure within the organization, someone who’s contributed to a lot of the success that we’ve had here, I understand why there is going to be a reaction. I also have heard from a lot of fans that trust our organization, believe in our organization, and believe that if we’re making a decision like this, we have the interest of winning in mind.
“And that’s exactly right.”
While he’s the team’s principal owner, Attanasio admittedly still has quite a bit of fan left in him. Hence, he understands the public reticence regarding the move.
But he also said he’s trusting his senior baseball man to do what’s best.
“The last several years here, one of the guys we all got quite attached to was Josh Hader,” he said. “I get a call from David Stearns and Matt Arnold saying, ‘We have something we want to do with Josh,’ and I actually sat down.
“It’s interesting – in my years here, and it’s continued to this day, I was criticized that I stuck my nose in too much. And now maybe I’ll be criticized for not sticking my nose in enough because of how I feel as a fan and how the fans feel about letting Josh go versus guys needing to do their job who have done a terrific job here. They had a move they wanted to make, and they hoped to make other moves.
“I don’t think in David’s tenure anywhere I’ve vetoed anything in either direction that he’s wanted to do. So, as an owner, accountability, responsibility but now it’s hands off and David runs the baseball ops show.”
Going point by point, here’s what Stearns and Attanasio had to say about other important topics regarding the move.
How does trading help Hader win the World Series this season?
The irony certainly wasn’t lost when considering this question was being asked with final preparations for the team’s “Celebration Weekend” going on in the background and members of the 1982 American League Championship Series team were due to be feted.
In exchange for Hader, the Brewers received closer Taylor Rogers – a left-hander like Hader who saved 28 games for the Padres prior to being dealt (yes, he hit a rough patch and was removed from the closer’s role just prior to the trade) .
He joins a reconfigured bullpen that now has two potential closers with Devin Williams, another power arm in right-hander Matt Bush (also acquired on Monday) and, maybe later in the month, yet another hard thrower in right-hander Trevor Rosenthal (currently injured).
“We certainly care about winning a World Series, and I think that is something that consistent competitiveness leads to – a World Series,” said Stearns. “That is how you win a World Series – you give yourself as many chances in the playoffs as you can possibly have. I think that is the right approach; it’s the approach that I’ve tried to set this organization up for since my time here.
“We are trying to avoid the boom-or-bust cycle. We want this organization this year, next year, three years from now, five years from now, seven years from now that, when fans come and watch a Brewers game, they are watching a meaningful game. They are watching a team that can and does go to the playoffs and a team that has a legitimate chance to win a World Series.
“That is our goal with our moves, and I believe our fans share that goal.”
Here is Attanasio’s response: “That you have to ask David about. I know he had a series of other trades that he wanted to do that didn’t happen. You’ll just have to ask him about that.
“Every presentation that I make at the start of a season is with the goal of winning the World Series. That’s the goal.”
Why couldn’t Hader have been traded in the offseason instead?
Quite simply, the Brewers felt like they were able to get more for him now rather than waiting for the offseason.
With the expanded playoffs, more teams are in play and motivated to compete for a postseason spot leading up to the trading deadline. And Stearns confirmed in the wake of the trade Monday multiple teams were involved in trying to acquire Hader.
So in addition to Rogers, the Brewers were also able to land outfielder Esteury Ruiz and left-hander Robert Gasser – two players that they were extremely high on.
Right-hander Dinelson Lamet, who was also acquired in the deal, was designated for assignment due to a roster crunch and has since been claimed by the Colorado Rockies.
“I think history has taught us that oftentimes there is additional leverage created by a trade deadline mid season where there is a scarcity of supply particularly for players like Josh and sometimes that scarcity may not exist in the offseason,” said Stearns.
Did the Brewers trade Hader due to financial constraints?
Both Attanasio and Stearns confirmed the Hader trade was made on its merits alone, and not because the team was looking to pare its payroll this season.
Hader has one more year of arbitration remaining and will command more than $15 million for 2023. After that, he’ll command a longer-term deal that might very well see the new market for relievers assuming he’s able to remain healthy and productive.
“Cost cutting had absolutely nothing to do with this,” Attanasio said. “Every player that was available, we had the resources to pick up – not only for this season, but for the balance of the seasons of their contract.
“We all know Juan Soto’s numbers. We’re not talking about that. But to get a premier player, this team has the financial resources to do that. Dollars didn’t come into the mix at all – in that or in any trade that we weren’t able to get done. It wasn’t about the money.”
Attanasio then dropped this interesting nugget: “There were no budget problems. Even with Juan Soto.”
In the three trades the Brewers did make, they actually took on more salary than they were paying out prior to the deadline.
“With the addition of Trevor Rosenthal, the payroll went up,” said Stearns. “And look, we had additional payroll flexibility to make moves. We were engaged with a number of players the day before the deadline and the day of the deadline that had we been able to pull off a deal, our payroll would have gone up even further.
“And ultimately, we didn’t make those deals because I made a decision that the talent asked was too high. But we had the payroll flexibility to do so if we had deemed a talent ask appropriate.”
What about how the trade affected the clubhouse?
Anyone who follows the Brewers undoubtedly saw the video of Williams, who appeared hurt and stunned in the wake of Hader being moved – Stearns included.
Players aren’t automatons; they have emotions and feelings and some, like Williams, wear their hearts on their sleeves.
But they also have a job to do – and that’s to continue to try and win games.
“I proactively reached out to a number of players on the day we made the trade and then the day after, to make sure that they knew they had a path to talk to me if they wanted,” Stearns said. “Look, I want our players to be focused on winning games at the major-league level every single day, I want our players’ priority to be ‘win now,’ win today. That is their job.
“So, when they see a move where a very good player is no longer on the team, and a player that a lot of them had very close relationships to, I think it is very natural to have some surprise, and in some cases, some disappointment. And that’s what we felt, and that’s what we saw.
“(But) from what I’ve heard from our players, our players also trust this organization, believe in this organization, and understand that any move we make — even a really challenging move — is going to have the best interest in mind for the organization.”
“These guys get incredibly close. We all get close,” Attanasio added. “When trades get done over the winter, you have a winter to process it. When they get done at midseason, it’s a little unnerving. It’s part of the game.”
Why didn’t the Brewers add a bat or two?
As Stearns alluded to, the cost for the position players that ultimately didn’t move was too high in his eyes in terms of prospect capital for an organization that has spent the last few years trying to rebuild its minor-league system.
Would fans have been happy had the Brewers traded someone like Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell, Joey Wiemer or Ethan Small for a rental bat?
Perhaps some would. But that also wouldn’t square with the organizational philosophy of “getting as many bites of the apple” with regard to remaining consistently competitive.
Also, as mentioned previously, the expanded playoffs changed the approach for some teams heading into the deadline.
“There were certainly teams that perhaps at past deadlines that would have been more aggressive trading some of their pieces that decided to hold,” Stearns said. “And so I do think it’s possible that the expanded playoffs were a factor.”
Are Ruiz and Gasser really that good?
Prospect lists are very subjective, of course, and many will point to the fact that the Padres sent the best of their best to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Juan Soto.
But Stearns & Co. are very high on what Ruiz and Gasser bring to the table.
“They’re two very high-ceiling prospects, and they’re two prospects who are at the upper levels of our minor leagues – and I think that’s important,” Stearns said. “These are not rookie-ball, A-ball players. We have made significant trades during my time here for rookie-ball, A-ball players. But in this case, we felt that bringing back players who are closer to the major leagues and having the ability to impact this team in the near future was important.
“And, that’s what we did. Robert Gasser is a pitcher that we targeted out of the draft (in 2021); we know him exceptionally well. He’s in Double-A now but we believe he can move fast through Double-A and we believe he can be a very effective major-league starter for a long time here. .
“Esterury Ruiz is arguably the most exciting prospect riser in minor-league baseball. He’s had a tremendous season. He’s one of the fastest players in minor-league baseball who is beginning to develop some power and is a tremendous kid. So, adding those types of high-upside, high-level talents to our organization in addition to bringing in someone with the pedigree of an all-star closer in Taylor Rogers is why we made the deal.
“With all that said, I understand why there was still some frustration losing Josh Hader.”
Stearns said Ruiz can play center, and that he, Frelick, Mitchell and Wiemer will all see time in center at Class AAA Nashville.
It is also within the realm of possibility that one of the four could be with the Brewers by the end of the season.
What about Rosenthal?
It seemed strange on the surface that the Brewers would trade for someone in Rosenthal who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2020 due to injury, and has yet to pitch in a game this season after suffering a hamstring injury while working out for teams as a free agent.
So, where is the veteran in terms of his rehab?
“I know that he wants to push us faster than perhaps we think he should go,” Stearns said. “I think we’re looking at, responsibly, end of August, beginning of September, is probably where this is.”