Let’s just be clear about this, before we get overwhelmed by all of the rumors linking the Brewers to aces again this winter: the Brewers are going to have to give up something significant to get one. Whether it’s Keston Hiura, Corbin Burnes or someone else, you aren’t getting a true Capital-A Ace without giving up something that would hurt.
So why don’t we think outside the box a little bit? Forget Hiura, Burnes, Brandon Woodruff or Corey Ray. Should the Brewers consider trading Josh Hader this winter if it means landing that #1 starter?
It sounds ridiculous. It would fundamentally change the way the Brewers would manage their bullpen in 2019 and beyond. But selling on Hader now might make a little bit of sense.
Realistically, we may never see a better season from Hader. He struck out 143 batters in 81.1 innings — 46.7% of the batters he faced in 2018 — and put up a 2.43 ERA/2.23 FIP/2.05 xFIP. He didn’t allow a run in 7 postseason appearances, twice pitching 3 innings in an outing. Between the regular season and playoffs, the Brewers were 53-9 in games in which he appeared.
It was a historically good season. And it was worth less than 3 wins above replacement level.
Put in another way: in terms of fWAR, he (2.7) and Jhoulys Chacin (2.6) were virtually the same in terms of overall value to the 2018 Brewers.
That’s the thing with Hader, at least as long as he’s a reliever — he could be the game’s biggest weapon in the bullpen, but his overall impact is going to be limited as long as he’s only appearing in 55 games. His uniqueness is what makes him so dangerous to opposing hitters, but it also requires an immense amount of planning and foresight on Craig Counsell’s part to make it work.
The Brewers won a lot of games because Hader was able to shut down an opponent’s rally or make sure one never got started. The Brewers also lost more than a few games because their bullpen was a man short for days after one of those Hader appearances. You’re not going to find another long reliever that would be as much of a sure thing as Hader was in 2018, but what if you found one that was most of the time? Or found two guys who, combined, could put up similar numbers but were available more often? Would it be a net gain, especially when you consider what you might be able to add to other parts of the team?
Considering David Stearns’ love of versatility, Hader’s lack of it in terms of normally not being able to pitch on back-to-back days or more than twice a week is a bit out of place on the Brewers’ roster. We don’t know if this is a thought that has crossed his mind at some point, but could we blame him if it has?
The Brewers have been frequently brought up in rumors for the likes of New York’s Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Cleveland is making Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer available. To get any of those guys, the Brewers would have to give up something significant. With Hiura being the only premium prospect the Brewers have left, any deal for one of those guys would likely mean parting with him.
But what if the Brewers offered Hader as the centerpiece of the deal instead? While Milwaukee seems to have moved on from the idea of using him in the rotation, plenty of other teams could still dream about what Hader could do as a full-time starter, which could give a boost to his trade value.
It’s unlikely to happen, especially considering the Brewers have 5 more years of team control with Hader and he’ll be making peanuts for the next two years as a pre-arbitration player. But if you believe we’ve already seen the peak of Hader’s abilities and value — even something slightly worse than his 2018 numbers would still be historic — it’s at the very least an interesting idea. The argument could be made that 3 years of Corey Kluber or Noah Syndergaard would be more valuable than 5 years of Hader. If the Brewers hope to finally land that True Ace, that may end up being the price.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference