Brewers’ Stearns: Hader trade hurt team more than expected

Milwaukee finished under .500 without closer
Steve Megargee
The Associated Press

Milwaukee Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns acknowledged the trade of four-time All-Star closer Josh Hader affected the team more than he expected at the time he made the deal.

The Brewers were 57-45 and had a three-game lead in the NL Central on Aug. 1 when they traded Hader to the San Diego Padres for pitchers Taylor Rogers and Dinelson Lamet, pitching prospect Robert Gasser and outfield prospect Esteury Ruiz. The Brewers went 29-31 the rest of the way and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

“It had a more pronounced impact than I thought it would at the time, and the surrounding moves didn’t adequately fortify the team in Josh’s absence,” Stearns said in a season-ending news conference on Oct. 11.

At the time of the trade, Stearns said he believed the prospects coming to Milwaukee could help the franchise stay competitive longer. The Brewers also were hoping the acquisition of Rogers and the arrivals of Matt Bush and Trevor Rosenthal in separate deals would add depth to the bullpen.

Rosenthal, who hasn’t pitched since 2020 due to injuries, had a setback and never made an appearance for the Brewers. Rogers had a 5.48 ERA and Bush a 4.30 ERA for Milwaukee, with each allowing six homers in 23 innings.

“We don’t get do-overs in this position,” Stearns said. “Looking back, I remain very excited about the young talent we have in the organization. I also realize that we went into a trade deadline in playoff position, and we didn’t make the playoffs. And when that happens, you have to look back and say what more could we have done, what different could we have done.”

The Brewers finished seven games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and one game behind the NL’s final wild card, the Philadelphia Phillies. That snapped a franchise-record string of four straight playoff appearances.

“This definitely stings,” Stearns said. “It’s going to sting for a little while for all of us.”

Stearns said the lack of depth in Milwaukee’s rotation proved costly and would merit attention in the offseason.

The rotation featured three 2021 All-Stars in Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta and returned Adrian Houser and Eric Lauer. Burnes was the only pitcher in that group who didn’t spend at least some time on the injured list.

The Brewers went 13-22 in games that weren’t started by any of those five.

“I think we need to build some depth in our pitching,” Stearns said. “That’s an area where when we got hit with injuries, particularly in the rotation, we had a tough time. And so as we go into next year, I do think building pitching depth is important and some of that’s going to have to come externally.”

Stearns also said he believes Christian Yelich can improve upon his 2022 performance, even if the outfielder never returns to the heights of his 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Yelich was primarily a leadoff hitter last season and batted .252 with 14 homers, 57 RBIs and a .738 OPS. The 2018 NL MVP will make $26 million each of the next six seasons, though $4 million of that will be deferred each year.

“I don’t think I can sit here and predict that we’re going to see a level of production that we saw in 2019,” Stearns said. “I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think that would be fair for any player. But I think Christian’s going to work hard and he has worked hard, and I do believe he’ll get to a level above what we saw this year.”

Milwaukee could have some holes to fill this offseason.

Outfielder Andrew McCutchen, catcher Omar Narváez, utilityman Jace Peterson, Rogers and Rosenthal are free agents. The Brewers have to decide whether to pick up a $10 million option on second baseman Kolten Wong and a $3 million option on reliever Brad Boxberger.

But the Brewers return most of their nucleus, making these next couple of years particularly crucial.

Burnes, Woodruff and Lauer are among the players under control for two more arbitration years. The same is true of shortstop Willy Adames, selected as the team’s MVP by the Milwaukee chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

“We remain well within our competitive window,” Stearns said. “We believe we have a very good core coming back and the goal of the organization remains to win a World Series. That is our aim. That is what we are working toward.”