After all of the talent was exchanged during a fascinating if complicated three-team trade made earlier this week, the deal had a surprising winner.
It wasn’t the Oakland A’s, who had a chance to cash in hugely by trading the elite catcher Sean Murphy, who has a stellar performance history, an esteemed reputation, and three more years of team contract control. In return the Athletics signed off on a UPS delivery of a fourth outfielder, a potential mid-rotation starter, a couple of relievers and a backup catcher. The transaction was widely panned by the legion of scouts and baseball pundits who expected the A’s to come out with a roster-transforming haul. Analyst R.J. Anderson (CBS Sports) gave Oakland an “F” grade for the trade.
The winner wasn’t the Atlanta Braves, who gave up one of their top starting-pitching prospects and sundries to acquire Murphy from the A’s. It was a curious decision, given that the Braves already had the third-best catching group in the majors in 2022, ranking third among the 30 teams with 6.4 WAR at the position. The young William Contreras was a National League All-Star in 2022, and Travis d’Arnaud hit 18 homers with a .472 slugging percentage. And veteran Manny Pina was there for insurance. (He went to Oaktown.)
The winner was … the Milwaukee Brewers?
In playing the middleman role to broker the deal, the Brewers said thank you very much after sweet-talking their way into a trade to receive Contreras and two pitchers from Atlanta. One of the pitchers, lefty prospect Justin Yeager is a high-upside reliever who throws 100 mph with a high strikeout rate in the minors.
Contreras, 24, was the headliner. He’ll likely prosper as one of the most important hitters in the Milwaukee lineup, and the Brewers will control his contract through 2027.
What did the Brewers give up for this gift? Not much. The Crew traded one player worth mentioning: young Esteury Ruiz, a speedy utility-player prospect acquired last summer in the controversial trade that sent closer Josh Hader from Milwaukee to San Diego. Baseball people generally view Ruiz as a fourth outfielder type because of his soft-contact limitations. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ruiz was the Crew’s fifth-highest ranked outfield prospect. This is not a significant loss.
Contreras, a part-time catcher with plus power, cranked 20 homers and put up 138 OPS+ last season. Contreras isn’t particularly skilled defensively (but not terrible, either) and should benefit by working with Milwaukee’s excellent catching instructors. In the meantime he will blast an abundant amount of home runs at American Family Field in Milwaukee, and can always fill the DH role.
Moreover, Contreras hammers left-handed pitching, mashing for a .596 slug and 1.036 OPS against them. And it just so happens that the Brewers were weak against lefty pitching last season.
The Cardinals–Brewers rivalry, already lively, gets even better now with the battle of the catching brothers: The new Cardinal Willson Contreras vs. his little brother William. Both were NL All-Stars last season. Both play with passion and are highly competitive. This should be fun.
Brewers head of baseball operations Matt Arnold made an impressive, opportunistic move to add brawn to a lineup that tended to misfire too often during the second half of the 2022 season when the Cardinals took control of the NL Central.
Catcher was the most urgent position of need for Milwaukee; last season their catchers batted .202 with a .316 slugging percentage and .608 OPS. Rather than part with a bundle of prospect goodies in a bid for Murphy, Arnold gave up much, much less in targeting Contreras. This was an ideal trade for a small-market trade and a limited payroll.
Arnold had good information and put it to use, knowing that the A’s front office had coveted Ruiz when Ruiz was making his way through the Padres farm system. And that led to an easy, stress-free heist of a trade for Milwaukee.
For a while the Brewers made outsiders wonder what they were up to by trading second baseman Kolten Wong to the Mariners and outfielder Hunter Renfroe to the Angels. The team reduced payroll – but also their offense. With the Contreras move, the Brewers affirmed their desire to compete and take back the NL Central from the Cardinals in 2023. And their starting rotation – led by Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff – remains intact. Nice move by the Brewers. The Cardinals may face a more difficult challenge from the Crew next season.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.