Deadline Dealing: A Brief History of Brewers Deadline Trades, Part II

Aug. 1, 2016
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sexsonburnitz
Richie Sexson and Jeromy Burnitz, acquired by the Brewers in two of their best trading deadline moves ever.

This season’s trading deadline has surely been a memorable one for Brewers fans. By the time this post finds its way to the internet, the various storylines that emerged over the past weekend should have resolved themselves, but the impact of the deals (and non-deals) will not be known for years. In honor of the un-official holiday that the deadline has become, we’re taking a look at Brewers deadlines past. Last week, we covered the 1980s and 90s, this week, we’re looking at 2000-2007.

 

2000
Status: Sellers
Season result: 73-89, 3rd place.

Closer Bob Wickman arrived and departed Milwaukee in deadline deals, both trades were winners for the Brewers.

The 2000 trade that sent Steve Woodard, Jason Bere, and Bob Wickman to the Indians for Richie Sexson, Kane Davis, and Paul Rigdon was made more of opportunity than financial despair. The Brewers were nearly 20 games under .500 and getting nothing from Kevin Barker at first base while the contending Indians had some gaping holes on their pitching staff and a stud first baseman in Sexson blocked by veteran Jim Thome. The desperation here was all on the Indians as they shipped Sexson, who hit 31 homers the season before floating between the infield and outfield, to Milwaukee for an All Star closer and two middle-of-the-road starters. Sexson spent four years with the Brewers, twice tying the franchise record for homers in a season while Woodard and Bere were mostly innings-eaters in Cleveland. Wickman was a solid closer there for several seasons, but offering nothing like the production of Sexson. The Brewers were also working on a second blockbuster deal as the 2000 deadline approached that would have sent Jeromy Burnitz to the Yankees, a young Alfonso Soriano to the Expos and Rondell White to Milwaukee. That deal fell apart when the Expos sent White to the Cubs for pitcher Scott Downs.

Verdict: A clear win. 

Sexson gave the Brewers a powerful middle of the order trio with Burnitz and Geoff Jenkins and the team sold at just the right time on Woodard and Bere. Sexson was later traded to Arizona before his free agent walk year for an impressive return that included Chris Capuano and Craig Counsell.

 

2002
Status: Sellers
Season result: 56-106, 6th place.

The Brewers sold too soon on infielder Mark Loretta, who later became an All Star.


The 2002 Brewers were an all-around nightmare, losing 106 games and giving regular playing to such luminaries as Paul Bako, Matt Stairs, and Glendon Rusch. Unwilling to part with young, cheap talent like Sexson, Jenkins, or Ben Sheets, the Brewers opted to dump pretty much every other useful part in the weeks after the All Star break. In a series of four multi-player deals, the Brewers dumped Tyler Houston, Alex Ochoa, Jamey Wright, and Mark Loretta. In return, the Brewers got a big batch of young players “headlined” by Wayne Franklin, who followed an impressive end-of-the-year run in 2002 by leading the league in earned runs in 2003, and Keith Ginter, who hit 34 homers over the next two seasons before being traded to Oakland for Nelson Cruz (more on him later). The only outgoing piece the Brewers later missed was Loretta, the longest-tenured Brewer player at the time of the trade, who wound up having a surprise breakout season in San Diego in 2004 in which he hit .335 and got MVP votes.


Verdict: Marginal loss. 

They dumped off some veterans and took some chances that didn’t come through. They were all solid baseball moves and the franchise was none the worse for it. I’ll call it a loss because they missed the chance to resign Loretta (he was a free agent after the season, but ended up taking a huge pay cut from what the Brewers had been paying him) and establish him as a face-of-the-franchise bridge between the dark post-1992 years and the resurgent late-2000s teams.

 

2006
Status: Um… both?
Season Result: 75-87, 4th place.

No one thought much about throwing Nelson Cruz, who had been acquired by the Brewers for Keith Ginter, into the deal that sent Carlos Lee to the Rangers. But in Texas, Cruz became one of the best sluggers in baseball.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, there was some genuine positivity among Brewers fans heading into the 2006 season. They finished the 2005 season at 81-81, their best mark in two decades, with a collection of young talent and discount bin finds. In 2006, with Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks ready for regular duty, it seemed like the team might actually have a shot at October baseball. In late July, 5.5 games out of the wild card spot, the Brewers added veteran infielders Tony Graffanino and David Bell – the first time since 1982, they were in “buy” mode. But the team was still dealing with the small-market constraints and facing the potential loss of their top offensive weapon, outfielder Carlos Lee, to free agency. So, in an effort to both cash in on a departing star and stay competitive, the Brewers sent Lee to the Rangers for All Star closer Francisco Cordero and outfielders Kevin Mench and Layne Nix. The trade made sense at the time. Mench was the younger, cheaper replacement for Lee, Cordero could bump the fully-melted-down Derrick Turnbow from the closer’s spot, and Nix was a mildly-promising role player. Oh, and the Brewers tossed in a minor league outfielder named Nelson Cruz.

Lee went on to mash the ball for the Rangers, who still missed the playoffs, and he jumped to the Astros the following year for a $100 million, six year deal. Cordero spent a year and a half in Milwaukee as their closer, making another All Star team, before signing with the Reds after the 2007 season. Mench, at the time the centerpiece of the deal, made no discernable impact on the team in two seasons and Nix saw a total of 61 at bats in three years.


Verdict: Loss. 

Ignoring that the Brewers played worse after the trade of Lee than before, even ignoring the good years Lee had in Houston, the 2006 deadline was an excellent example of a club not sticking to the program. The Brewers were in rebuilding mode but, with the wild card within a somewhat-exaggerated reach, they moved Lee for a package that offered them only short-term help. Furthermore, they dumped two young players – Cruz, a four-time All Star who remains one of game’s best power hitters, and Jorge De La Rosa, sent to Kansas City for Graffanino – who could have made an impact in Milwaukee.

 

2007
Status: Buyers
Season Result: 83-79, 2nd place

 

Seth McClung was brought in to shore up the Brewers bullpen in 2007, but it was their rotation that sunk the team’s playoff chances.

After a disappointing end to the 2006 season, the Brewers burst out of the gates in 2007, opening with a 24-10 record and spending nearly all of May and June at least five games up on the rest of the NL Central. But, the Crew sputtered in late July and allowed the Cubs to pull within a few games of first. In an effort to shore up a creaky bullpen, the Brewers made a pair of trades to add veteran relievers Scott Linebrink and Seth McClung. The Brewers nearly added the prize pitcher of the deadline in Rangers closer Eric Gagne, who ended up going to Boston. Had Gagne not approved the deal – Boston was one of the teams on his no-trade list – he likely would have gone to the Brewers and bumped the struggling Francisco Cordero from the closer’s role. The Brewers ended up signing Gagne that off-season in one of the worst free agent signings in team history.

Linebrink and McClung both pitched well down the stretch, but the Brewers swooned nonetheless, hampered by a weak starting rotation. The Brewers held a piece of first as late at September 18, but lost seven of their next 10 to drop out of contention. The Cubs won the division by just two games.


Verdict: Win. 

The Brewers didn’t get enough from Linebrink and McClung (no reliever could have given them enough) to win the division, but the trades were an indication that a new era of Brewers baseball had begun. Unlike the muddled reasoning of the 2006 trades, the Brewers showed a clear plan at the 2007 deadline – they were a rebuilding team that found themselves unexpectedly contending and addressed their weaknesses without giving away the farm. The top prospect they dealt was pitcher Will Inman, who went to San Diego in the Linebrink deal. Oddly enough, Inman was the only of the four players the Brewers dealt who never made the majors. Steve Garrison and Joe Thatcher also went to San Diego in the trade (Garrison face a total of 2 big league batters and Thatcher has been a better-than-average reliever for the last decade). The biggest loss for the Brewers was Grant Balfour, sent to Tampa Bay for McClung, who later became an All Star closer for the Oakland A’s. 

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