Milwaukee Brewers and the ‘Prospect’ Trade


Hundreds of times in the history of baseball, teams have traded star players for multiple ‘prospects.’ Sometimes a team needs to shed some payroll, other times it wants to ‘rebuild’ with younger, cheaper players.

The Milwaukee Brewers have participated in this popular type of swap several times since they came into existence in 1970.

The recent trade of pitcher Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers for a trio of prospects has re-ignited Hot Stove League chatter around water coolers everywhere in Wisconsin.

Did we give up a solid, reliable starter for players that might not amount to a hill of beans, or will Gallardo fall apart and make the trade worthwhile?

We will consider three of this type of trade, ranging from 1982 until 2012, dissecting the whos, wheres, whats, and whys. Which team came out ahead? Did the prospects become star players? Did the superstar maintain his premier-player status or did he fall off the face of this fine planet?

Here we go…

August 30, 1982

May 1, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Hall of fame pitcher and Braves broadcaster Don Sutton leaves the infield prior to a game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers send P Frank DiPino, P Mike Madden, OF Kevin Bass, and cash to the Houston Astros for P Don Sutton.

The actual deal was players to be named later and cash for Sutton. The Brewers had a record of 76-53, leading second place Boston by four and one-half games at the time of the four-player deal. Milwaukee was looking for an ace to finish off the season for them and thought they had that in Sutton, a 37-year-old right hander.

Did they ever!

In seven September starts, Sutton went 4-1 with two complete games and a shutout. The season came down to the final series in Baltimore, with Milwaukee holding a three-game lead with four to play.

Then the unthinkable happened: the Brewers lost the first three contests to the Orioles to bring about a ‘winner take all’ final game on Sunday, October 3.

Sutton took the ball and pitched eight solid innings in a 10-2 Milwaukee win, earning his 17th win of the season and helping Milwaukee earn its first (and only, to date) league championship.

The curly-mopped hurler would go on to pitch two more seasons in Milwaukee, winning 22 games in 64 starts through 1984. Sutton would be traded to Oakland on Pearl Harbor Day, 1984.

Meanwhile, the left-handed DiPino ranked sixth in the 1983 N.L. Rookie of the Year voting while earning 20 saves for the Astros. He would go on to pitch in 514 games over a dozen big-league seasons and tally 56 saves and 35 wins in what was a nice major league career.

Madden, another southpaw, lasted four years in the bigs and started 26 games among his 71 appearances. He went 9-5 with an ERA of 3.14 in 1983 as Houston won 85 games and finished third in the N.L. West.

Bass–a switch-hitting outfielder–would earn All-Star status and finish seventh in N.L. Most Valuable Player voting in 1986. In fourteen seasons, Bass slashed 270/323/411 and hit 118 homers among his 1,308 base hits.

Trade Edge: EVEN
Both teams benefited from this trade, with Milwaukee winning their only A.L. pennant behind Sutton’s October performance. DiPino and Bass turned into solid players, each spending over a dozen campaigns in the bigs. Sutton would play another four seasons, going on to win 324 games and earning a spot in the Hall of Fame.

July 7, 2008

April 7, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia (52) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers trade 1B-OF Matt LaPorta, P Rob Bryson, P Zach Jackson, and OF Michael Brantley to the Cleveland Indians for P C.C. Sabathia.

As with the trade 26 years earlier, the Brewers were looking for a top starter to get them to the promised land, aka ‘The Playoffs.’ They were positioned in third place in the National League Central that early July day just before the All-Star break, a mere four games out of first.

Sabathia made his first start the next day and got the win, albeit on a pedestrian six inning start, walking five. The balance of his only season in Milwaukee was nothing short of unworldly, as Carsten Charles Sabathia made 17 starts, completed seven, and had three shutouts. The latter two figures both led the National League. Think about that for a minute…half a season’s worth of work and league leadership in two key areas.

He had a WHIP of 1.003 and an ERA+ of 255, both numbers easily the best of his career.

His eleven weeks in Milwaukee was magical, and not just for Brewers fans. On the final day of the dog days of August, he was denied a no-hitter when a slow infield roller that he bobbled was judged a base hit by the scorekeeper at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.

LaPorta spent the 2008 season in the minors and would play 291 games the next four years, and spent the 2014 in the Mexican League.

Bryson, a right-handed reliever, kicked around the minors for six seasons but never cracked The Show.

Jackson made nine starts for the Indians in 2008, winning two of five decisions. He had three appearances in 2009 and hasn’t been in the majors since, pitching at Class AAA Syracuse in the Nationals organization.

Brantley was thrown into the deal after the 2008 season, and has become the best of the players in the deal. After playing parts of three seasons in Cleveland, he broke out in 2012 and has been a regular the last three years, making the A.L. All-Star team and finishing third in the MVP voting last season. Brantley, at 27, is a star-in-the-making.

Trade Edge: BREWERS
Sabathia played a HUGE role in the Brewers making the playoff, even though they got thumped by the Phillies in four, with an obviously-worn C.C. lasting just three and two-thirds in a 5-2 Game Two loss. The big lefty has an outside chance of winning 300 games, but will more likely end up in the 250 win range, health permitting.

July 27, 2012

Sep 23, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke (21) makes an underhand throw to first base to force out San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford (35) (not pictured) during the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers send P Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels for P Ariel Pena, P Johnny Hellweg, and IF Jean Segura.

Milwaukee was languishing in fourth place in the N.L. Central, 14 games out when they traded Greinke to the Angels.

Segura took over at shortstop and played the majority of the games the rest of the season, slashing 264/321/331 and stealing seven bases in 44 games and showing promise for the future.

Pena spent the year at Class AA Huntsville, starting seven games there after the trade.

Hellweg joined Pena at Huntsville, starting two games in seven appearances.

And Greinke? He went 6-2 in 13 starts for the Angels, but the team fell short of its playoff dreams, finishing third in a tough A.L. West.

Trade Edge: BREWERS
Mostly by default, because ‘Grink’ has moved on to the other team in the Los Angeles area–the Dodgers. In his two seasons at Chavez Ravine, Greinke went 32-12 and earned a pair of top-ten Cy Young finishes.

Segura has had a roller coaster career, stealing 44 bases while hitting .294 and making the All-Star team in 2013, and then dropping to .246 and 20 steals in a disappointing 2014 season. The death of his nine-month old son in mid-season weighed heavily on his mind for sure.

Hellweg–the 6-9 righty–got beat up in seven starts for the Brewers in 2013 and then made four starts in Class AAA Nashville in 2014 before suffering an ulnar collateral ligament tear, requiring Tommy John surgery. He will be out until early in the 2015 season.

Pena made 24 starts at Class AAA Nashville last year and although he allowed only 6.7 hits/9, his K/BB ratio was only 1.87. If he can harness his control, he could become a Wily Peralta-type power pitcher.

And the trade that sent Gallardo to Texas for IF Luis Sardinas, P Corey Knebel, and P Marcos Diplan? Too early to tell of course, but the Brewers traded a reliable if unspectacular starter to his home state for three prospects who might or might not pan out.

Only time will tell.