Milwaukee Brewers: Who are the relief pitcher trade targets?

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JUNE 22: Will Smith #13 of the San Francisco Giants delivers a pitch during the ninth inning of the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on June 22, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Giants won 7-4. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JUNE 22: Will Smith #13 of the San Francisco Giants delivers a pitch during the ninth inning of the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on June 22, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Giants won 7-4. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images) /
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Top-Tier, but Unlikely To Move

Beyond Giles and Smith, there are other top-tier relievers worth mentioning, though circumstances suggest they’re becoming unlikely to move before the deadline.

Kirby Yates, RHP, San Diego Padres

Kirby Yates is having the best season of any reliever in baseball this season. His ERA sits at just a 1.15 entering the all-star break. He’s averaging 13.85 K/9, only 2.08 walks per nine, and has a HR/9 rate of just 0.28, something that seems like a typo given how ridiculous the long-ball has been around the league this season.

What precludes Yates from making the likely to move list is that the Padres have moved themselves firmly into the playoff picture in the National League. San Diego were making it known that they were unlikely to entertain offers for him just a few weeks ago. Their standing in the playoff picture has only improved since then.

Unless they land a godfather offer that convinces them to make a trade, it seems very unlikely that they’ll move off of their closer, who has one arbitration year remaining before he can enter free agency in 2020.

Brad Hand, LHP, Cleveland Indians

Like Yates, there’s been speculation about whether the Cleveland Indians would consider moving off of Brad Hand ahead of the trade deadline. Like the Padres, their standing in the American playoff race has dramatically improved since those rumors last emerged in the middle of June.

Hand seems very unlikely to move given that the Indians seem poised to make at least the Wild Card in the AL, with a growing chance at the Central Division title. If he did become available, he’d be, with Yates, the best reliever on the market.

Hand has been good for 1.5 WAR so far this season thanks to a 2.17 ERA, career best K/9 rate of 13.26, as well as a low walk rate (2.41 BB/9) and extremely low HR rate (0.41 per nine innings).

Hand has also been among the best relievers in baseball for several years running, and has two more years of control beyond this season, making him an incredible asset for anyone seeking to contend over a several year window.

Unless Cleveland has a change of heart, or are absolutely swept away by an offer, Hand will not be moving at the trade deadline this summer. They didn’t give up one of their top prospects last summer only to move him again in the middle of a playoff race.

Felipe Vazquez, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Felipe Vazquez is one of the most electric arms in the game. He emerged as the Pirates closer back in the 2017 season and hasn’t relinquished the role since. He posted a WAR of 2.2 and 2.1 in each of the past two seasons preceding this year.

Vazquez has continued to build on his previous two years of success in 2019. He has a 1.4 WAR entering the all-star break, with a 2.11 ERA. He’s averaging a career best strikeout rate (14.09) while walking just 2.35 batters per nine and giving up just 0.7 HR/9.

Given that Pittsburgh enters the break within striking distance of the NL Central and Wild Card races, Vazquez seems quite unlikely to move. He also the most years of team control remaining of any reliever on this list. The Pirates have him signed through the 2023 season. Pittsburgh would need an all-time prospect haul for a reliever to even consider moving him this summer.

Edwin Diaz, RHP, New York Mets

Things have not gone how the New York Mets had envisioned before the season. Edwin Diaz‘s struggles have been a contributing factor.

After finishing second in WAR among relievers just a season ago, Diaz has fallen into the midst of his worst season in the Major Leagues. He has a career high 5.50 ERA while posting a WAR of just 0.4 so far in 2019. He’s giving up a career high 1.83 HR/9 as well, with 21.9% HR/FB rate. Things have gone so bad that the Mets are starting to consider taking him out of the closing role.

There are, however, some signs of life in his numbers. Diaz has maintained his incredibly high K/9 rate this year (14.68) and is still walking less than three batters per nine (2.88). His FIP (3.64), and xFIP (2.81) suggest he should be much better than his ERA shows. With a regression to even the league average for HR/FB, Diaz would be a much better pitcher.

New York paid a premium for him just a few months ago via trade. It seems unlikely, given his struggles and what they paid to get him, that they’d move off of him so soon.

If they are open to moving him, though, he would be an incredible buy low option who’s more than capable of being a top-tier talent given his previous track record, his age (25), and three years of control remaining. Diaz has one of the most electric repertoires in the league.

Sean Doolittle, LHP, Washington Nationals

The final player to appear on this list is Sean Doolittle.

Washington, much like the other teams on this list, have gotten themselves back into the playoff race in recent weeks after a slow start. That’s likely taken their closer off the market if he was even truly available to begin with.

Doolittle has been a model of consistency throughout his Major League career. He’s posted a WAR of 1.5 or greater in five of his previous seven seasons preceding this year.

He’s continued to be a solid relief option for Washington this season too. Doolittle has posted a 1.2 WAR so far this season and has saved 19 games. His ERA isn’t as stellar as some of the other relievers on this list (3.13), and his xFIP is concerning (4.93), but his other stats suggest he’s been solid. He’s averaging 10.61 K/9, 2.65 BB/9, and 0.72 HR/9. Doolittle is extremely fly ball dependent (his GB% is just 26.4%), but he’s very good at limiting HR/FB (he’s giving up a home run on just 5.2% of flyballs against him after having a 6.7% rate last season).

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With one more year of control beyond this season, Washington is likely to keep him this summer. Their window to contend is right now. Unless they slide again before the deadline, they’re likely to at least hold the fort and see how things play out over the remainder of the season.