Instant Grade: Brewers do well in Aaron Civale trade, strike first in pitching market

The Brewers got the first starting pitcher off the board from the starting pitching market
Senior Vice President and General Manager Matt Arnold speaks during an an end of season press conference at American Family Field in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.
Senior Vice President and General Manager Matt Arnold speaks during an an end of season press conference at American Family Field in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. / Mike De Sisti / The Milwaukee Journal

It's going to be a thin starting pitching market at the Trade Deadline this year. There are few healthy options and a ton of teams that need rotation help, the Brewers chief among them. That made GM Matt Arnold's quick strike before the holiday all the more shrewd and important.

In a trade market like this one, you don't want to be the last animal to the watering hole. With so few good options, if you're late, you may not end up getting anything at all. The Brewers, who thrive in the face of adversity as a small market team that can't outbid larger markets and don't like to overextend in dealing prospects, needed to strike quickly and get what they needed before the feeding frenzy began.

They did that on Wednesday morning as the Crew kicked off the starting pitching market by acquiring Rays righty Aaron Civale in exchange for shortstop prospect Gregory Barrios.

Why the Aaron Civale trade is so smart for the Brewers

There are several reasons why this move makes sense to do right now for Milwaukee. The Rays, who are having an uncharacteristic down year and are 11 games back in the AL East, are sellers for the first time in a while. They have a talented team and they operate a lot like the Brewers. Typically, they buy and someone like Civale wouldn't be available.

Civale hasn't had the best 2024, and a large part of that is the regression of his fastball. Per Savant, Civale's fastball run value in 2023 was in the 98th percentile. It was one of the best fastballs in the league. This year, his fastball run value is in the 7th percentile. Something clearly needs to change to get his fastball back to what it was before.

The Brewers have likely identified this issue with the fastball and believe they can correct it. They have shown the ability to do that with several other pitchers. If they do that, the Brewers can avoid the high prices for all the other starting pitchers at the Deadline and wait out for the right deal. They don't necessarily need to make another one if Civale turns things around.

Another key factor in making this move now is that if they aren't able to correct Civale's issues over the next few weeks, they still have the ability to change course and add another starting pitcher. It's like a test Deadline move.

The Brewers also have plenty of time to help Civale turn things around, because he's under team control for next season as well. He has one more year of arbitration to go before free agency.

Being able to make this kind of trade so early, getting a controllable starter for such a modest price is a fantastic chess move by Matt Arnold.

The Brewers only gave up shortstop Gregory Barrios to get Civale. Last year at the Trade Deadline, Civale was sent to Tampa Bay for Kyle Manzardo, who is a Top 100 prospect and is currently ranked the 35th best prospect in all of baseball. For comparison, Tyler Black is ranked 33rd and plays the same position, so that would've been an equivalent price a year ago. Barrios was just the 21st ranked prospect in the Brewers system.

Barrios is having a breakout season as a 20 year old. He's hitting .325 with a .367 OBP and 18 stolen bases. But there are five shortstops ranked ahead of him on the Brewers Top 30, plus there's still Brice Turang and Joey Ortiz at the big league level who can play short once Willy Adames leaves. They can afford to lose Barrios and still be just fine at the shortstop position.

The price dropped so much because Civale has struggled in Tampa Bay. Still, the Brewers believe they can turn him around and why shouldn't they? They have shown the ability time and time again to make some minor adjustments to pitchers they bring in and maximize their results.

Grade: A

This is an "A" trade for the Brewers, with the potential to become an A+ if they're able to fix Civale's fastball and improve his results. His 5.00+ ERA the last year makes things a little concerning but his track record of success before Tampa Bay does lend to optimism that he can bounce back.

For all these other starting pitchers out there, the Brewers might have to give up prospects from their top 10. Names like Cooper Pratt, Yophery Rodriguez, Tyler Black, Brock Wilken, and Luis Lara get thrown around in proposals for these other arms. If the Brewers can hold on to all those players and get the major trade deadline upgrade for the rotation they need in Civale only for the price of Gregory Barrios, Matt Arnold instantly makes himself the frontrunner for Executive of the Year.