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January 31, 2012

The BP First Take

Tuesday, January 31

by Daniel Rathman

What a difference a year makes? Last offseason, the Brewers traded top prospect Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays for Shaun Marcum. This offseason, the Jays had the opportunity to flip Lawrie to the Mariners for Michael Pineda—and, according to Jeff Blair of The Globe and Mail, they turned it down.

Pineda was later traded to the Yankees in a four-player deal also involving Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, and Jose Campos. But the more interesting fallout here appears to be the change in Lawrie’s value. Marcum is a nice pitcher, to be sure—he was worth 2.9 WARP last season—but he does not have Pineda’s upside, and while Marcum came with just two years of control remaining at the time of the trade, Pineda still has five.

The Brewers’ decision to trade Lawrie was driven partly by a feeling within the organization that a “bad attitude” would prevent him from reaching his sky-high potential. Lawrie silenced many of those critics by hitting .293/.373/.580 in 171 big-league plate appearances as a 21-year-old last year. He also showed improved defense at third base, enough to make scouts who previously projected a move to right field believe that he may stick at the hot corner long-term.

All of that contributed to Lawrie’s newfound status as one of the most untouchable players in the league. Of course, before Brian Cashman turned ninja to pull off the aforementioned deal with the Mariners, most assumed that Pineda was as tethered to Seattle as Lawrie was to Toronto.

Hindsight is 20/20, but after committing $36 million over three years to Aramis Ramirez, it’s easy to wonder if Doug Melvin regrets dealing Lawrie for Marcum. Assuming the change of scenery is not what fueled Lawrie’s improvement, those resources could have been used to improve other parts of the Brewers’ roster. Or, Lawrie could have been used to acquire a controllable pitcher like Pineda, to anchor Milwaukee’s rotation if Zack Greinke leaves in free agency next winter.

In the end, this looks more like a shrewd decision by Alex Anthopoulos to buy low on Lawrie, coming off a 797 OPS campaign in Double-A, than an obvious mistake by Melvin. Marcum’s contributions last season helped the Brewers win their first division title since 1982, though that memorable run now comes at the cost of one of the best young players in the game. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Brett Lawrie

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