Acquired RHP Tayler Scott from Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for RHP Jeremy Jeffress. [7/31]
Originally drafted in the fifth round by the Cubs in 2011, the South American-born Scott wound up playing independent ball following his release and then signed with the Brewers last year. Scott flashes a bat-missing slider, and sits in the low 90s with his fastball. He has trouble finding the strike zone, though, walking 35 batters in 62 innings at Double-A this season to take some of the shine off a 2.34 ERA and 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. —Craig Goldstein
Acquired C-R Jonathan Lucroy from Texas Rangers in exchange for a player to be named later. [7/30]
Last year at the trade deadline, Lucroy was the marquee name on display. The Brewers flipped him to the Indians for an impressive platter of prospects and then, when Lucroy nixed the deal via his no-trade clause, Milwaukee turned around and sent him to Texas for an even more impressive platter of prospects. This year, Lucroy was barely a July cameo. A year after giving up Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Ryan Cordell for him, the Rangers unceremoniously shipped Lucroy to the Rockies in exchange for a player to be named later. Life comes at you fast.
It's inexplicable for a ballplayer’s value to fall quite so far in just one calendar year, as Lucroy has been truly awful in every way imaginable this season. His slash line of .242/.297/.338 is a career worst in all three categories, as is his .219 True Average. His .096 isolated power is dwarfed by his backup, Robinson Chirinos, as well as all three catchers who have seen time for Milwaukee this season. Behind the plate, Lucroy’s once-revered pitch-framing ability has completely left him—he grades out dead last among MLB catchers in CSAA and Framing Runs. Reports leaked that the decision had been made internally to trade Lucroy for whatever they could get with free agency around the corner.
Enter the Rockies. BP's playoff odds have them at 81 percent despite the division title being a lost cause, but the catcher position has been a question mark for them all season. This was supposed to be the year that Tom Murphy finally took over the job and ran with it, but an injury sidelined him early and when he did return in June he went 1-for-30 before a demotion to Triple-A. Tony Wolters has been the primary backstop for Colorado in his stead, with sub-replacement-level numbers. In fact, all four catchers Colorado has used this season—Murphy, Wolters, Dustin Garneau, and Ryan Hanigan—have each provided negative value.
Lucroy, of course, has also provided negative value, but this move is about Colorado combining an old economics truism (you always want to buy low) with an old sabermetric truism (once you display a skill, you own it). Less than two months past his 31st birthday, it’s hard to believe that Lucroy has lost his groove for good. The Rockies are gambling that a change of scenery—plus the regenerative effects of Coors Field—is enough to shake him out of whatever funk caused him to forget how to hit and catch in Texas. If the gamble pays off, Lucroy is a player who has been worth 5.0 WARP or more in five of his seven previous seasons as a pro. He might, in fact, arrive in Colorado so done that the giant fork in his back sets off the metal detectors at the airport. But if that’s the case, two things still hold: he cost nothing of real value to acquire, and it’s highly unlikely that he’s any worse than the incumbent options. —Colin Anderle
Acquired RHP Jeremy Jeffress from Texas Rangers in exchange for RHP Tayler Scott. [7/31]
I remember the day Jeffress signed with the Brewers after the 2006 draft. I was driving around town listening to the Brewers Radio Network, and 2006 was the first draft I’d ever followed as a baseball fan. This made Jeffress my first and favorite first-rounder. So from this vantage point, I’ve been dreaming big on Jeffress for more than a decade, thinking about that prep arm who touted his desire to deliver the ball straight over the top and play as an aggressive competitor unafraid to come after batters. When that starting role evaporated, there was always a sense that Jeffress could play that profile into an impact reliever. So here we are again.
This is my journey with Jeffress, as the Brewers acquire the righty once more, after first trading him to acquire Zack Greinke (prior to 2011) and then trading him again last year (along with Jonathan Lucroy) to acquire Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Ryan Cordell. Jeffress is the human element of the game I love so dearly: redemption after tough times, a real life look into the process of overcoming adversity, and an indicator of the significance of support networks. Adam McCalvy of MLB.com gave credit to director of psychological services Matt Krug as one reason Milwaukee reacquired Jeffress, a (once again rare) glimpse into how a baseball operations department can also function in areas of support and personal development within an elite profession.
Talk of exploiting market inefficiencies is often en vogue when judging front offices, but such talk looks crass when the game is viewed through the lens of caring for the players thrust into absurdly high pressure and public careers. He struggled in Texas, as did his trade-mate Lucroy, but the Brewers are promised two more years of team control should Jeffress right ship with his big sinker/curveball approach. Considering that Jeffress burst back onto the scene with a 3.41 DRA in Milwaukee’s 2015 bullpen, and returned with a 3.34 DRA before being traded in 2016, flashing 60 percent ground-ball rates, it’s easy to be excited about seeing Jeffress in Brewers blue once again.
Given that fans are already touting the minimal transaction cost for Jeffress this time around, this move will actually be underrated as both a “win-now” remedy to shore up a bullpen taxed by nearly constant high-leverage situations, and a potential move to strengthen (hopefully) contending pens in 2018 and 2019. This time, the zen feeling that Jeffress is where he needs to be aligns with the reality that the Brewers are indeed contending, a categorical feel-good trade in an industry that can justify ice cold marginal transactional analysis. —Nicholas Zettel