The 3 best (and worst) Brewers trades of all time
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By this time next week, Zack Greinke will probably be wearing another team’s uniform. Francisco Rodriguez, George Kottaras, Kameron Loe, Nyjer Morgan, and a host of others might find themselves in new lineups as well. As disappointing as it might be to see such a scenario play out, these types of moves are necessary with Milwaukee now wholly out of the postseason picture and unwilling to let valuable pieces depart this winter without getting anything in return.
Major League Baseball’s July 31 trade deadline grants fans of sub-.500 teams a reason to care again. We strap on our armchair GM caps, speculate wild trade scenarios, and gladly sacrifice what’s left of this season to improve our squad’s chances in the future. But even in the age of advanced scouting and carefully calculated metrics, no trade outcome is guaranteed. More often that not, one party emerges as the trade’s clear “winner” (sometimes years after the fact). Other times, a franchise’s current malaise can be traced back to a single finite moment of mismanagement.
Over the course of Milwaukee’s 42 years, the Brewers have both swindled some teams and given too much for too little. While we wait to see which end of the spectrum Milwaukee’s impending deals wind up, The A.V. Club looks back on some of the best and worst trades in Brewers history.
1. December, 1980: Sixto Lezcano, David Green, Dave LaPoint, and Larry Sorensen to Cardinals for Rollie Fingers, Pete Vuckovich, and Ted Simmons
Since Milwaukee joined the National League in the late ’90s, the Crew has been a consistent victim of St. Louis’ winning ways. Even when Milwaukee finally bested them for its first NL Central crown last season, the Cards exacted revenge in the post season. If any bragging rights can be had by Brewers fans in this rivalry, it’s this 30-year-old transaction.
Lezcano showed flashes of power (102 home runs in seven seasons in Milwaukee), and LaPoint was a serviceable starter. But there’s no denying the haul the Brewers got in return. Together, Fingers (an eventual Hall of Famer who never pitched an inning for St. Louis), Simmons, and Vuckovich combined for three All-Star appearances, two Cy Young awards, and an MVP while wearing Brewers uniforms. Plus, each played a pivotal role in Milwaukee reaching the World Series in 1982—which they lost…to St. Louis. Shit.
2. July, 2008: Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson, and player to be named later (Michael Brantley) to Indians for CC Sabathia
On paper, it cost the Brewers quite a lot to pry CC Sabathia from Cleveland. To land the hefty lefty, the Crew had to surrender a highly touted 1st rounder in Matt LaPorta, and a host of other promising farmhands. Even then, Milwaukee’s sacrifice proved worthwhile, as Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and an astonishing SEVEN complete games in 17 Milwaukee starts (some on only three days rest), en route to the team’s first playoff berth in 26 years. Realizing now how little Cleveland actually got in return—Brantley is decent—makes the trade taste even better now.
3. December, 2003: Richie Sexson, Shane Nance, and player to be named later (Noochie Varner) to Diamondbacks for Lyle Overbay, Craig Counsell, Chris Capuano, Chad Moeller, Jorge De La Rosa, and Junior Spivey
This was the first big move of the Doug Melvin general management era. Considering Milwaukee’s strict payroll constraints and shortage of tradable chips at the time, it’s also one of his craftiest. Though being widely panned initially for costing Milwaukee its best player, the transaction essentially gave the Brewers a core of decent players to fill the team’s many gaps. Oh yeah, and Sexson played just 23 games for Arizona in ’04 before suffering a season-ending injury and signing with Seattle the next season.
December, 2004: Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino to White Sox for Carlos Lee
Lopsided stats aside, this deal was a steal for Milwaukee on the resulting Bob Uecker horse impressions alone.
1. July, 1996: Greg Vaughn and player to be named later (Gerald Porter) to Padres for Bryce Florie, Marc Newfield, and Ron Villone
The events of July 31, 1996 ushered in a sad new epoch of Milwaukee Brewers baseball. To rid the team’s payroll of a portion of Vaughn’s $5M salary (which is, like $6M nowadays!), Milwaukee’s frugal front office took down the Vaughn’s Valley sign in County Stadium and sent its beloved star player packing to San Diego. The heinous booby prize sent back was never-was pitcher Florie, failed prospect Newfield, and Villone, an admittedly okay journeyman reliever. The lean years to follow found Milwaukee losing perennially with a laughable cast, while coming dangerously close to taking the Expos’ place in baseball purgatory.
2. March, 1992: Gary Sheffield and player to be named later (Geoff Kellogg) to Padres for Ricky Bones, Matt Mieske, and Jose Valentin
You can’t fault the 1992 Brewers front office for dealing Sheffield. After all, Shef was at odds with Milwaukee for allegedly rushing him back from injury, then for the team’s apparent racism for putting Billy Spiers ahead of him on the depth chart. Gary responded by intentionally booting and overthrowing balls. He had to go. But a promising young future star should’ve netted the Crew more than a hack hurler, a shit-tacular reserve outfielder, and the respectable Valentin. Sheffield finished his career with nine All-Star selections, five Silver Slugger awards, and 509 homers; whereas Bones’ name appeared on the Mitchell Report, Valentin left Milwaukee as soon as possible, and Mieske…hard to say. Dead?
3. July, 2006: Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz to Rangers for Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, and Julian Cordero
It didn’t really hurt that the out-of-contention ’06 Brewers restocked their roster by ridding itself of Carlos Lee in his walk year. What did hurt was sacrificing then-top prospect and now-star slugger Nelson Cruz to get the deal done. Sure, Francisco Cordero went on to resurrect his career with the Brewers, but a closer and an alopecia-afflicted platoon outfielder who led the league in hat size (Mench) can’t justify losing Cruz before his prime.
December, 2010: Brett Lawrie to Blue Jays for Shaun Marcum
Don’t get us wrong on this one: Marcum pitched very well last season, and was a huge part of the Brewers reaching the NLCS. But he was also a huge part of the team being ousted from it. But the real kicker is the rapid emergence of Lawrie as a highly skilled everyday contributor at the big league level.