Padres To Acquire Josh Hader

In a stunning blockbuster, the Padres have agreed to acquire All-Star closer Josh Hader from the Brewers, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN (Twitter link). The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported just minutes ago that the Brewers were closing in on a Hader deal.

The Padres are sending their own closer, Taylor Rogersto Milwaukee back in the deal, Passan further tweet. Milwaukee will also acquire righty Dinelson Lametpitching prospect Robert Gasser and outfield prospect Esteury Ruiz.

It’s a massive get for the Padres, and while it’s a genuine surprise to see Milwaukee move its closer while holding a three-game lead in the National League Central, the reasoning behind the trade is fairly straightforward. Hader’s $11MM salary figures to jump north of $15MM next season in his final year of club control, and a generally budget-conscious Brewers club may not be willing to dedicate $15-17MM to a single reliever when that represents such a notable portion of the overall payroll.

The Brewers, of course, could have held Hader into the winter and made him available at that point, but the allure of landing Hader for multiple postseason pushes undeniably allowed them to seek a higher price right now. To that end, they’re acquiring a high-end closer of their own in Rogers, who — like Hader — has struggled of late but has an excellent track record spanning several seasons. Milwaukee also adds a high-octane arm in Lamet, albeit one that’s been plagued by injuries, and two of the Padres’ top ten prospects in Gasser and Ruiz, which breathes some much-needed life into a farm system that is not viewed as a particularly strong one.

It’s the sort of trade we’re accustomed to seeing smaller-payroll clubs like the Rays and Guardians make with regularity: cash in a coveted player’s trade value when he has multiple seasons of club control and simultaneously backfill that spot on the roster with other big league help. It’s an immediate downgrade on the roster overall, but this type of simultaneous buy-and-sell tightrope act has been one of the keys to Tampa Bay, Cleveland and even Milwaukee itself remaining competitive despite rarely being able to spend top-of-the- market money.

Hader, 28, is sitting on a career-worst 4.24 ERA, though that mark was inflated by an uncharacteristic pair of consecutive meltdowns earlier this month, wherein he was tagged for a staggering nine earned runs in one-third of an inning. Outside that pair of disastrous outings, Hader has a 1.87 ERA in 33 2/3 innings. He didn’t even allow a run this season until June 7 and has punched out a massive 41.8% of his opponents against an 8.5% walk rate.

Dating back to Hader’s 2017 debut, no one in baseball has topped his enormous 44.1% strikeout rate — nor have they come especially close to doing so. (Craig Kimbrel is second at 40.6%.) Hader’s 2.48 ERA in that time is eight-best among 309 qualified relievers, and no one has topped his 19.5% swinging-strike rate.

The name who trails Hader in that massive swinging-strike role — now-former teammate Devin Williams — may have something to do with today’s trade as well. The Brewers surely wouldn’t have been as comfortable moving Hader were it not for Williams’ own breakthrough as one of the sport’s most dominant relief pitchers. Armed with a lethal changeup (nicknamed the “airbender”), Williams ranks fourth in strikeout rate (39.9%), second in swinging-strike rate (18.6%) and second in ERA (1.94) among that same subset of qualified relievers just mentioned with regard to Hader.

There’s certainly an argument to be made that Milwaukee should have simply kept Hader and trotted out that dominant duo throughout the rest of the season and the forthcoming playoff run, but the blend of high-upside, immediate replacements (Rogers, Lamet) and the long -term value of adding a pair of new high-end prospects to the system proved too alluring for president of baseball operations David Stearns, GM Matt Arnold and the rest of the Milwaukee staff.

Turning to that collection of newly acquired talent, the Brewers will surely hope that Rogers can shake off the recent slump that has plagued him over the past two months. Rogers, from 2018-21 with the Twins, wasn’t far behind Hader on the list of the sport’s best left-handed relievers. He worked 197 2/3 frames during that time, pitching to a 2.91 ERA with a 31.2% strikeout rate, a 4.9% walk rate and 50 saves. A torn tendon in his pitching hand cut last season short for Rogers, however, and he was shipped from the Twins to San Diego on the eve of Opening Day.

Rogers took to his new surroundings brilliantly, pitching to a dominating 0.44 ERA with a 23-to-4 K/BB ratio through his first 20 1/3 innings. Since that time, however, he’s been clobbered for an 8.14 ERA in a nearly identical sample of 21 innings. Rogers still has an exceptional 25-to-5 K/BB ratio over that ugly stretch, however, and he’s only allowed one home run along the way. He’s been dogged by a sky-high .429 average on balls in play during this slump, but it’s still hard to overlook a stretch that has seen Rogers surrender runs in 13 of his past 22 appearances.

Still, Rogers’ track record is alluring, and perhaps the Brewers have their own idea about how to the lefty can get back on track. He’s a free agent at season’s end, making Rogers a pure rental — but he’s an ultra-affordable one, as the Twins paid all but $700K of his salary in the aforementioned trade to the Padres.

Lamet, meanwhile, is another huge upside arm on whom the Brewers are buying low. The flamethrowing righty was a Cy Young candidate in the shortened 2020 season but went down with a biceps injury late in the 2020 season and missed a significant portion of the 2021 season due to a series of forearm strains.

Lamet has yielded 13 earned runs in just 12 1/3 Major League innings this season, but he’s been dominant in Triple-A (0.77 ERA in 11 2/3 frames). His fastball, which averaged 97 mph in 2020, is down to an average of 95.3 mph this year. There are obviously plenty of red flags with Lamet, but if he can recapture anything resembling his 2020 form (2.09 ERA, 34.8% strikeout rate, 7.5% walk rate) while coming out of the Milwaukee bullpen, he’d be a formidable addition to the relief corps both this year and next, as he’s arbitration-eligible once more before free agency in the 2023-24 offseason.

More to come.

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