MILWAUKEE — The Brewers upgraded their catching situation on Monday and, maybe, made some of their fans feel a little bit better about the Josh Hader trade.
In a three-team trade between Oakland, Atlanta and Milwaukee, the Crew managed to flip one of the prospects they picked up from the Padres for Hader — speedy, slap-hitting outfielder Esteury Ruiz — for an All-Star catcher with five years of contractual control in William Contreras, plus two relief pitchers — one of the Major League variety and one a Minor Leaguer.
C Sean Murphy from A’s
C William Contreras from Braves
RHP Joel Payamps from A’s
RHP Justin Yeager from Braves
OF Esteury Ruiz from Brewers (club’s No. 8-ranked prospect)
C Manny Pina from Braves
LHP Kyle Muller from Braves (club’s No. 1-ranked prospect)
RHP Freddy Tarnok from Braves (club’s No. 6-ranked prospect)
RHP Royber Salinas from Braves (club’s No. 18-ranked prospect)
For the Braves and Brewers, the deal represented an improvement behind the plate. Murphy, 28, is a premium defender with three years of control who slashed .250/.332/.426 last season in Oakland with 37 doubles and 18 home runs. At 5.1 fWAR, he was baseball’s third-ranked catcher behind the Phillies’ JT Realmuto (6.5) and Orioles rookie Adley Rutschman (5.3).
For the Brewers, Contreras, 24, the younger brother of Cubs-turned-Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras, is a significant offensive upgrade at catcher after slashing .278/.354/.506 with 20 home runs in 376 plate appearances last season. Like his older brother, he is regarded more for his bat than his defense, but the Brewers have history of developing catchers behind the plate. See their experience with Omar Narváez, who came to Milwaukee three winters ago with an offensive reputation and hit the open market this winter with a defensive rep.
Two factors were particularly critical from the Brewers’ perspective: First, Contreras hits left-handers to the tune of a .934 OPS — the Brewers were 23rd in baseball last season with a .674 OPS against southpaws. Second, Contreras is under contractual control through 2027.
“[He’s] a dynamic bat,” Brewers GM Matt Arnold said. “You guys have seen what he’s done at a very young age. That’s one of the things that really drew us to him; his bat has a chance to be really special.”
“It’s primarily been bat-first, but we also think he has really good ingredients back there,” Arnold said. “One of the things that excites us about this profile is that one, he has the athleticism, and two, we have worked with a number of these catchers in the past and had some really strong success. That’s a credit to our staff. Whether that’s somebody like Manny Piña, Yasmani Grandal, Omar Narváez — guys that came in here with potentially some bat-first type of reputation were able to really improve defensively.”
With Contreras, the Brewers have four catchers on the 40-man roster, all with Major League experience: Contreras, Victor Caratini, Mario Feliciano and Payton Henry. All but Caratini are in their pre-arbitration years and have Minor League options.
The Brewers also added arms in the deal. The 28-year-old Payamps (pronounced joh-EHL PIE-omps) has a 3.35 ERA in 82 combined appearances for four Major League teams — the D-backs, Blue Jays, Royals and A’s — and he is coming off a 3.23 ERA over a career-high 41 games last season. He projects to reach arbitration eligibility following next year.
“He’s a guy we’ve had our eye on for a couple of years,” said Arnold. “When he became available, we thought he was a really good arm that could fit into our mix in the Major Leagues immediately.”
Yeager, who turns 25 on Jan. 20, is a hard thrower with a 3.21 ERA, 16 saves and a .188 opponents’ average in 94 games (all in relief) during his Minor League career. Between the High-A and Double-A levels last year, Yeager struck out 81 batters in 52 1/3 innings and held opponents to a .158 average.
The package represented quite a score considering the Brewers gave up only one player in the trade, and that Ruiz was below several other outfield prospects on Milwaukee’s organizational depth chart. Those others include Major League-ready players like Garrett Mitchell and Sal Frelick, and potentially Joey Wiemer.
“Look, we’re definitely not spiking the football on any trade,” Arnold said. “I think that it’s important to recognize that there are a lot of different ways organizations value their players. For us, it worked out. For Atlanta and Oakland, it worked out. I think that’s a really good thing for everybody.”