Brewers as Buyers: Milwaukee Reportedly Acquires Swarzak from White Sox

White Sox general manger Rich Hahn isn’t messing around.

And the Brewers are asserting themselves as buyers, at least modest ones.

Chicago is reportedly sending reliever Anthony Swarzak to Milwaukee for Triple-A outfielder Ryan Cordell.

Hahn began an inspired rebuild of the White Sox this winter and was widely applauded for the return he received for stars like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.

He has continued to accept a high-risk, high-reward packages like the one sending Daniel Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier to the Yankees last week for a return headlined by top-50 prospect and 2016 first-round selection Blake Rutherford.

Dave Cameron wrote about the White Sox’ big bets on risk after that deal.

The return for Swarzak is reportedly for Cordell, a 25-year-old, who was the Brewers’ No. 12 preseason prospect according to Eric Longenhagen.

While it probably wouldn’t hurt the White Sox to add some lower-ceiling, higher-floor prospects, Cordell’s five-tool potential gives him more potential than his age suggests.

Wrote Longenhagen prior to the season:

Cordell was old for his level in 2016, a level he was essentially repeating. But the adjustments he’s made are substantive and are encouraging considering the likelihood that he and his long levers will likely need to make more of them down the line. Though none of them project to be especially loud, Cordell is closer to being a five-tool player than many other prospects gilded with such a title. I think he has a chance to be a second-division regular.

Maybe he is just a Quad-A-type fourth outfielder. He has some questions to answer about his home/road splits. But he also has some upside.

Cordell represents a solid return for a rental reliever. And it’s no surprise that the White Sox continue to spin off assets as they commit to a full and complete teardown. Full measures are often preferable to half ones.

That said, the reported deal is perhaps more interesting from the perspective of the Brewers.

After a strong and surprising start to their campaign, the Brewers have struggled mightily early in the second half.

On July 14, the Brewers were 51-41. They led the NL Central and the second-place Cubs by 5.5 games coming out of the All-Star break. On July 18, they were upgraded from a bubble team to buyers in Dave Cameron’s revised buyers-and-sellers post. The Brewers, at that time, enjoyed the greatest boost in FanGraphs’ playoffs odds, jumping from, a 9.3% probability on June 18 to 31% a month later.

Well after a tough week-plus, the Brewers’ playoff odds are back down below 10%.

FanGraphs’ forecasts have the club finishing with an 80-82 mark. The Brewers (53-48) entered Tuesday night tied with the Cubs atop the NL Central. The Brewers have had a tough go of it lately, including being swept in a four-game series last week in Pittsburgh that tightened the division race.

If you buy into the projections, the Brewers’ Cinderella story is running out of fuel. And like so many contenders, the Brewers have not been willing — not yet, at least — to pay the cost for quality starting pitching, turning their focus instead to upgrading a middling bullpen, one which ranks 14th on the season relief-pitching WAR and 15th in baseball over the last 30 days.

If you’re a Brewers team trying to improve, but also wary of sacrificing too much of the future, the bullpen is a smart place to invest.

Swarzak is a short-term investment. A free agent after the season, he can help in high-leverage situations and in the late innings. He’s striking out 28% of batters, has recorded a 21-point K-BB% mark, and produced a 2.34 FIP. He’s a quality bullpen option.

He might not be enough to fend off the Cubs, Pirates, or Cardinals, but he’s an upgrade and he gives the Brewers at least the perception of betting on themselves, even if they’re not quite ready to buy fully into the idea that 2017 is their year.

While the White Sox have long since declared themselves sellers — before the season even began — the Brewers have entered the market as buyers.





A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

That’s a very good return for a solid reliever rental. Cordell cut his strikeouts last year and still has a lot of power, which is the sort of thing that bodes well. He might have a chance to start for the White Sox at some point next year. I like the deal from the White Sox perspective.

From the Brewers’ perspective, they probably thought their 40-man roster was getting too full and figured they would lose him or someone of that quality if they didn’t make a move. It’s just interesting that they’re moving him for a rental instead of trying to include him in a larger deal for a starter (although maybe they did and no one liked him). Even for a rental starter–Cordell has a higher FV than Ynoa who was traded for Jaime Garcia.

I think I would have liked this deal better if they had done it a week ago (before the Pirates sweep knocked them basically into a tie for first). But it does seem like an odd move and I can’t put my finger on why.

Dominikk85
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Dominikk85

Is it really a good return? Relievers have higher rental prices compared to long term assets since they are volatile anyway.

Rental relievers got pretty good returns the last years. He is not elite of course but 25 year old prospects scream quad A player. And while I usually don’t care that much about home road splits it is colorado and we know what that does.

Obviously you get no elite prospect for swarzak but I would have preferred a risky young lotto ticket.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Yeah, that’s a pretty good return. The Angels got Jesus Castillo for Joe Smith, the Angels got David Hernandez for a PTBNL “or cash”, Fernando Abad brought back Pat Light, and Brad Ziegler brought back Luis Basabe and Jose Almonte.

Cordell’s a cut above any of them as a prospect–his problem is mostly K’s, and he’s cut them. I guess you can argue that Swarzak is also better than any of those guys, although Ziegler and Abad were pitching very well before their trades last year. If I was a Sox fan I’d be happy with him.