This just fires off all kinds of alarm bells for me, regardless of the way it is financially explained away.
First, the report from Ken Rosenthal: “Trading Josh Hader would be precisely that type of counterintuitive move for the Brewers, yet the left-handed reliever is indeed available, according to major-league sources.”
Hader, 25, is one of the most singularly impactful players in all of baseball because of the situations he can be used, the lengths of outings in which he can be used, how frequently he can be used, and how dominant he is. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Brewers are not a playoff team the last two years without him. And he’s under control for four more years at a time when the Brewers are hoping to get their best remaining years from Christian Yelich, who is similarly such a singularly valuable player.
Why on earth would the Brewers move Hader now?
The explanation to which insiders would point, of course, is the fact that Hader wound up qualifying for arbitration early as a Super Two thanks to an unusually early cutoff this year. Like I said at the time, yes, it’s a serious financial change from what the Brewers were likely anticipating: “[Super Two means Hader will] get a substantial salary increase next year over what the Brewers were probably anticipating, *and* it means his earning power through his arbitration years (for of them instead of three) just skyrocketed. A dominating Hader might have previously expected to see, what, $30 to $35 million in his three arb years? Now, he might see upwards of $40 to $50 million. And in 2020, alone, instead of making like $600,000, he could make $7 or $8 million.”
Is that a reason to immediately shop Hader however? Like, assuming the Brewers had supreme confidence that he was going to keep being one of the most valuable players in baseball at a time when they need him, do you really think the arbitration increase, alone, would have them calling teams to let them know he’s available?
What I’m driving at is that if I’m on the other end of any of those conversations and it seems like the Brewers are genuinely willing and interested in making a trade right now, I’m deeeeeeply suspicious of what their internal projections are for Hader going forward. Are they concerned his extremely heavy usage is going to take a toll sooner rather than later? Are they concerned the league is going to figure out his fastball or something? Or are they just playing the odds that a unique guy like Hader has so much value right now that there’s no way he can keep it up before that value drops dramatically?
I’m not at all saying it’s foolish for the Brewers to consider dealing Hader now, regardless of the arbitration stuff. They could get a freaking haul for him, and maybe that’s worth the roll of the dice in losing his performance the next four years (together with deploying the money elsewhere). All I’m saying is that if you’re on the other side of that phone call, you’ve gotta be instantly wary of why exactly a team in the Brewers’ situation is out there talking about trading away such an overwhelmingly valuable player.
As for the Cubs implications here, it all depends mostly on what happens. No, of course they won’t be involved in the trade talks; I mean from a medium-term competitiveness perspective. I think you could extrapolate that this could suggest the Brewers are trending a little down on Hader (i.e., that he can’t duplicate what he’s done the last two years), which would obviously be interesting. But maybe I’m just being a homer.