In the first substantial trade of the offseason, the Brewers and Blue Jays completed a swap on Saturday that sent Adam Lind to Milwaukee in exchange for Marco Estrada. Though not an earth-shaking move, it’s one that makes sense for both sides, which dealt from strength and shored up areas of weakness.
The 31-year-old Lind, who has been in the Blue Jays organization since being drafted in 2004, hit a sizzling .321/.381/.479 in 2014, with a 141 OPS+ that matched his career best mark, set in 2009. His performance last season stretched across just 318 plate appearances, as he missed three weeks in April and May due to lower back tightness and then five weeks in July and August due to a stress fracture in his right foot. He finished with just six home runs, down from 23 the year before.
Despite those absences, it was Lind's second strong season in a row with the bat, after a dreadful three-year stretch across which he hit just .246/.296/.428. For his career, he's a .273/.327/.466 hitter who has averaged 25 homers per 162 games. He's never played more than 151 games in a season, however, and hasn't reached that level since 2010, due to injuries (lower back woes being a recurring problem) and his weakness against lefties. In 892 career plate appearances against southpaws, he's hit just .212/.257/.331, compared to .293/.349/.510 in 2,834 appearances against righties. His rate stats have improved in recent years in part because the Jays limited his exposure to same-side pitching. He made just 37 PA against them this year, going 2 for 33.
That's not Lind's only limitation. He's a subpar first baseman who has averaged -6 Defensive Runs Saved per 1,200 innings (roughly 135 games), and who was three runs below average in just 47 games there in 2014. His appeal is he provides affordable production. The Blue Jays just picked up his $7.5 million option for 2015, and the Brewers now hold an $8 million option with a $500,000 buyout for his 2016 services as well.
To replace Lind, the Blue Jays could use Edwin Encarnacion at first base. He made a team-high 78 starts there, though he's similarly a defensive liability (-5 DRS this year, -9 per 1,200 innings for his career) who spent most of the last six weeks of the season at designated hitter while Lind played first. The team also plans to take a look at 28-year-old switch-hitter Justin Smoak, who was claimed off waivers from the Mariners during the World Series. A former first-round pick and top prospect, Smoak has been a disappointment for most of his five-year major league career, batting just .224/.309/.380. In 2014, he hit just .202/.275/.339 in 276 plate appearances for Seattle, and made an additional 249 plate appearances at Triple-A Tacoma.
One benefit of Lind joining the Brewers is he gives them a left-handed presence in the lineup. The team's 1,213 plate appearances from lefties was the lowest total in the majors, with Lyle Overbay and Scooter Gennett the only lefties to make more than 150. Limitations and all, Lind represents an upgrade at first base for the Brewers, whose first basemen combined to hit .207/.287/.356 -- all last in the NL -- with 19 homers. RightyMark Reynolds hit 22 homers overall, but batted just .196/.287/.394 (88 OPS+) in 433 plate appearances, while the lefty Overbay hit .233/.328/.333 (85 OPS+) with four homers in 296 plate appearances. The pair combined for 0.4 WAR, thanks to above-average defense (+8 DRS).
For the short half of a platoon with Lind, it's possible the team could retain Reynolds, a free agent who played for just $2 million in 2014. He owns a career line of .231/.351/.458 in 1,199 plate appearances against lefties, but hit just .173.277/.296 in a small sample of 112 plate appearances against them in 2014. Another alternative is Jason Rogers, who turns 27 in March. Rogers hit .296/.365/.489 with 22 homers split between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville before making 10 plate appearances for the Brewers in his first taste of major league action.
As for Estrada, the 31-year-old righty made 18 starts and 21 relief appearances en route to a career-high 150 2/3 innings in 2014, but his 4.36 ERA represented the worst mark of his last four years, as did his 4.88 FIP. His strikeout, walk and home run rates all moved in the wrong directions relative to 2013, when he posted a 3.87 ERA in 21 starts. His strikeout rate fell from 8.3 per nine to 7.6, and he was rocked for an NL-high 29 homers (1.7 per nine). Between Jimmy Nelson and Mike Fiers, the Brewers already have a pair of fifth starter options to join Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza and Wily Peralta, so Estrada didn't figure to get another shot as a starter there.
For all of those gaudy numbers, Estrada pitched much better out of the bullpen (2.89 ERA, 0.4 HR/9, 3.9 K/BB ratio in 43 2/3 innings) than as a starter (4.96 ERA, 2.3 HR/9, 2.6 K/BB ratio). He didn't allow a run or a walk in 16 1/3 September innings, albeit mostly in low-leverage duty. Barring a trade, he won't have a clear shot at such a spot in Toronto, either, given that Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and Drew Hutchison remain on the roster. While Hutchison and Happ had ERAs well above 4.00, top prospect Aaron Sanchez is waiting in the wings, suggesting Estrada may be bullpen bound. He won't cost much. Estrada is entering his third year of arbitration eligibility, having made $3.325 million in 2014. He’ll have to curb that gopher tendency to survive, one way or another. His career mark of 1.4 homers per nine simply won’t play in a division where four of the five ballparks (all but Tropicana Field) tend to favor hitters.
In the end, this deal is no blockbuster, but it makes sense for two teams that spent a good portion of the 2014 season contending before their flaws were fully exposed. The Brewers added some much needed lefty punch at first base, the Blue Jays got a live arm who could help their bullpen, and neither broke the bank to do so.