For baseball teams in the middle of a rebuild, the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is perhaps the most anticipated day of the baseball season. Thousands of rumors have been swirling for weeks all across baseball regarding what players teams were showing interest in acquiring,  and what young and promising prospects they were willing to give up in return. Over the past two seasons, the July 31st trade deadline has been incredibly successful for the Milwaukee Brewers, who made buzzer beater deals to acquire the likes of Zach Davies, Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana, Josh Hader, and Lewis Brinson, among other notable prospects currently in their minor league system. “Dealin'” David Stearns and former GM Doug Melvin deserve a lot of credit for the transactions they orchestrated the past two years- they’ve setup the Brewers for future success.

Obviously, this year’s deadline was a bit more complicated. Nobody expected the Brewers to compete this year. Certainly nobody expected them to have a 5.5 game lead in the NL Central midway through the month of July. And despite the grueling amount of work it took the Brewers to build such a sizable lead in the division, perhaps the biggest surprise of them all was how quickly that lead was erased. The Cubs are surging, the Brewers can’t seem to buy a win, and at 55-52 and 2.5 games behind their rivals to the South, David Stearns was dealt a tough hand. Do you continue to rebuild for the future, or do you sell some of your top ranked minor league players for a shot at the playoffs this year? Which Brewers team is the real one – the resilient group that seemed to bounce back from every low blow they took from April – July, or the downtrodden deer-in-headlights bunch that seems to have forgotten how to win?

Here’s how it all played out:

The deals:

July 13th: Brewers acquire left-handed reliever Tyler Webb from the Yankees in exchange for 1B prospect Garrett Cooper.

July 26th: Brewers acquire right-handed reliever Anthony Swarzak from the White Sox in exchange for infield/outfield prospect Ryan Cordell.

July 31st: Brewers acquire right-handed reliever Jeremy Jeffress from the Rangers in exchange for right handed pitching prospect Tayler Scott.

A couple of things to note. First, all three deals were 1:1 moves made with the goal of improving the weakest part of this Brewers team: the bullpen. All three deals involved prospects that were not on the 40-man roster, and none of the players dealt were in the Brewers top 30 prospects to start the season.

On the Swarzak trade:

This was the only player David Stearns acquired prior to the deadline who is a free agent after this season. He’s also the player with the highest potential to impact this year. Given how log jammed the Brewers are at the AAA level with outfielders, dealing Cordell doesn’t hurt as bad when you’ve got Brett Phillips, Lewis Brinson, and Corey Ray in your top 10. The only downfall is that the Brewers won’t have Cordell available to trade, say, at next years deadline. You could say that about any trade, though, so it’s a pretty low risk move in my opinion.

On the Jeffress trade:

The first comments I started to read on this deal were complaints from Brewers fans regarding Jeffress’ off the field troubles. He’s had a tough go of it in Texas, posting a career worst 5.83 ERA this year, and getting a DUI last August a mere month into his time with the Rangers. That said, I actually really really like this move, given how little it took for the Brewers to bring Jeffress back.

Both Craig Counsell and David Stearns are big clubhouse guys. Both know the type of player, and almost more importantly, the type of person Jeremy Jeffress is. If Jeffress was anything close to the “clubhouse cancer” he’s being accused by many fans to be today, there’s no chance Stearns brings him back. This is a GM who sees the opportunity to bring back a guy with a ton of talent to an environment where he’s fit in comfortably before.

What it means long term:

Love him or hate him for it, but David Stearns stayed true to his word and refused to mortgage the future in the interest of short term success. Stearns was (reportedly) in talks with the teams involved in every major transaction that took place, but refused to send away his highly coveted top ranked prospects. This means that Brewers fans can continue to look forward to watching Lewis Brinson, Josh Hader, and Brett Phillips develop into the stars that Stearns, and apparently plenty of other GMs in baseball, believe they can become. Being a baseball fan is a lifelong commitment; Stearn’s refusal to bend at the deadline keeps the Brewers on pace for their rebuild, with the goal of long term success that pays dividends in the form of multiple playoff appearances spanning multiple years.

What it means short term:

For most Brewers fans, myself included, this rough stretch of games has put a serious damper on our once highly optimistic outlook on 2017. Just two weeks ago, the Brewers owned a 5.5 game lead in the NL Central. Now- they’re 2.5 games behind a Cubs team that looks like it might never lose again.

I know this team has been down on their luck, but I’m going to encourage the loyal readers of the Curd to look on the bright side. Had you told me on Opening Day that this team would be 2.5 games out of first place at the trade deadline, with all of their top prospects intact, I would’ve taken that in a heart beat. It may not feel like it right now, but a 2.5 game lead can disappear just as quickly as it arrived, especially given the fact that the Brewers and the Cubs have seven more games against one another before the end of the season.

It’s not like Stearns sat still and did nothing, either. The three moves he made were done so in an attempt to bolster what has been one of the worst bullpens in all of baseball, and I have every reason to believe it’s going to help. The starting pitching has been very good, and once Chase Anderson returns to the rotation in mid to late August, it may become one of the better rotations in the NL. The bullpen, while still shaky, is much better than it was just a month ago. But it hasn’t been the pitching that has cost the Brewers games over the past 10 days, it’s been the bats, who have gone radio silent with runners in scoring position. The Brewers are in the midst of a franchise worst 0-31 streak with RISP since last Tuesday. They got outscored 9-15 in the Pirates series and lost all four games. They were outscored by just three total runs in the two games they lost to the Cubs. The strength of this team all year has been their ability to score runs in bunches. You have to believe the bats are going to bust out of this slump.

Call me an optimist, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel on 2017, and I don’t think David Stearns is either. I’m impressed with the self-control he exhibited at the break- while Sonny Gray was the big name everyone was talking about, it wasn’t worth trading our top prospect for a mediocre starting pitcher who was only valuable because it was a down year for tradeable staring pitching talent. I think Stearns has given this team every reason to keep fighting for October, and I think we have every reason to believe that they could turn things around. Now that the pressure of “will he or won’t he make a move” is off, this clubhouse can try to regain their mojo and start trying to win games again.

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