Did the Milwaukee Brewers Win the Kolten Wong Trade?

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Kolten Wong is a solid Major League Baseball player. While his defense suffered in 2022, it seems that he was having leg issues during the season, and according to Wong those issues should be behind him. But, the budget-conscious Milwaukee Brewers decided to trade Wong in his last arbitration year with the club to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Jesse Winker and infielder Abraham Toro.

On first glance, this seems like a good enough deal for the Mariners. The Brewers are even kicking in $1.75 million to help cover Wong’s guaranteed $10 million salary. The other $8.25 million they are essentially absorbing in Jesse Winker’s salary. Winker dealt with a couple of maladies in 2022, including his left knee and a bulging disc in his neck, both of which required surgery after the season. Apparently, he even fell out of favor in the clubhouse. It was just not a good year for him.

Of course, the Brewers know Winker well, as he terrorized them for years with their division rival Cincinnati Reds. It’s fully possible he rebounds just fine, especially as he can DH in the National League now, too. He looks to be their primary DH against right-handed pitching and he projects to hit .250/.355/.425 with 17 HR in 2023 according to Steamer. That’s good for 1.5 WAR, well worth the $8.25 million he’s owed.

On the flip side, Wong projects much better, 2.4 WAR with a .251/.323/.388 batting line, 12 HR, and 14 SB. While these look like weaker numbers, the positional adjustment at second base makes him much more valuable, even if his defense doesn’t entirely rebound to his previous strong levels. Defensive Runs Saved still didn’t think he was that bad, but StatCast saw him as being worth -7 Runs Above Average after previously marking him as above average.

If this deal was just Winker for Wong and cash, I’d say this was a pretty equal deal. But, to get the Brewers to part with the cash to make the deal money-neutral, the Brewers also got Abraham Toro. I’m a big fan of Toro, and not just because of how well he’s done for me in MLB 22 the Show. He’s had awful batted ball luck in his MLB career so far, with an especially brutal .198 batting average on balls in play in 2022. StatCast agrees that he was exceptionally unlucky with an expected wOBA of .284 rather than his actual wOBA of .246. His batted ball data suggests an expected batting average of .223 and an expected slugging percentage of .372. These aren’t good numbers, but they suggest he’s at least not nearly this terrible.

His minor league numbers, however, suggest that Toro is much more than this. He’s brutalized AAA pitching when he’s gotten the chance, after all. Houston did well to trade him and Joe Smith for Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero. Graveman was solid before moving on, but Montero is now the Astros’ best relief pitcher. It’s not like they didn’t value Toro; the Astros really just didn’t have an obvious place for him. And yet, Toro still has one minor league option remaining, meaning the Brewers can send him back to AAA until they need him.

The great news is that the Brewers control Toro through the 2026 season, so even if Winker is mediocre, they at least got a utility infielder under control for four seasons. He can play either second or third base adequately and provides just enough power potential from either side of the plate as a switch-hitter. The Brewers are still high on infield prospect Brice Turang and they still have Luis Urias, so at the moment Toro is more depth than anything else.

Still, I feel like the Brewers won this trade. This isn’t to say the Mariners made a bad move; Winker was on his way out so Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto did well to get anything for him. Wong makes the Mariners better in 2022. Winker probably does fine in Milwaukee at DH, as they don’t even need him to play much outfield with Christian Yelich, Garrett Mitrchell, and Tyrone Taylor more than capable of playing those spots on a regular basis. The cash for Toro part of the deal, however, seems like a great buy-low opportunity for Milwaukee. You can never have enough depth, especially when you’re a team on a tight budget like the Brewers.

My gut tells me that the Brewers won this trade here. It’s good to see that even with David Stearns stepping back from the GM role than the front office he built up is still doing the usual moving pieces around to get the most WAR for their buck. Great move for new GM Matt Arnold taking advantage of a bad situation in Seattle and letting everyone walk away happy. In 2023, the deal probably looks even, but Toro should be a solid contributor to this ballclub for at least the next two to three years.

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.
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