For the second time this off-season, the Milwaukee Brewers traded a reserve outfielder out of minor-league options when they sent Keon Broxton to the New York Mets on Saturday for three players, including hard-throwing reliever Bobby Wahl.
In addition to Wahl, 26, who will be given a chance to make the Brewers’ bullpen in spring training, the Brewers acquired two players who began their professional careers in 2018 – right-hander Adam Hill, 21, and infielder Felix Valerio, 18.
In late December, the Brewers traded outfielder Domingo Santana to the Seattle Mariners. Broxton and Santana, who played regularly in the Milwaukee outfield in 2017, spent much of last season in the minors after the Brewers acquired outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain on Jan. 25.
A superior defensive centerfielder, Broxton, 28, appeared in 51 games for the Brewers and accumulated only 89 plate appearances, batting .179 with four home runs, 11 runs batted in and five stolen bases. In three seasons after coming in a trade from Pittsburgh, Broxton batted .222 with 33 homers, 79 RBI, .736 OPS, 49 stolen bases and 291 strikeouts in 699 at-bats.
As a defensive replacement in right field, Broxton secured the final out of the Brewers’ one-game showdown against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field that secured the National League Central crown on Oct. 1.
Broxton and Santana were out of minor-league options, meaning they would have to go through waivers if they didn’t make the Brewers’ roster in the spring. The outfield again is expected to have Ryan Braun in left, Cain in center and Yelich, the 2018 NL most valuable player, in right. Ben Gamel, acquired from Seattle in the Santana trade, figures to be the fourth outfielder.
“Keon was a very important member of this organization for the last three years,” general manager David Stearns said. “He has continued to work hard on improving his game. He’s one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball.
“As we look to our roster next year, we just felt it was going to be challenging, barring as series of injuries, to carry him all year on the roster as an out-of-options player. Once we came to that conclusion, and we had the level of interest we had in him, particularly from the Mets, it made sense to see if a trade made sense.
“Teams are smart, so they looked at our outfield situation and saw we had a couple of out-of-option players who are talented. Teams have been poking around on Keon since the end of the season. We discussed scenarios with different teams and this is the one that finally went over the (finish) line.“
As for his current outfield depth, beyond Braun, Cain, Yelich and Gamel, Stearns said he considers Eric Thames, Hernan Perez, newcomer Cory Spangenberg and potentially Tyler Saladino as having ability the ability to play out there as well. Stearns likes his Class AAA depth as well, with Corey Ray, Tyrone Taylor and Troy Stokes, Jr.
“We’ll be on the lookout to see if something makes sense but given all those names … we are comfortable with the options we have at this point,” Stearns said.
A fifth-round draft pick by Oakland in 2013 out of Ole Miss, Wahl was side-tracked by injuries early in his career but made it to the majors with the A’s in 2017 and had a huge year at the Class AAA level last season. He was traded to the Mets on July 21 in the deal that sent closer Jeurys Familia to playoff-bound Oakland.
In 38 games in Class AAA, Wahl went 4-2 with a 2.20 ERA and 12 saves, allowing only 20 hits in 45 innings while recording 73 strikeouts. He issued 19 walks and held opponents to a .136 batting average.
The Mets called up Wahl in August and he struggled in seven outings, allowing nine hits and six runs in 5⅓ innings (10.13 ERA) with four walks and seven strikeouts. He was ranked No. 28 among New York’s top 30 prospects, and the Brewers will have five years of control of his contract.
As for being traded twice over the last half-year, Wahl said, “It’s definitely interesting. I was with the A’s for about five years or so, now to be traded (twice) is different. But I think it’s a great fit. I’m really excited to have an opportunity with the Brewers, especially how great their bullpen has been. To be included in that mix is an honor.
“To be wanted is a good thing. To be traded to such a great organization and one that made the playoffs last year, they are trending in the right direction.”
The 6-2, 210-pound Wahl throws his fastball in the high 90s, occasionally touching 100 mph. His primary secondary pitch is a power curveball, giving him a similar profile to Brewers reliever Corey Knebel.
“At the end of the day, it’s about attacking (hitters), for me,” Wahl said. “Just going after guys and trusting what I do. Strikeouts are something I’ve been able to do throughout my career. Everyone wants to strike people out but I just try to pitch to my strengths and concentrate on what I do well.”
Wahl had surgery in 2017 for the somewhat rare thoracic outlet syndrome, which pinches nerves and arteries from the neck to the armpit, but said he has been completely healthy since.
“I had a really good rehab and came back stronger than ever,” he said. “I was happy with what I was able to do after coming back from a surgery that’s so rare, and that a lot of guys have some difficulties with. I’ve been pleased with the way I’ve been able to bounce back.”
The Brewers did quite well by incorporating hard-throwing relievers into their well-used bullpen last season, including Josh Hader, Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress, and later Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff.
“This is a pitcher who over the last couple of years has dominated the upper levels of the minor leagues,” Stearns said. “He has yet to get a consistent shot at the major-league level. He’ll come to camp with the ability to compete for a spot in our bullpen.
“Whether it’s immediately out of the gate on opening day or later in the season, we anticipate he is a person who will contribute for us at the major-league level. We feel like our bullpen remains the strength of our team.
“We think we’ve been able to improve on it with the additions of (Alex) Claudio and Wahl. I’m sure there will be further discussions but we are comfortable with the people we have. As we saw last year, the bullpen is a big part of our team, and we anticipate it will going forward.”
Hill was a fourth-round draft pick in 2018 out of the University of South Carolina. He made nine relief appearances at Class A Brooklyn, going 1-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 15⅓ innings.
Valerio played in the Dominican Summer League after signing with the Mets and batted .319 in 67 games, tying for the league lead with 84 hits. Playing second base and third base, he hit three home runs, drove in 22 runs and stole 16 bases.