Because Jerry Dipoto hates sleep, it appears there is finally a landing spot for an Omar Narvaez trade, and that spot is the catching-starved and apparently impecunious Milwaukee Brewers:
The #Brewers have found their primary replacement for Yasmani Grandal. They are close to acquiring catcher Omar Narváez from the #Mariners, a source tells The Athletic. M’s would receive at least one minor leaguer in return.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 5, 2019
The Brewers lost the Yasmani Grandal sweepstakes to the White Sox, who outbid the Brew Crew for the services of the best free agent catcher on the market. With catchers flying off the board, we identified the win-now Brewers as an ideal landing spot in a Narváez trade, second only in ideal homes to the Rockies, where the launch-angle-happy Narv would have been able to lift moonshots into the rarefied air of Coors. As such, he’ll have to settle for Miller Park and hopefully knocking Bernie Brewer off his giant home run slide.
We have documented Narváez’s defensive shortcomings extensively, but for any Brewers fans reading this (hi! hello!) who want the quick-and-dirty gist: Narv, to put it bluntly, sucks at framing, especially at the bottom of the zone. Baseball Prospectus nails him for over -8 framing runs, ninth-worst among all 100+ catchers, although the trouble doesn’t end there: he’s also fourth-worst in blocking runs. and third-worst at throwing out would-be base stealers. He is simply not a good defensive catcher, as many improvements as he’s made and (hopefully) has yet to make with the right coaching and development. What Narv will bring his new team is a big, booming bat and the ability to get on base; it was always a pleasure to watch Omar take an at-bat in a big spot, knowing the odds were better than not that he was about to do something good, even if that was as small as taking a walk to set up the next hitter. I personally will miss watching him wear out opposing pitchers to the point of frustration as he took or fouled off pitch after pitch with a Buddha-like serenity, waiting for the just-right one.
On to the return, then. No names have been floated as yet but it’s worth remembering that: one, for all his hit, Narváez is no field (negative field); and two, Milwaukee is battling Boston for the title of worst system in baseball. Put your Bryce Turang dreams away, even if father Brian was a one-time Seattle Mariner, as he is the only prospect in the Brewers’ org who is Top-100 adjacent; he’s currently valued at a 50 by FanGraphs. C Mario Feliciano and Ethan Small, one of my favorite pitchers from the 2019 draft, are likely no-gos as well.
Here’s an indication of how thin Milwaukee’s farm is: FG’s third-best prospect is RHP Zack Brown, who was just left off the 40-man roster. Brown is a solid option to come back in a Narváez trade, as many fans were nonplussed by Milwaukee leaving the former MiLB Pitcher of the Year off the 40, leaving Brown to be one of the most buzzed-about options in the upcoming Rule 5 draft.
Brown would necessitate the Mariners opening a 40-man spot immediately, though, so they might be content to allow him to enter the Rule 5 and instead choose a lower-level player or two who wouldn’t require a 40-man spot (this also potentially disqualifies frustrating but talented 3B prospect Lucas Erceg, also recently left unprotected for the draft). If the Mariners want to go catcher for catcher, Payton Henry is an interesting option as a bat-first catcher coming into his own defensively. Former UW standout C Nick Kahle is also in the Brewers system. Elegant CF Joe Gray, one of my favorite prep prospects from the 2018 draft, is also here.
Really, though, this system is reliever city. I have a soft spot for OSU’s Drew Rasmussen, who has struggled with injuries but has a clean bill of health now and is throwing hard again; Short King Clayton Andrews, who I saw pitch in the AFL and was lights-out every time I saw him; and 2017 IFA sign Lun Zhao, one of just three Chinese players in US baseball, who has a nasty curve. This system is weak enough that the Mariners might be able to snatch a couple of relievers, maybe one Top 30 and one not. We will keep an eye on any and all developments as they happen and report back.
UPDATE - 7:25 AM PT ~ John
Per source, Mariners have trade in place that would send C Omar Narvaez to Milwaukee for RH pitcher Adam Hill, a 22-year-old who is Brewers' No. 24 prospect by MLB Pipeline, as well as a comp draft pick. @Ken_Rosenthal first reported a deal was in the works.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) December 5, 2019
Sources: Brewers closing in on a deal to acquire Omar Narváez from the Mariners in exchange for pitcher Adam Hill and comp. draft pick No. 71.— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) December 5, 2019
The deal is a creative one, because why would it be straightforward. Assuming no alterations, the Mariners will send Narváez (entering his first year of arbitration in 2020) to the Brewers in exchange for 22 year-old RHP Adam Hill, as well as a competitive balance pick that is the 71st overall in the 2020 draft. The 71st pick in the 2019 draft came with an $884,200 slot value, $70k more than the 76th pick, which Seattle had that year. Since Seattle doesn’t receive competitive balance picks, Jerry Dipoto has clearly prioritized adding them in trades during the step-back to both add extra selections and increase the team’s spending power at the top of their draft. The 2020 draft projects to be one of the deepest in recent memory, so for the long-term strength of the organization getting extra picks is an obvious positive.
Still, half of the return being a 2020 pick means there’s only one player who will immediately have a role in balancing out Narváez’s absence. Adam Hill was a 4th round pick by the Mets in the same 2018 draft that brought them Jarred Kelenic (once again, thank u Mets), but he was dealt to Milwaukee, along with two other prospects, for then-future Mariners waiver claim Keon Broxton. I cannot fully explain the Id of Brodie Van Wagenen but the Brewers were happy to take a few prospects for him. He ranked as the 24th prospect by MLB Pipeline, 15th by FanGraphs, 21st by Baseball America, and reportedly would’ve been in the top-20 for Baseball Prospectus’ post-2019 update. Milwaukee’s system is one of the league’s thinnest, however, so those rankings are not necessarily glowing endorsements.
Hill hails from the University of South Carolina, where the 6’6 righty had inconsistent performance. Despite his height, his arm slot is somewhat of a low-3/4ths angle that can let his slider and changeup get solid movement. His fastball, per FanGraphs, has been 90-94, topping at 96, and clearly shares some sink and good running action with his changeup.
Baseball America noted he was a potential 1st round talent before losing his command. At the moment he’s mostly a fastball-slider type, and though the changeup has come along, the command is ultimately the biggest limiting factor. In the clip above, you can see the lanky righty struggle to consistently match release points from pitch to pitch, and he’s run a double-digit walk rate as a pro. A 3.92/4.51/5.40 ERA/FIP/DRA in 121.2 IP at Single-A with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers last year screams neither disaster nor delight. The recipe to realizing the 1st round talent is simple to say and very difficult to actualize - can the Mariners help Hill find his command?
At first blush, this feels okay, but a bit unsatisfying as a return. Hill doesn’t demand a 40-man spot (he’ll be Rule-5 eligible in 2021), and neither does the draft pick, so Seattle will be at 38 players there heading into the Winter Meetings with the Rule-5 Draft next week. Seattle is gambling that Tom Murphy and Austin Nola can build on last year’s success and that Cal Raleigh can do the same. Narváez has caught more games at the MLB level than Nola has in his entire career, at all levels, so it’s no small risk considering the swath of young pitchers coming up. Then again, it cannot be overstated that Narváez was likely the worst full-time defensive catcher in MLB, and MLB still includes Wilson Ramos. Getting the option to select exactly the player you want in the draft - not to mention spread the money from the slot value around the rest of the picks - is fabulous, but it is a delayed gratification that feels a bit unsatisfying as the de facto centerpiece of a deal for a good MLB player. Craig Edwards of FanGraphs wrote extensively before the 2019 season on the way draft picks should be/are valued, and by his measurements, the 71st pick would be around $3.7 million in “value”, but that manifests in a player or players more than half a year from making their professional debut. Hill will need to be a developmental success, or else any return on this deal may not arrive until mid-way through the next decade.