Brewers Trade Kolten Wong To Mariners For Jesse Winker

The Mariners and Brewers have agreed to a trade that will send a second baseman Colten Wong From Milwaukee to Seattle in exchange for an outfielder Jesse Winker and infielder Abraham Toro, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. ESPN’s Jeff Passan adds that the Brewers are sending about $1.75MM in cash to the Mariners, which effectively makes this a cash-neutral swap. Jon Heyman of the New York Post had reported shortly beforehand that the M’s and Brewers were discussing both Wong and Winker in trade talks (Twitter links).

The 32-year-old Wong is owed a $10MM salary after the Brewers exercised a club option on him following the season. He’ll be a free agent next winter. Winker, meanwhile, is owed $8.25MM in 2023 after inking a two-year deal covering his final arbitration seasons last year. Like Wong, he’s ticketed for a free agency next winter. Toro, on the other hand, is not yet arbitration-eligible and can be controlled for another four seasons.

Wong was a natural target for the Mariners, given their lack of an obvious starter at second base and their desire to add some balance to a lineup that skews a bit right-handed. He’ll give the M’s a steady presence, possibly quite atop the lineup, on the heels of the two best offensive seasons of his career. During his two years as a Brewer, Wong slashed a combined .262/.337/.439 with 29 home runs, 56 doubles, six triples and 29 steals.

With the Brewers, Wong seemingly made a concerted effort to begin elevating the ball with more frequency. His ground-ball rate, which had sat around 47% in St. Louis, dropped to a career-low 41.8% this past season, and Wong made noticeable gains in both his line-drive rate and especially his fly-ball rate as a member of the Brewers. As one would expect, the increased number of balls in the air also increased Wong’s power output. His .177 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) in two years with the Brewers was substantially higher than the .123 mark he carried in parts of eight seasons with the Cardinals.

On the defensive side of the game, however, the 2022 season was a bizarre and borderline night marish one for Wong. Typically one of the game’s best defenders at his position, Wong made a stunning 17 errors — more than he’d totaled in the three prior seasons combined. When his option was picked up, Wong told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak that his legs weren’t fully healthy in 2022, which he felt contributed to his surprising defensive shortcomings (Twitter links). Wong missed time in June with a calf strain that sent him to the injured list, and it’s certainly plausible that his legs cost him some of his typical defensive excellence.

It was a similar tale for Winker in 2022, as injuries weighed down his production in what will now be his lone season as a Mariner. Acquired alongside Eugenio Suarez in a trade that sent pitching prospect Brandon Williamson, outfielder Jake Fraley and righty Justin Dunn to Cincinnati, Winker (perhaps literally) limped through the weakest offensive season of his career before undergoing left knee surgery and a second procedure to address a bulging disc in his neck back in October.

The extent to which those injuries dogged Winker can’t be known for certain, but the former Reds slugger went from one of the game’s best hitters against right-handed pitching to a lackluster .219/.344/.344 batting line with the Mariners in 2022. Winker’s defense was also impacted; he’s never been considered a plus defender in the outfield corners, but he scored career-worst marks in Defensive Runs Saved (-16), Ultimate Zone Rating (-7.2) and Outs Above Average (-10) in the Emerald City.

The decline was swift and fairly stunning. In the two seasons prior to being acquired by the Mariners, Winker was one of the game’s three best hitters against right-handed pitching, trailing only Juan Soto and Bryce Harper in terms of wRC+. He posted a video game-esque .321/.417/.619 batting line in 509 plate appearances against righties in that span, and while his production against fellow lefties was nowhere near that level, he still walked at a 12% clip against them , resulting in a .314 OBP. His .199 average and .338 slugging against lefties were dismal, but at the very least, Winker could get on base at a near-average clip even in disadvantageous platoon matchups.

More to come.

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