A year later, the Brewers got everything they wanted from the Willy Adames trade. Rays too.


Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Willy Adames (27) hits a three-run homer in the third inning of their game against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday May 3, 2022 at American Family Field in Milwaukee, Wis.

When fans receive a bobblehead from Willy Adames as they walk through the doors of American Family Field on Sunday, they will be doing so on Adames’ first birthday in his first game for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Saturday marks a full year since the Brewers made a surprising early-season trade to acquire their starting shortstop from the Tampa Bay Rays in a deal that fired highly-rated young pitchers JP Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen .

Teams meet needs via midseason trade all the time, but they rarely acquire starting shortstops with big-league experience in May. Even more interesting is the fact that the deal was made by two competing teams.

“I think the timing of the trade was a shock to everyone,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “That’s what shocks everyone. These are, I think, both teams have demonstrated that they try to be creative in a way that they believe can make their teams better. And don’t get caught up in ‘We’re not supposed to do this, you can’t do this.’

“You have to think differently. It shows that if you want to compete, you have to think differently and solve problems differently.”

With a year of hindsight in our back pocket, let’s take a look back at how the trade unfolded.

Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Willy Adames (27) laughs during a practice session at American Family Field in Milwaukee on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. Photo by Mike De Sisti/The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Willy Adames (27) laughs during a practice session at American Family Field in Milwaukee on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. Photo by Mike De Sisti/The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The return of the brewers

The Brewers came within inches of acquiring Adames late in spring training in 2021, but the deal broke just before the finish line. In mid-May, talks resumed and after about a week an agreement was reached.

Adames got off to a cold start with the Rays in 2021, but the Brewers’ extensive homework on Adames allowed them to be comfortable acquiring a player who was batting just .197 with a .675 OPS.

This belief in Adames paid off immediately.

Last season, Adames batted .285 with a .521 hitting percentage and .886 OPS, a mark 35% above the league average, while hitting 20 homers and driving 58. He collected votes during of the Most Valuable Player ballot, finishing 16th.

Adames is 4.5 wins over substitution in 134 games with the Brewers, according to Fangraphs. At that time, that ranked him seventh among all major league shortstops.

Since arriving in Milwaukee, Adames leads his standing with 29 homers, is second in OPS (.854) and fourth in RBIs (82).

“We knew we were getting a really talented player and we thought we were getting a player who had a really high ceiling and could impact the game in a lot of ways,” Brewers president of baseball operations David said. Stearns. “I don’t know if we recognized the immediate impact it would have on our organization both in terms of performance on the pitch straight away, and what he was able to do in our clubhouse and really become a energetic leader in our clubhouse since the day he showed up.”

Perhaps more importantly, Adames stabilized a position — and a bounty, at that — where Brewers desperately needed help. They had traded former top prospect Orlando Arcia a month prior and Luis Urías had struggled both defensively and offensively at the plate.

“With Willy there are a lot of things, but I think just when you have a shortstop it’s the shortstop. That’s the easiest way to put it,” Counsell said. “He’s the shortstop. This ends the conversation.

Adames was useless for the Rays as he was, at the time, a backup for Wander Franco, the consensus top prospect in all of baseball. Since being called up last summer, Franco has held firm, beating .283/.330/.451 and worth 3.7 WAR.

Also, keep in mind that the deal for the Brewers also included reliever Trevor Richards, who used to acquire starting first baseman Rowdy Tellez less than two months later.

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher JP Feyereisen pitches against the Chicago White Sox in the first inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Sunday, April 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher JP Feyereisen pitches against the Chicago White Sox in the first inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Sunday, April 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Return of the Rays

The Brewers, meanwhile, dealt with depth by dropping Rasmussen and Feyereisen, who both excelled for the Rays.

Feyereisen has posted a 1.64 ERA in 55 innings since the trade, including 18.1 scoreless frames with just three hits allowed this season.

Rasmussen has a 2.40 ERA in 97 ⅔ innings at Tampa, where he was converted as a starter. In his five most recent starts, he has allowed three earned runs in 26 ⅔ innings.

“Drew Rasmussen has become a really strong starter,” Counsell said. “JP obviously throws well too, but it was a trade that met certain needs of both teams. When you do that, you actually have to give up a good player to get a good player.

Rays starting pitcher Drew Rasmussen delivers to the Tigers in the first inning on Wednesday, May 18, 2022 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Rays starting pitcher Drew Rasmussen delivers to the Tigers in the first inning on Wednesday, May 18, 2022 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Brewers had internal conversations about using Rasmussen as a starter, but with a plethora of young arms already filling the starting rotation, that never materialized.

“We were in the mode at that point to have him stretch from a multi-inning reliever perspective, but it doesn’t surprise me that he got picked up for the starting role,” Stearns said. “I think that’s probably where his heart is a bit and he’s done a really good job.”

The Milwaukee brass aren’t at all shocked to see both pitchers succeed. Not only did they have high internal ratings on both players, but the Rays are an organization known for maximizing potential at the major league level.

“We knew we were really giving up two very talented pitchers. It doesn’t surprise us that they’re doing well,” Stearns said. “Tampa is an organization that clearly gets the most out of its people, so we’re happy for these guys. ‘Rass’ and JP are both great people and I’m glad their young careers are off to a good start. really promising.

Overall, the trade turned out to be a rare trade in that it was mutually beneficial. The Brewers acquired their shortstop of the future, while the Rays freed up space for their generational talent and added two arms that have become key parts of a contending team.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Revisiting the Brewers-Rays Willy Adames trade a year later