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  • Is Ryan McMahon the Perfect Trade Fit for the Brewers?

    Matthew Trueblood

    For much of the season, the division-leading Brewers have seemed to most need a right-handed bat. They struggled early against left-handed pitchers and were counting on Jesse Winker eventually figuring things out, so it was a righty bat that seemed vital. At this stage, though, the best trade target the team could pursue might be a left-handed infield stick.

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    According to Baseball Prospectus, it's right-handed pitching against whom the Brewers have actually struggled worse this season, when adjusting for park, opponent quality, and other factors. They're 21st in MLB in Deserved Runs Created (DRC+) against southpaws this year, but a truly miserable 28th against righties. That implies that the best possible boost for the lineup might be a left-handed hitter. With Brian Anderson sidelined indefinitely by a lower back strain, could the Rockies' Ryan McMahon be the perfect fit?

    It seems like a match made in heaven. McMahon, 28, is not having a dominant season, but he's a reliable, versatile weapon, and there might be upside aplenty left in him, even in his late 20s;. He's a left-handed batter with a batting line of .267/.361/.490 against right-handed pitchers in 2023. He's a plus defender at third base and a fine one at second, and he's under contract through 2027, thanks to an extensions he signed with the Rockies last March. 

    Though he's not putting up elite power numbers, McMahon has the contact profile of someone who can. He hits the ball hard more often than most batters, as a percentage of his batted balls. He's increased his Barrel rate to a career high in 2023, according to Statcast. He uses the whole field, and he's drawing walks at a clip north of 11 percent, an impressive figure and a career best.

    The big wart on McMahon this year is his strikeout rate, which stands at a concerning 31.6 percent. That's considerably worse than he's had in his previous full seasons, and it's eating into the upside of his offensive skills. In particular, he's whiffing more on pitches in the strike zone this year, which is never a recipe for success.

    chart (8).jpeg

    Whiffing on fastballs can be especially worrisome, but McMahon's bat isn't slowing down. He's dealing with an approach issue, rather than a mechanical or physical one. He's a better hitter when he forces opponents to throw him strikes over the inner part of the plate, and it's usually something he does quite well. This year, though, he's expanding his hitting zone a bit more often, and swinging at pitches that he can't handle well as a result. Here's his swing rate by pitch location, with 2022 on the left and 2023 on the right.

    chart (9).pngchart (10).png

    Within that, he's also not making as much contact on pitches on the outer third, because he's being too aggressive and trying to pull the ball too much.

    chart (8).pngchart (7).png

    Even amid those struggles, though, McMahon has been productive. The Brewers specialize in helping hitters smooth out approach problems. It's a big reason why Luis Urias, Willy Adames, and Rowdy Tellez each unlocked their potential upon arriving in Milwaukee. Landing McMahon would give the team both flexibility and stability, because he can hit enough to be in the heart of the order and would sustain the Brewers' excellent defense whether they use him at second base or at the hot corner. In the short term, the obvious move is to keep him at third, but if they acquired him, the Crew could move him to second next year to accommodate the arrival of Tyler Black.

    That assumes, of course, that Black wouldn't be involved in a trade for McMahon. He might be. This is the kind of move that would require the Brewers to pay a handsome price. It wouldn't involve Jackson Chourio or Sal Frelick, but the Rockies would want to at least discuss deals involving any of the Crew's other top prospects. Brice Turang or Garrett Mitchell could be in play. Conceptually, all of that is ok. McMahon would be a long-term solution at a locked-in, affordable price. He'd probably further blossom upon escaping the Rockies, despite the loss of the advantage of playing half one's home games at Coors Field.

    It's hard to justify paying high prices for rental players this year, because the Brewers are in a delicate place in the progress of their franchise. They still face the looming free agency of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Adames. They want to win this year, and to put together a team that looks more like the juggernauts in Atlanta and Los Angeles, but they also want to keep their next core and the objective of competing on a perennial basis in mind. Bringing in McMahon would be a creative way to kill both of those birds with one stone.

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    1 hour ago, sveumrules said:

    No thanks on McMahon, he just doesn’t hit enough for this team’s needs, a career high 98 wRC+ so far this year and a 90 wRC+ over 2,550 career PAs.

    I know this sounds naive or backward, but I’m a big believer that with certain guys, wRC+ just doesn’t fairly handle Coors. I don’t think McMahon needs Coors. I actually think the shuttling to and from elevation hurts him more than the thin air at home helps. That’s not to mention the deleterious effect of the Rockies’ terrible coaching and development infrastructures. I evaluate him as an above-average bat, with the right adjustments, and I know there are folks within baseball who feel similarly. The Brewers would have to do so to make this move, though, and I don’t know whether they do.

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    I like McMahon alot, I really thought when he was a prospect and young player he would be a .300 hitter (his k rate is probably a big reason). I feel like he is a better version of Brain Anderson. If the price isn't to steep I would jump at it. I would mind Gasser, Urias, and a throw in for McMahon. The Rockies get a desperately needed mlb ready pitcher and upside bat in need of a new place. We get a solid 3B/2B/1B capable of consistent batting. I also agree that he could strangely be a better hitter away from Coors. His home/away splits are similar this year, but better at Coors.

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    McMahon is definitely high on my list. He’s not a star with the bat like Arenado was/is, but he plays GG defense at 3B and is an upgrade over pretty much every other hitter in our lineup save for Yelich and Contreras.

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    Has there been any scuttlebutt about McMahon being available? Not sure why Colorado would look to deal him, unless you offer a starter they really, really like. I wouldn't feel comfortable including Gasser, but feel that might be what it takes. He DOES fit the roster pretty well, although I hate the K rate.

    At the end of the day, what I suspect it would take to pry him loose is probably too rich for my blood.

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    Didn't he just sign a 6-year extension last year? I don't see the Brewers committing to someone long-term and would have to pay extra. I do think COL is a good trade partner and has other rentals who will be FAs after the year who won't cost a high prospect at all unless multiple players involved. Cron at 1b/dh; Grichuk, even Profar for bats and Suter reunion paired with it and still maybe a JGJ and maybe Avino get it done probably. 

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