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  • Should Brewers Be Concerned About Jesse Winker's Character?

    Tim Muma

    In search of a power bat for the middle of their lineup, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired outfielder Jesse Winker from the Seattle Mariners. His left-handed stick should play well at American Family Field, but some reports from the Great Northwest say he might not play nice with teammates.

    Image courtesy of © Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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    From 2017-2021, Jesse Winker posted some terrific numbers with a .385 OBP, .504 SLG, and 129 OPS+. However, he averaged only 83 games played during that stretch, partly due to struggles against left-handed pitching and a handful of injuries. Winker played in 136 contests for the Seattle Mariners in 2022, but his slugging dipped to .344 as he battled through more injuries. Worse, some who covered the club also heard about other issues with Winker.

    Ryan Divish, a Mariners beat reporter for the Seattle Times, has shared harsh criticisms about Winker in recent months on radio shows and his podcast. Divish's critiques don't come based on his own opinion or observations. Instead, "yes, teammates had complaints." Divish expressed several concerns heard around the team, including:

    • "I think by the end of the season, it's what scouts call a tired act. 
    • "I think some teammates were done with him. Tired of putting up with him."
    • "I don't think he puts in the time to be better defensively or have a better arm or any of the work that should be done."
    • "When the season ended, and you could tell there was some discontent among the players, like a disconnect with Jesse. You know you heard grumblings..."

    Hearing these potential issues are often tough to take. First, this could be a simple "bad fit" in a clubhouse. Perhaps Winker's personality clashed with the leaders of the team. It doesn't necessarily mean Winker is a problem everywhere he goes. For example, it didn't seem like there were the same concerns while Winker played for the Cincinnati Reds. That doesn't automatically mean Winker isn't a problem, either.

    Regardless of the specifics behind Winker's troubles in Seattle, it's curious GM Matt Arnold and the Brewers would target a potential clubhouse distraction in a trade. Milwaukee's front office has long expressed interest in creating a strong and cohesive culture among the team. Of course, despite those ideal plans, the 2022 team failed to reach the postseason. Some pointed to the Josh Hader trade as one primary reason for the team's struggles. Not just the loss of their All-Star closer but how many players mentally and emotionally struggled after losing a teammate and friend.

    Perhaps this is why the Brewers are not worrying about keeping the clubhouse "perfect" going forward since it only does so much. One sharp, intelligent baseball mind in the industry said that maybe they felt the Brewers' culture was a bit too fragile, so close that they couldn't handle a break in their bond. Does a team need a few "rough-around-the-edges" types of guys? In the words of former Brooklyn Dodgers' manager Leo Durocher, nice guys finish last.

    As for Winker, he also battled those injuries that ultimately required surgery after the season. The pain and frustration of those issues may have compounded factors. That isn't to excuse a player from putting in work or being a quality teammate; however, that could have also played a role. Conversations surrounding the character, clubhouse culture, and other non-measurables will often beget the question, "Does winning create chemistry, or does the team culture influence higher performance?" 

    It's possible everything is accurate, and Winker is a guy who fractures a team when things aren't going well for him. If he had been able to produce along his career numbers (.288/.388/.496/.885 vs. right-handed pitchers) instead of a sub .700 OPS, it's likely we wouldn't have heard a peep. Just like in the "real world," high performance often allows people to get away with more personality flaws than others.

    The 2023 Brewers may be adjusting their perception to a scale that values a little more talent for slightly less character. You can argue the merits either way. Can you have too many "nice guys" who always get along? Does that clubhouse have too much of a "ho-hum" mentality when the going gets tough?

    All of this could be moot if Milwaukee slips Winker in another trade. Winker will also become a free agent after the 2023 season, so it behooves him to be the best he can be, on and off the field. Many teams have won championships with less-than-perfect teammates. Other clubs swore they rode team chemistry to a title. The 2023 Milwaukee Brewers might be hoping that a little shakeup in the dugout can spark a more inspired brand of ball - or they think Winker will be just fine among their team leaders.

    (I reached out to Winker's agency for a comment but have not heard back)


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    When the trade happened, I saw a few comments about his attitude and wondered how deep it went.  I know nothing of him (except his killing us when he was with the Reds), but I have a tendency to think if all the reports are from his time with Seattle, I'd expect it to be a mis-match and less so a Winker problem. 

    Different teammates, different culture, different city, different fans, different expectations.  Sometimes the new guy doesn't come in and hit it off right away and problems start to fester.  Did he replace a fan/team favorite then underproduce?  

    I can't say I'm too concerned based on what those reports out of Seattle are saying because there was 0% (that I've seen) out of Cincinnati. 

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    Meh, if he produces it will outweigh and douchbaggery. If he sucks then they just cut him. 

    It was his most games ever and his worst season ever. I wouldn't be shocked if he was kind of a douche all season, especially considering he finally started getting paid the big bucks. I would imagine there is a short leash on him if he sucks and is annoying. 

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    I think it was mostly frustration from the injuries combined with lack of production. At the mid-season mark Winker was on good terms with everyone, especially after his role in that brawl with the Angels. He certainly stood up for his teammates in that situation. 

    Winker is not going to take the extra base or lay out to make a diving catch. He looks lazy when he's playing baseball and he doesn't care that he plays the game that way. That's the "character" concern that we're talking about. There are no shortage of baseball players that are hitting specialists, so as long as he hits, it will probably be fine. He looks like he cares when he draws 10 pitch walks. Just keep him in the DH spot and things will be fine. 

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    Struggles breed frustration which breeds discontent. We'll see if going back to a more hitter-friendly park and a clean slate does for Winker.

    And either way, it's a one-year deal and a contract year for him. If he's going to be on his best behavior and perform at his highest level, now is the time.

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    17 hours ago, Axman59 said:

    Since when do the Brewers worry about clubhouse culture?

    In the wake of the Hader deal, I suspect they've at least re-evaluated the importance of not pissing off the clubhouse.

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    To be perfectly honest,.. I didn't understand the Wong trade for Winker and Toro.  Maybe Toro has got something to contribute,.. but Winker didn't look so good last year and he's getting roughly the same money that was due Wong.    What was the benefit,.. What did the Brewers gain ?  A Prayer Winker can hit again ?

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    15 minutes ago, Tony C said:

    To be perfectly honest,.. I didn't understand the Wong trade for Winker and Toro.  Maybe Toro has got something to contribute,.. but Winker didn't look so good last year and he's getting roughly the same money that was due Wong.    What was the benefit,.. What did the Brewers gain ?  A Prayer Winker can hit again ?

    While I'm not a huge fan of the trade for a few reasons, on paper it makes some sense. The Brewers gave up Wong, who is coming off a career high offensive season. In return, they received Jesse Winker, who is coming off a career low offensive season (largely due to injuries and possibly a bad home park). It's a classic buy low situation.

    And on top of that, they also brought in Toro, a cheap utility option with some upside.

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    I think the Brewers got a little lucky with Wong last year, he declined rapidly defensively and had a great offensive year that he can likely never repeat ever again. Upside is higher with Winker, he was a 900 OPS guy before, not sure he will ever get there again but being in the 800 range would be a real boost for this lineup and a huge upgrade over McCutchen.

    I don't doubt Winker had a bad attitude last year being hurt all of the time, I'm sure it was frustrating. However, as a 29 year old upcoming free agent he has a lot to gain by having a good year. Not only would he need bad character, he would also have to be an idiot not to do everything he can to have a successful 2023. I truly believe the Brewers will get the best season Winker will have for the rest of his  career.


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