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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