The Brewers' divisional lead couldn't be any slimmer, and in addition to the pesky Reds, they now face some threat from the onrushing Cubs. To stave off both, they need to complete the work they began by trading for Carlos Santana this week. Their lineup needs further reinforcement, ideally from a right-handed batter who can play some outfield. The trade targets who make the most sense in that vein are Mark Canha, of the Mets, and Brent Rooker, of the Athletics.
Both players are right-handed hitters who mostly play left field. Neither is a strong defensive player. For various reasons, they're likely to have similar price tags in trades. Ultimately, though, they're quite different. Which one makes more sense for the Crew?
Already 34 years old, Canha is in the second season of a two-year, $26.5-million deal he signed with the Mets prior to 2022. He's a well-built, relatively fast player, but he's not the good defender he once was, even in left field. He also doesn't hit for especially good power, particularly given his defensive limitations. That's the bad news.
The good news is plenty good, though. Canha commands the strike zone, and owns a .347 career on-base percentage. His .338 mark this year would be his lowest since 2018, but he's trending up, hitting .260/.367/.400 in July. He doesn't swing and miss very much. He doesn't expand the zone. He hits line drives. Canha could platoon with Sal Frelick in right field when the team is at full strength, but unless and until that state is achieved, he'd be an upgrade over the incumbent options at designated hitter. If they acquired him, the Brewers would also hold a club option on him for 2024, worth $11.5 million (with a $2-million buyout, which they could plausibly get kicked into this deal by the Mets).
Nowhere near the overall athlete Canha can be, Rooker is best confined to DH duties, although he could spell Christian Yelich some in left field without doing too much damage. When he's hitting to his full potential, it doesn't matter where he plays, because his bat is lethal. That's how he ended up on the All-Star team this season. He did go into a long slump in June, and he's been selectively used since, but over the last month, he's batting .302/.371/.585.
Even in that span, Rooker has fanned 23 times in 62 plate appearances. Unlike Canha, he has ample power--some of the best in baseball--but tons of swing-and-miss in his offensive profile, and he draws few walks. He crushes lefties, but often gets eaten up by right-handed hurlers with good sliders.
The exciting thing about Rooker is that he's under team control for the long run. He can't even become arbitration-eligible until the offseason following 2024. He'd be an addition to whom the team could hold on for as much as the next four years, if he discovers greater consistency in his approach under the tutelage of Brewers hitting coaches. Yet, he'd cost little more than Canha, because the league (including the A's themselves) is well aware of his warts and his limitations already.
Rooker feels more like a Brewers move. Though Matt Arnold will surely prove to be different in some ways than David Stearns was, the track record for this front office is that they like to do arbitrage with young, defensively limited hitters in whom they see certain upside. They found Jesus Aguilar, Eric Thames, and Rowdy Tellez. Rooker is the spiritual successor to moves like that one, and to the team bringing in Luke Voit and Darin Ruf earlier this year.
For that very reason, though, one could argue that Canha is the guy for whom to shoot. The Brewers' lineup needs depth at least as much as it needs one-dimensional power. Canha is the one who lengthens a batting order and puts more relentless pressure on the opposing pitching staff. He's the one who could join the baserunning carousel the team likes to run when Brice Turang and/or Joey Wiemer is getting on base. The Brewers need to think like a division leader with a chance to earn one of the byes that exist under the newly expanded playoff format. Canha is the guy who gives them a better chance to cinch a division title and make noise in October.
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