PITTSBURGH – Forty-eight hours after announcing the acquisition of pitcher Dinelson Lamet from the San Diego Padres in the Josh Hader trade, the Milwaukee Brewers designated him for assignment in a flurry of roster moves Wednesday afternoon.
“Dinelson has a good arm and was included in the trade to help balance out the deal,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “As subsequent transactions played out, the roster fit became a little tougher. We are hopeful we will be able to keep him in our system.”
Lamet finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting in 2020 but has battled injuries and shaky performance since, pitching to a 5.46 earned run average over 59 ⅓ innings over the last two seasons.
By designating Lamet, 30, for assignment, any other team can claim him and add him to their 40-man roster. If he clears waivers, he may be outrighted by the Brewers to a minor-league roster or released.
While there was no guarantee he would perform at the level the Brewers needed, having allowed 12 earned runs over his last seven innings, the team had spoken in recent days of their belief in the ability for him to be a key piece of the bullpen.
“I think it was important to us to feel like we were stabilizing our bullpen, understanding how big a piece Josh is to that and has been,” Stearns said Monday about Lamet and Taylor Rogers, the other big-league reliever sent to Milwaukee in the trade. “So to be able to bring back two major-league pieces that fit into that group, I think it’s helpful.”
Said Brewers manager Craig Counsell on Tuesday: “This is a guy that’s been elite in this league. He’s gone through a lot of injuries and he’s gone through some struggles. You’re taking a shot at trying to help him a little bit and getting him back there. But I think you ask any hitter and anybody that’s been on the sidelines watching him pitch when he has been good, and it’s the best slider in baseball when he was good.
“We’ve got to work to get there, but obviously there’s a lot of talent there and we are acquiring a player with a lot of talents and kind of see what happens.”
It was on the surface a head-scratching move. Let’s attempt to break down why the Brewers did so as best as possible.
Why Brewers decided to designate Lamet for assignment
Reading between the lines on what Stearns has said publicly – Lamet was included in the deal to “balance” it out – he was likely included from a salary perspective and when the Brewers were faced with a roster crunch, they decided he was the last arm in the bullpen.
Whether the deal was contingent on the Brewers taking back the remaining money left on Lamet’s $4.78 million salary or simply sending cash along with Hader as the Padres attempted to stay under the luxury tax remains unclear. But what is evident is that the framework of the deal without Lamet – Hader for Taylor Rogers, Esteury Ruiz and Robert Gasser – was agreeable to the Brewers to the point where they were comfortable taking on Lamet’s salary.
When the Brewers acquired reliever Matt Bush late Monday night and then targeted Wednesday for pitcher Freddy Peralta’s return, they had to clear two active roster spots and those players had to be pitchers with the team at the 13-pitcher limit. Peter Strzelecki, a reliever with minor-league options, was one spot.
Lamet very recently cleared five years of service time and thus could refuse any minor-league assignment. Had he been under that threshold of service time, Milwaukee simply would have optioned him. Instead, he cleared five years during a brief late-July stint with the Padres after Mackenzie Gore got injured, and the Brewers only options were then to either DFA a pitcher or place one on the injured list.
“Look, we had a difficult choice today,” Counsell said Wednesday. “We have 13 roster spots for pitchers. That made the choice difficult. It ended up being Lamet. We chose to go in another direction.”
By designating him for assignment two days after acquiring him, it can be reasonably gleaned that the Brewers were not exactly committed to him as a future piece of the team when they agreed to the trade, to say the least; teams simply don’t cut ties with players two days after acquiring them for a four-time all-star if the opposite is true.
Had the Brewers sent cash along with Hader instead of absorbing Lamet and his contract, the end result — save for a scenario where Lamet remains in the organization and regains his old form — would have been the same but without the perplexing optics. But as evidenced by the events of the days leading up to the trade deadline, optics are not the top priority for the Brewers front office, whether that’s for better or worse.
It’s reasonable to question why the Brewers would cut a pitcher with the upside of Lamet or why their brass would speak so highly of his potential if this was a possibility all along. That comes down to one’s evaluation of Lamet and how to equate his past performance and potential with recent struggles.
Perhaps, too, Milwaukee could have pushed harder to get a piece they would be more willing to keep on the roster, such as relievers Luis Garcia or Tim Hill, if the Padres were adamant about equalizing salaries.
Either way, the result is Lamet may become the shortest-tenured of Brewers but the one associated with one of the most confusing, complicated transactions in recent memory.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Brewers designate Dinelson Lamet for assignment two days after trade