Yasmani Grandal’s stay in Milwaukee might be brief, but the Brewers are trying to make the most of it.
The Brewers’ biggest addition of the winter, Grandal is in camp on a one-year, $18.25 million contract and will be one of the primary stories in camp as he works to settle in with a new organization and learn a new pitching staff. The Brewers’ marketing team is already making the most of the signing: They had scheduled a Grandal bobblehead day for August before he ever appeared in a game for the franchise.
A year from now, however, Grandal might be the big new acquisition in someone else’s camp. Unless the two sides agree to an extension or both agree to exercise his $16 million mutual option for 2020, Grandal’s stay in Milwaukee will be relatively brief.
Grandal is not, of course, the first star player to make a brief stop in Milwaukee as part of a long MLB career. Whether a free agent signing or the result of a trade, here are some of the best players to make a one-year cameo with the organization.
CC Sabathia, 2008
Of course, no list like this would be complete without retelling the legend of Sabathia’s 2008 stretch run. He was in his age 27 season, but he was already a three-time All-Star and the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner when the Brewers acquired him from Cleveland for four players in early July. It’s hard to imagine the trade working out much better for the Brewers in the short run, as Sabathia posted a 1.65 ERA over 130 2/3 innings in Milwaukee, including multiple appearances on short rest.
Despite joining the Brewers three months into the season, Sabathia was worth 4.9 Wins Above Replacement for his time in Milwaukee, which is the 13th best season by any pitcher in franchise history.
The Brewers were unable to re-sign Sabathia following the season and he left for New York, where the Yankees paid him $161 million over seven years. He’s been there ever since, and recently announced plans to retire following the 2019 season.
Willie Randolph, 1991
Randolph was already a 16-year big leaguer, six-time All-Star, and had a World Series ring from the 1977 Yankees when he became a free agent after the 1990 season. He could easily have decided to hang up the spikes and move on to his next adventure. Instead, he signed a one-year, $500,000 contract with the Brewers and had one of the best years of his career.
Randolph had always been a good hitter despite limited power (he never had more than seven homers), but with Milwaukee, he was better at it than he had been in years. His .327 batting average was the best mark of his career and he posted a .424 on-base percentage, collecting 75 walks in 512 plate appearances. On a team featuring Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Greg Vaughn, and B.J. Surhoff, Randolph was one of the most valuable performers.
Following the 1991 season, Randolph became a free agent again and signed with the Mets. He played 90 games in New York in his age 37 season before calling it a career.
Jim Lonborg, 1972
Lonborg was part of a pair of the kind of trades rarely seen in baseball anymore: He was 29 years old and a former Cy Young Award winner when the Red Sox sent him to Milwaukee as part of a 10-player deal in October of 1971 that also included George Scott and Tommy Harper, among others. At the time of the deal, Lonborg hadn’t pitched a full MLB season in four years, having been limited since suffering a knee injury while skiing following his 1967 career year, and a shoulder injury the following spring.
Boston’s decision to give up on Lonborg was the Brewers’ gain, as he was able to pitch 200 innings in 1972 for the first time in five years and he posted a 2.83 ERA, the best mark of his career. He and Scott were two of the rare highlights on a team that went 65-91, posting 90 losses for the fourth consecutive season.
The Brewers put Lonborg into another big trade that fall, sending him to Philadelphia as part of a seven-player deal that brought Don Money to Milwaukee. Lonborg pitched his final seven seasons in Philadelphia and experienced some success, but never matched his early career promise.
Jim Sundberg, 1984
One of the best defensive catchers of his era, Sundberg won six consecutive American League Gold Gloves during his 10-year run in Texas from 1974-83. He was coming off a down year offensively in 1983, however, when he batted just .201 and slugged .254, and the Rangers traded him to the Brewers in exchange for Ned Yost and a minor leaguer.
Sundberg re-emerged as one of the game’s premier catchers after moving from Arlington to Milwaukee. He earned his third and final All-Star appearance as a 1984 Brewer, and his on-base plus slugging rebounded by 205 points from his rough 1983 campaign. He caught 109 games for the Brewers and continued to be an elite defender, leading all big leaguers by throwing out 50 percent of would-be basestealers.
Following his bounce-back year, the Brewers included Sundberg in a four-team trade that sent him to Kansas City and brought young pitcher Danny Darwin to Milwaukee. Sundberg went on to win the 1985 World Series with the Royals. When he retired in 1989, he was second in MLB history with 1,927 games at catcher.
Don Mincher, 1969
A member of the original 1961 Minnesota Twins, Mincher was a nine-year big leaguer with three 20-homer seasons and a 1967 All-Star appearance under his belt. But he was coming off a rough offensive year in 1968 and was left available for the Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft before their inaugural season. The Pilots took him with the second pick and were rewarded with one of their first stars.
Mincher played 140 games for the Pilots in their lone year in Seattle, hitting .246 with a .366 on-base percentage and .454 slugging. He led the team with 25 home runs, drew 78 walks and was the franchise’s first All-Star. He’s mentioned no less than 38 times in Ball Four, pitcher Jim Bouton’s book about the 1969 season.
The Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers in 1970, but Mincher didn’t come along: In January of that year, he was traded to Oakland for four players, including reliever Ken Sanders and pitcher Lew Krausse. Krausse would start for the Brewers on their first Opening Day a few months later.
Diego Segui, 1969
Mincher wasn’t the only one-year wonder on the Pilots. Several expansion draft rounds after selecting the slugging first baseman, Seattle selected reliever Diego Segui from Oakland. Segui had pitched seven MLB seasons at that point, but 1968 was his first as a full-time reliever, a role where opposing batters had managed just 5.5 hits per nine innings against him.
The Pilots relied heavily on the Cuba native in 1969, pitching him eight times as a starter and 58 more as a reliever in their inaugural season. He recorded two complete games and finished 38 more out of the bullpen, recording 12 saves. Despite pitching primarily in relief, his 142 1/3 innings were good for third most on the team, and his 3.35 ERA was the second best among Pilots with at least 100 innings pitched.
Shortly after the season the Pilots traded Segui back to Oakland. With the A’s in 1970, he led all qualified MLB pitchers with a 2.56 ERA.
Hideo Nomo, 1999
Nomo was one of the breakout stars of the 1995 season, when he became just the second Japanese-born pitcher to start an MLB game, was an All Star, the NL Rookie of the Year, and received Cy Young Award votes. Some of the luster had worn off by 1999, however, when the Mets released him at the end of spring training and he was picked up by the Cubs, who also released him only 20 days later.
The Brewers signed him at the end of April and he was back in the majors just 10 days later, making the first of what would be 28 big league starts for the Brewers. Despite giving everyone else a one-month of head start, Nomo led the Brewers’ pitching staff in strikeouts by a wide margin: He (161) and Steve Woodard (119) were the only Milwaukee pitchers with more than 75 punchouts.
With his career somewhat resurrected, Nomo went on to sign with the Tigers as a free agent and pitch seven more MLB seasons. With Boston in 2001, he led the American League in strikeouts (220) and K/9 (10.0) and after returning to the Dodgers, he pitched 200+ innings with a sub-3.50 ERA in 2002 and 2003.
Jim Edmonds, 2010
Expectations were not high when the Brewers took a shot with a minor league deal for 16-year MLB outfielder. At the time, Jim Edmonds was a former elite offensive and defensive player who was 39 years old and more than a year removed from his last appearance in a professional game at any level. Edmonds, however, still had something left in the tank.
Not only did Edmonds play his way onto a big league roster to open the 2010 season, he even unseated incumbent Corey Hart for a spot in the Opening Day lineup. He played 73 games for the Brewers and hit .286 with a .350 on-base and .493 slugging in 240 plate appearances. He also spent most of his defensive time in center field, getting into 47 games out there. He’s the only player in baseball to spend that much time in the position in his age 40 season since 2007, and one of five since Willie Mays in 1972.
The Brewers traded Edmonds to the Reds that August, but his comeback story ended abruptly there: He suffered an Achilles tendon injury while trotting the bases following a home run and never played in the majors again.
Dave Parker, 1990
Like many of the players listed above, “The Cobra” appeared to be near the end of the line when the 17-year big leaguer, six-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover, and 1978 NL MVP came to Milwaukee for his age 39 season. He had struggled to get on base in years prior and rarely played the field anymore. The designated hitter rule, however, extended his career and allowed him to remain an offensive force at an advanced age.
Parker played 157 games for the 1990 Brewers, finishing among the American League leaders by coming to the plate 669 times. His .289 batting average was his best mark in half a decade, and he hit 20 home runs for the ninth time as a big leaguer. He was the AL’s Silver Slugger Award winner at DH and made the All-Star team.
In March of the following year, the Brewers traded Parker to the Angels for outfielder Dante Bichette, and he spent most of his final season there before calling it a career.
Devon White, 2001
A three-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glover and the owner of three World Series rings (1992 and 1993 Blue Jays, 1997 Marlins), White’s MLB career appeared to be on a downward trajectory when the Dodgers traded him and his $5 million salary to the Brewers in exchange for the final years of Marquis Grissom’s ill-fated contract. Grissom continued to struggle in his first year in L.A., but White provided a nice spark in his only year in Milwaukee.
White played all three outfield spots as a 38-year-old and batted .277 with a .343 on-base and .459 slugging over 126 games for the Brewers, while also going 18-for-21 stealing bases. He finished his 17th MLB season with an .802 OPS, the highest mark of his career. White became a free agent following the 2001 season and retired.
Honorable mentions: Jimmy Wynn (1977), Scott Fletcher (1992), Julio Franco (1997), John Vander Wal (2003), Eddie Perez (2003), Wade Miley (2018), Curtis Granderson (2018)