The Milwaukee Brewers couldn’t wait until baseball’s winter meetings to make a deal.
The team on Friday traded second baseman Kolten Wong to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for receive outfielder Jesse Winker and infielder Abraham Toro. The Brewers will also send cash back to the Mariners, with reports pegging that total at $1.75 million.
“Obviously, Kolten was a big part of some really good Brewers teams and it’s always tough to move on from a guy like that,” general manager Matt Arnold said. “I spoke to him earlier and he had great things to say about our organization and I feel really good about what he was able to accomplish here for us.
“At the same time, for us to be able to access guys like Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro is something that’s exciting for us, to help us in our quest of what we want to accomplish here in bringing a championship here to Milwaukee.”
The Brewers exercised their $10 million team option on Wong on Nov. 8, but since then have made far more subtractions than additions to their roster with rightfielder Hunter Renfroe and right-hander Brad Boxberger the two other high-profile players to have moved on.
In the weeks that followed Wong being brought back, conversations developed and continued with the Mariners, with multiple other teams expressing interest in the 10-year veteran.
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“Look, you have these conversations and then you never really know if you’re phone call away or if just will never happen again. That’s just the nature of the beast,” said Arnold. “These things happen sometimes very fast, and sometimes the groundwork is laid over many months. These were conversations we’ve had on and off for a while.
“As we’ve been working through the market, we were able to come together today on a deal.”
With top infield prospect Brice Turang having just completed a strong season at Class AAA Nashville, the team feels comfortable turning the page on the 32-year-old Wong and could hand the reins off at second base to the 23-year-old who is yet to make his major-league debut.
Toro and Luis Urías are also capable of playing the position.
“When you talk about our team on December 2nd, it’s just a snapshot in time,” said Arnold. “A lot of players in our mix have a lot of flexibility, and you guys know that we value that very much as a franchise. Having added depth across the entire infield is something that we feel really good about.”
Wong is coming off the two best offensive seasons of his career since signing with Milwaukee before the 2021 campaign and hit a career-high 15 home runs in 2022 with a three-homer game at Cincinnati in late September an individual highlight.
Wong hit .262 with 29 homers and 97 RBI with a .776 OPS in 250 games with the Brewers.
But the two-time Gold Glove winner also graded out as one of the worst defensive second basemen in baseball last season by accounting for minus-nine outs above average while tying a career high by committing 17 errors.
In acquiring the left-handed-hitting Winker, 29, Milwaukee is adding an outfielder capable of playing at least the corner spots who is two seasons removed from his lone all-star nod while with the Cincinnati Reds.
He also adds another option at designated hitter.
Winker, who will make $8.25 million in 2023 in the second year of a two-year deal, is coming off a down season in which he hit .219 with 14 home runs and 53 runs batted in while compiling an OPS of .688 in a career-high 136 games.
“It’s a no-excuse kind of league and I went out there and played and didn’t play well, and it’s just that simple,” Winker said when asked about his dropoff. “I’m looking forward to righting the ship and getting back to playing some good, healthy baseball.”
And in the end, it was Winker’s health that betrayed him. He missed Seattle’s postseason run in October as a result, then had a meniscus cleanup in his left knee as well as a disc replacement in his neck.
“I had a herniated disc in my spine towards the end of the season and it was a bulging disc for most of the year,” Winker said. “The side effects and symptoms of that right there, it’s painful. You have pain in your neck and it’s down your arms, it’s in your back. And then on top of that I had to deal with the knee. It provided challenges for me, for sure.
“Any time you’re dealing with stuff, you’re taking the game and making it challenging, right? We all enjoy playing this game. It’s so much fun. When you’re dealing with things like that, it challenges the fun of the game. But like I said, this is a no-excuse league. I didn’t have a good year. I had a bad year.
“So, I got some things taken care of and I’m looking forward to being healthy and I’m just really excited to be a Milwaukee Brewer and to move forward.”
He said that he views being ready for opening day as a realistic goal.
“I should start my baseball activity in January,” he said. “Obviously, it will be a progression. I’m starting to progress right now. The neck is a serious thing and I’m taking my time with it and doing what my surgeon is telling me to do and I’m not rushing it. I think around spring training, once I start this baseball activity, I’ll be able to give you more of a clear answer.
“I actually heard today Jan. 11 is the 10-week mark and that’s when I can begin some light baseball work. So, I’m looking forward to that day and then I can check some boxes the last couple of weeks before that.”
Winker gives the Brewers another experienced outfielder, lessening the need to rely upon top prospects such as Sal Frelick, Esteury Ruiz and Joey Wiemer early in the season, and is a .344 hitter with a 1.032 OPS in 32 career games in Milwaukee.
“I was not aware of that,” Winker said of his previous success at Miller Park/American Family Field.
“It’s a great place to play, first and foremost. It’s a passionate fan base. Playing against the Brewers was always very, very tough, very challenging, so I’m looking forward to being on the other side of that. It’s an amazing place to hit. You can see the ball. It’s just a great spot. It’s definitely one of my favorite places I’ve ever played and I’m excited to get this thing going.”
Toro, who turns 26 on Dec. 20, has played 262 games in the majors since 2019 and is a career .206 hitter with 26 homers, 99 RBI and an OPS of .621.
He can play everywhere in the infield but shortstop, is a switch-hitter and is under team control until 2027 at a minimal salary.
“There are a lot of really interesting ingredients,” Arnold said of Toro. “The performance that he’s had across his minor-league career has been very positive and it’s something we believe that will translate to major-league production. That, plus his ability to play all over the diamond and then what kind of person he is.
“This is a guy that’s a very unique person, a guy that brings a ton of energy to the field every day, a guy that we believe will enhance our culture in a great way. So for a lot of reasons we felt like he was a really, really good fit.”
The Brewers and Mariners play a three-game series April 17-19 in Seattle.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Brewers trade Kolten Wong, cash to Mariners for Winker, Toro