Josh Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to join the Houston Astros' loaded bullpen. At 29 years old, Hader is considered the top closer in baseball. Now, he's paid like it. Before landing in Houston, however, Hader's prolific career began with the Milwaukee Brewers.
A 19th-round pick in the 2012 Amateur Draft, Hader made his MLB debut for the Brewers in 2017. He immediately took off. In just his second season, Hader earned his first All-Star bid and finished seventh in Cy Young voting as a reliever. He went on to earn four All-Star appearances in six seasons with Milwaukee.
In that sixth season, however, Hader was axed from the Brewers organization. Then-GM David Stearns pulled the trigger on a controversial trade to send Hader to the San Diego Padres. The Brewers were coming off a postseason appearance in 2021 and thought themselves well-positioned for another run in 2022.
Nope. The Brewers fell off after the trade and missed the playoffs. Hader flourished in San Diego, earning his fifth All-Star berth in 2023 and parlaying that success into a blockbuster contract. Looking back on the trade, Stearns — now president of baseball operations for the New York Mets — is riddled with regret.
He spoke candidly about the fateful decision on 'Foul Territory TV.'
"As it probably wouldn't surprise you, I've thought about that transaction a lot, I've thought about that decision a lot. And look, what we were trying to do there I think was thread a needle, right. We were in a spot where we felt like we had a playoff-caliber team. We were also trying to set ourselves up going forward and understood we were probably at the optimal time to get future value back for Josh. We thought we were going to be able to do an adequate job of backfilling after we traded Josh, and clearly we didn't... I didn't execute it well enough. And we missed the playoffs."
David Stearns admits defeat with Brewers' misguided Josh Hader trade
Stearns is well-regarded around the league. That's why he got the cushy Mets job as team president, where he now gets to work with the full financial support of baseball's most lucrative owner. We cannot discount the financial element of the Hader trade, of course. Stearns mentions the desire to get "future value." That is code for, "we weren't going to re-sign him, so it was time to cash in." The Brewers cashed in, but it cost them dearly.
It's often difficult to build and maintain contenders in small markets, with ownership groups that don't want to spend top-dollar. There was concern in some corners of the New York fanbase about Stearns' small-market roots, but he won't have to compromise to the same extent with the Mets. New York is willing to pay elite players and swing big when the moment is right.
Milwaukee eventually rebounded with an NL Central crown and postseason berth in 2023, which Stearns parlayed into a better job. Craig Counsell also left the Brewers for greener pastures this winter. Not everything ties back to the Hader trade, but it is a sliding doors moment.
The Brewers' financial stinginess just cost them Corbin Burnes, so not much has changed.