On May 21, the Milwaukee Brewers struck a deal for the Tampa Bay Rays starting shortstop Willy Adames, while both the player and the club were struggling offensively. Since then, it’s been an incredible turnaround for Adames and for Milwaukee’s offense, who is now one of the hottest groups in the league despite their lack of star power.
Willy Adames’ New Home
While with the Rays, Willy Adames always had incredible home/road splits, and the first 41 games of 2021 were no different. Through May 21, Willy Adames had a 60 wRC+ with just a .328 SLG at the Trop, with an 87 wRC+ and .412 SLG on the road. In his entire career, through May 21, 2021, Adames had a 130 wRC+ on the road with just a 76 wRC+ at home.
Since the trade, Willy Adames has a 171 wRC+ on the road, with a 115 wRC+ at home. He’s always been a better hitter on the road, which has translated to his time in Milwaukee. Many chalked up his home/road splits to the ballpark factors of Tropicana Field, but Adames may just be a better hitter on the road. With such a small sample size, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Willy Adames was once a top prospect and was graded with 60 FV when he graduated as the Rays’ #1 overall prospect in 2018, according to FanGraphs. He’s still just 25, so Milwaukee could have shortstop locked down for the foreseeable future.
The Transition of the Brewers’ Offense
The Milwaukee Brewers came into the year with one of baseball’s most promising pitching staffs and an offense that showed potential but would rely on Christian Yelich for superstar production. Although we haven’t seen the 2018-19 Yelich that many expected, the Brewers find themselves in an advantageous position, leading the NL Central by 7.0 games. Willy Adames has been a massive part of that.
Through May 21, the Brewers were just 21-23 and we’re third place in the NL Central despite Corbin Burnes‘ incredible start to the season. They ranked, according to wRC+, as the 2nd worst offense in baseball with a 78 wRC+ on the year. At the time, they only had one everyday player with a wRC+ above 106, catcher Omar Narvaez (155).
Since May 22, Adames’ debut with the team, they’ve gone 31-19 and built a massive lead in the NL Central. In his time in Milwaukee, Adames has slashed .298/.386/.530 with a .393 wOBA, 146 wRC+, 3.1 rWAR, and 2.8 fWAR. He’s even improved defensively since the trade, as he had -2 OAA in Tampa Bay, but has +3 OAA as a Brewer.
The Brewers have improved incredibly offensively as a team, as their 101 wRC+ since the deal is a massive uptick from their 78 wRC+ prior to the trade. They’re still a pitching-and-defense led team, as they rank 4th in position player fWAR (since May 22) despite their fairly average production at the plate, but Adames has changed the dynamic of the Brewer offense with his clubhouse energy and outstanding production.
Don’t Trade With Tampa Bay?
The Rays have built a reputation as one of the smartest organizations in baseball, leading many baseball fans to be skeptical of their teams trading assets with the Rays. The Brewers sent two relievers to Tampa Bay for Adames, which is the prototypical Rays trade, as they’ve been known to look for hidden bullpen gems from other teams.
This trade has been anything but typical, as Adames has thrived since being traded from Tampa Bay. Although some other teams have had successful trades with the Rays, no one has had a potential franchise-altering addition like Adames, who doesn’t hit free agency until 2025.