Assessing 2023 MLB front offices: How Matt Arnold and the Milwaukee Brewers got the better of opponents

Milwaukee Brewers general manager Matt Arnold was the game's most effective trader in 2023, and also among the five most influential GMs in the game.
Brewers Senior Vice President and General Manager Matt Arnold.
Brewers Senior Vice President and General Manager Matt Arnold. / Mike De Sisti / The Milwaukee Journal
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Matt Arnold front office WAA impact: +5.9 games for Milwaukee Brewers. Rank in MLB: t-5. Rank in division: 1.

Some guys are natural wheeler-dealers. Often they grow up to be used car salesmen. Matt Arnold chose a different course.

But for front office execs engaged in head-to-head negotiations with Arnold in 2023, the operative advice remained the same: caveat emptor.

Considering the short-term impact of his trades, waiver claims and purchases/sales with other teams, the Milwaukee Brewers general manager was easily baseball’s best in 2023. Arnold’s deals brought an overall benefit to his team of +5.1 games as measured by Wins Above Average. That represented the bulk of his overall +5.9 game impact.

No other GM managed to fleece his fellow front office execs out of more than +2.8 net WAA worth of talent in straight-up deals.

For the record, WAA is used in this series of front office evaluations because it is a zero-based version of WAR, therefore enabling valid approximations of impact against wins and losses.

Three moves illustrate the advantages Arnold accrued to the Brewers in his head-to-head dealings.

In December, Arnold hooked up with the Oakland A’s and Atlanta Braves in a three-team swap that landed catcher William Contreras (+1.8) in Milwaukee. The Brewers also got reliever Joel Payamps (+0.9). The cost: merely outfielder Esteury Ruiz (-1.9), who went to Oakland. Net impact on the Brewers: +4.6 WAA.

Seeking to improve his contending team’s offense, Arnold snared Mark Canha (+0.3) from the Mets at the cost of a minor leaguer. Canha hit .287 down the stretch as Milwaukee held off Chicago to win the NL Central.

A few days before the trade deadline, Arnold pried first baseman Carlos Santana from Pittsburgh, again at the mere cost of a minor leaguer. Santana (+0.4) hit 11 home runs with a .733 OPS down the stretch.

Overall, the Arnold front office made 56 personnel moves impacting a major league roster since the conclusion of the 2022 postseason. Of those moves, 26 helped the Brewers, 26 were negative, and four had neutral value.

Here’s the full short-term and long-term statistical profile on the 2023 performance of the Arnold front office. Again, all figures reflect group Wins Above Average.

Acquired by trade, waiver claim or purchase:

  • Since October 2022, 17 players, +1.4 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022, 6 players, -2.2 net impact

Signed as a free agent or extended for multiple seasons:

  • Since October 2022, 15 players, -1.1 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022, 2 players, +1.2 net impact

System products:

  • Since October 2022, 9 players, +0.1 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022, 0 players, 0.0 net impact

Traded away, waived, sold, released or lost to free agency

  • Since October 2022, 16 players, +5.5 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022, 15 players, +2.3 net impact

Arnold knew who to get rid of as well as who to get. He unloaded infielder Kolten Wong on Seattle in December just before Wong (-1.6) went toxic. Hunter Renfroe had an .807 OPS for MIlwaukee in 2022 before Arnold traded him to Anaheim for Janson Junk (-0.1), Elvis Peguero (+0.4) and a minor leaguer. When Renfroe disappointed in Anaheim, they dumped him, creating a net trade advantage to the Brewers of +2.6 WAA.

Arnold had less success winning at the open market that is free agency, the net impact of his 15 pickups there totaling -1.1 WAA. But there were useful improvements, notably pitcher Wade Miley. In 23 starts, he had a 3.14 ERA and 9-4 record, generally functioning as the fourth starter on that deep staff.

Befitting his team’s small-market status, Arnold confined himself to the outer fringes of the free agent talent pool. Since the conclusion of the 2023 postseason, Arnold only gave out one long-term deal, and that was an extension to third-year pitcher Aaron Ashby. Sentenced to the 60-day IL in April with shoulder inflammation, Ashby sat out 2023. He is under contract through 2027 for $20.5 million.

Andruw Monasterio, a reject from Cleveland’s minor league system, signed following the 2021 season, then marinated at Triple-A until debuting in late May. At .259/.330/.348, Monasterio (+0.4) was a modestly positive force who certainly was an upgrade from the team’s original third base plan, which involved Brian Anderson (-0.8).

As a group, Arnold’s rookie class was undistinguished. In terms of future value, the best was probably outfielder Sal Frelick (+0.4), called up in July. In 223 plate appearances through season’s end, Frelick hit .246 with an uninspired .692 OPS, but accumulated exceptional defensive numbers mostly in center. If he can pick up his offense, Frelick can help.

Reliever Abner Uribe (+0.7) only worked 30 innings following his July callup. But they were good ones, involving a 1.76 ERA. Uribe’s problem was finding the strike zone; in those 30 innings, he walked 20 opponents.

How the New York Mets front office fared in 2023. dark. Next. NY Mets front office scores