MILWAUKEE — This moment was what Brett Lawrie had wanted from the beginning, from the day the Brewers had drafted him with the 16th overall pick in 2008. He stood at home plate at Miller Park on Monday night and watched the first pitch go through the strike zone and into the catcher’s glove.
Then, as the next pitch crossed the plate, Lawrie slammed it into the deepest part of center field, over the outfielder’s head and into the stands. A home run in his first major league at-bat at Miller Park? It was better than he could’ve dreamt the night the Brewers had drafted him, the night he decided he would make it to the major leagues as fast as possible and that no one was going to stop him.
But such a specific dream for his first at-bat at Miller Park had faded away a long time ago. Nineteen months ago, to be exact. That’s when the Brewers traded Lawrie for then-Blue Jays pitcher Shaun Marcum in the midst of serious tension between prospect and management and subtle slights from Lawrie toward his old bosses.
It was far from the happiest of breakups for Lawrie and the team that had drafted him. After being chosen as a catcher, he had asked to change positions twice — from catcher to second baseman and second baseman to third baseman — in order to quicken his path to the big leagues.
Brewers’ general manager Doug Melvin told ESPN’s Jayson Stark at the time that he thought Lawrie felt “we were taking his aggressive personality away from him.” Lawrie refused an invite to the respected Arizona Fall League and later detailed to Stark that he “needed a fresh start.”
“That’s the way I felt,” Lawrie, 22, said on Monday. “At the same time, everyone’s different and everyone does things different. But you know, I’m glad where I’m at right now.”
So the Canadian slugger headed back to his homeland as one of the top prospects in baseball, while the Brewers picked up another pitcher in a rotation who would carry them to the 2011 National League Championship Series.
It was a trade that, by all accounts, has been win for both sides — an unusual occurrence in a sport so loaded with inconsistencies, failed prospects and overhyped value.
“I think the numbers probably bear that out,” Toronto manager John Farrell said Monday. “Where we were in the turn-over-of-the-roster phase, there was a need for an accomplished and proven major league starter in the Brewers case. Yeah, I think it’s very easy to say that it was a win-win situation.”
Still, the thought of what might have been must have crossed a mind or two during Monday’s game as Lawrie’s home run soared over Nyjer Morgan’s head in the first inning. After that at-bat, Lawrie barreled the next pitch he saw from Brewers pitcher Randy Wolf, blasting it to the wall in left field for a double. A diving stop and tag even showed a glimpse of why the Blue Jays felt he fit their organization best at third base.
For Lawrie though, there were no what-ifs. He tiptoed around questions from the Milwaukee media about his departure from the team that drafted him, careful with each of his words. Asked if part of him, deep down, remains a Brewer, he flatly answered, “No.”
This night was so different from what he likely thought it would be as a wide-eyed 18-year-old draftee, thirsty for his shot at the big leagues. But to Brett Lawrie now, a 22-year-old starting third baseman with more than 100 games of experience at the major league level, his Miller Park debut was “just another game.”
He admitted plainly that he felt he had “a better opportunity on the table” to play in Toronto. Having been called up to Toronto’s major league roster just nine months after being traded, he nodded when asked if the Blue Jays represented a quicker path to reaching his goal of making it in the big leagues.
“I guess it worked out that way,” Lawrie said. “You don’t really know what’s going to happen when you move organizations. You’ve got a whole new group of guys, a whole new group of management and everything is new. You just kind of have to feel it out and just go play, and I figured if I did that, then things are going to work out for me sooner than later.”
For Lawrie, things have worked out quite well this season, to the tune of a .289 average, six home runs and 27 RBI. And though it’s easy to look at those numbers and question whether the Brewers made the right decision, Marcum’s numbers have been similarly impressive. That’s been especially true lately, as the Brewers No. 3 starter hasn’t lost in almost a month. He’s 5-3 this season with a 3.39 ERA in 13 starts.
As he said on June 3, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke doesn’t question the Brewers’ decision to make that trade in the slightest.
“We don’t win last year unless we do that,” Roenicke said then. “It’s a trade-off. If you want to win, you’ve got to do those things.”
That trade-off came to an interesting peak, as Lawrie stood at the plate, his Blue Jays down one run to the team that drafted him. The fate of Monday’s game was on the 22-year-old’s shoulders. Brewers closer John Axford had brought it to a 3-2 count, and as a 98-mph fastball zinged over the plate, Lawrie swung with noticeable power.
Both teams claimed the Lawrie-for-Marcum trade was a positive for both sides, and statistically, that claim can be justified. But in their first meeting since a somewhat messy divorce, the Brewers had bested their former prospect and his new team.
And for one night, that seemingly even trade 19 months ago felt like it leaned ever slightly in the Brewers’ favor.