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Crew has pitching in mind ahead of Meetings

Stearns looking to fill holes in rotation, bolster bullpen
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MILWAUKEE -- It's been a quiet offseason at Miller Park and around Major League Baseball, but that should change next week when the game gathers in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for the annual Winter Meetings.

The Brewers have been aggressively courting players as GM David Stearns seeks to build on a season in which Milwaukee made a 13-win improvement and challenged for a spot in the postseason.

MILWAUKEE -- It's been a quiet offseason at Miller Park and around Major League Baseball, but that should change next week when the game gathers in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for the annual Winter Meetings.

The Brewers have been aggressively courting players as GM David Stearns seeks to build on a season in which Milwaukee made a 13-win improvement and challenged for a spot in the postseason.

Hot Stove Tracker

"It's active," Stearns said in the wake of last month's GM meetings in Orlando, Fla., where executives typically lay groundwork for deals at the larger Winter Meetings. "We're into the active part of the offseason where there's constant, ongoing conversation."

Where could that activity take the Brewers? Here's a look:

Club needs

Starting pitching
Stearns has made no secret that his top priority is pitching, one reason the Brewers were a popular guess for Jake Arrieta's eventual landing spot. Their best returning pitcher, Jimmy Nelson, will miss an unknown "chunk" -- to use Stearns' word -- of the 2018 season following labrum surgery in the fall. The Brewers like Chase Anderson enough to have signed him to a contract extension in October, and Zach Davies already has 67 Major League starts and a 3.91 ERA under his belt before his 25th birthday.

Video: Brewers showing interest in Arrieta to lead rotation

After that trio, however, there is room to add, especially if left-hander Josh Hader remains in the bullpen. Swingman Brent Suter, also a left-hander, and right-handed rookie Brandon Woodruff are next in line as in-house options. Junior Guerra and Aaron Wilkerson are also on the 40-man roster.

Bullpen
It's December -- what club isn't in the market for bullpen arms? Corey Knebel will enter his second full season in the closer role, and Hader proved he's a weapon in a variety of roles. Former closer Jeremy Jeffress avoided a possible non-tender by signing a club-friendly contract to stay, and has potential to regain a prominent role, but the Brewers were left with a notable hole when midseason acquisition Anthony Swarzak hit free agency. Swarzak said he wants to come back; the question is whether the Brewers will commit a multiyear contract to a player coming off a career year in his age-31 season.

Video: Stearns weighing options with offseason moves

Second base
The Brewers re-signed Eric Sogard to a one-year deal in October and tendered a contract to arbitration-eligible Jonathan Villar, so a return to the left-right platoon that worked for a time in the middle of last season is certainly possible. But the Brewers are also examining upgrades, including a familiar one in Neil Walker, who played 38 games for Milwaukee down the stretch before hitting free agency. Walker would likely require a multiyear investment.

Who they can trade if necessary

A young outfielder
Because their bids to acquire Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray or another pitcher at the non-waiver Trade Deadline came up empty, the Brewers remain flush with center-field types. With Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana at the corners, prospects Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips having proven they are ready to move past Triple-A, and Keon Broxton coming off a 20-homer, 20-stolen base (and 175-strikeout) season, a trade would help ease the logjam. If the Brewers aim high for a pitcher like Rays right-hander Chris Archer, the ask would certainly begin with Brinson, Milwaukee's Minor League Player of the Year and top prospect. In a lesser deal, the Brewers could try to move the streaky but dynamic Broxton.

Video: CIN@MIL: Brinson on MiLB, playing in big leagues

An even younger outfielder
In the Minors, the Brewers have even more center fielders rising through the ranks. Former first-round Draft pick Corey Ray posted pedestrian statistics in his first professional season in 2017, but has great tools and room to grow. A Chicago native, he was reportedly in the Brewers' talks with the White Sox for Quintana. Power-hitting Monte Harrison is another young outfielder on the rise.

Top prospects
Brinson remains the Brewers' undisputed top positional prospect, but Hader graduated from MLBPipeline.com's Top 30 during his debut season in the Brewers' bullpen. That made right-hander Luis Ortiz (No. 3 on Brewers list, No. 69 in baseball) the Brewers' top pitching prospect, with Woodruff still technically a prospect right behind Ortiz, and organizational Minor League Pitcher of the Year Corbin Burnes (No. 7 on Brewers list, No. 96 overall) rising fast. Among hitters, the Brewers have tremendous second-base depth in 2017 first-round pick Keston Hiura (No. 5 Brewers, No. 81 overall), Isan Diaz (No. 6 Brewers, No. 85 overall) and Mauricio Dubon (No. 9 Brewers).

Rule 5 Draft
The Brewers freed a 40-man roster spot when they non-tendered reliever Jared Hughes, so a pick is possible at the Dec. 14 event. After losing pitching prospect Miguel Diaz in last year's Rule 5 Draft, Milwaukee did not leave any Top 30 prospects exposed this time.

Big contracts they might unload
Braun, anyone? His is the only truly big contract -- about $57 million through 2020 -- on the Brewers' books, and the 34-year-old is coming off a season shortened to 104 games and 380 at-bats by calf and wrist injuries. The Brewers have shown they are open to moving their longest-tenured player, but finding a match will be challenging.

Video: Ryan Braun on the Brewers season, team's future

Payroll summary
After playing with the lowest payroll of baseball's 2017 contenders, the Brewers could choose to stand mostly pat and try to do the same. At the moment, they have something like $50 million ticketed for 10 players, including estimates for their four remaining arbitration-eligibles.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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