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Stearns: 'I’m optimistic about the future' 

Brewers GM faces decisions about rotation, Moose and Grandal
October 4, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- David Stearns returned home Wednesday afternoon from Washington, D.C., following the Brewers' loss in the National League Wild Card Game, shut off his phone and took a few hours off. By the next morning, though, the Brewers' GM and president of baseball operations was back at work. Stearns

MILWAUKEE -- David Stearns returned home Wednesday afternoon from Washington, D.C., following the Brewers' loss in the National League Wild Card Game, shut off his phone and took a few hours off.

By the next morning, though, the Brewers' GM and president of baseball operations was back at work.

Stearns and his staff have plenty to keep them occupied over the next few weeks but took time Friday to discuss the 2019 season -- what went wrong, what went right -- and offer some insight as to what the future holds for the team, which will try and become the first in franchise history to qualify for the postseason in three consecutive seasons

"I’m very optimistic about where we are as an organization," Stearns said. "I’m optimistic and proud of what we’ve accomplished. I’m optimistic about the future and where we are headed. Maybe more than anything else, we as an organization and as a front office are energized to get back to work and build the next contending Brewers team. That’s where our focus is right now. That’s the work we are doing as a front office and that’s what we look forward to doing over the next four months.”

Among the topics Stearns and Co. will need to address:

Starting rotation
The Brewers bet big on young right-handers Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff. All three began the season in the starting rotation but only Woodruff, who landed a spot on the NL All-Star squad before suffering a late-season oblique injury, held onto his spot.

Burnes couldn't keep the ball in the yard and spent the remainder of the year shuffling between Triple-A and the Brewers' bullpen while Peralta battled his own inconsistency both as a starter and again after moving to the 'pen.

Stearns expects both to play significant roles for the team moving forward but wasn't sure what those roles would be.

"Those are two guys we still believe in to a great extent," Stearns said. "How those roles emerge, what the time frame is for those roles, whether it’s in the starting rotation or the 'pen, those are all good discussion points we’re going to tackle in the coming months, and frankly, the coming years.

"We don’t have to set time frames on players’ development. When the performance indicates and our needs indicate there’s a specific role, we know we have two guys there who have a very high degree of talent."

Bringing back veteran left-hander Gio Gonzalez as a free agent in April helped stabilize the rotation while Jordan Lyles evolved into an unlikely ace after he was reacquired just before the Trade Deadline, finishing the season 7-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 starts.

"Jordan was arguably the best starter in the National League over the last two months," Stearns said. "We would not have gotten to where we ended up without those contributions."

Both are free agents again this winter and both could be back if the price is right.

Shaw's future
Travis Shaw looked like a cornerstone of the Brewers' future after hitting 63 home runs with 187 RBIs during his first two seasons in Milwaukee, but after a dreadful showing in 2019 (.157/.281/.270, 7 HRs, 16 RBIs) that future could be in doubt.

"Travis had a really rough year," Stearns said. "He’d be the first person to say that. I know he was not pleased with his performance this year. He believes he’s a better player than that. I certainly believe he’s a better player than that. We’ve seen that from him previously. We’ve seen a player who can contribute at a really high level consistently over multiple years.

"What to expect from Travis going forward is something we’re going to have to spend a lot of time on. We do have a tender decision on him in December. We’re going to have to spend a lot of effort internally determining what to do there. And by the time we get to December, we’ll have a decision."

Shaw, 29, is eligible for arbitration this winter after earning $4.675 million in 2019. The Brewers have until Dec. 2 to offer him a contract for '20.

Will Moose & Grandal return?
The Brewers spent a combined $28.25 million to bring in Yasmani Grandal and re-sign Mike Moustakas this season, and the investment paid off handsomely as both made the NL All-Star team and combined for 63 home runs and 164 RBIs for the season.

"I don’t think it’s particularly controversial that I’d love to have both of them back," Stearns said. "They are two very good players that fit with our organization and fit with our team very well. Whether the realities of the market permit that and whether the realities of the free-agent market permit that is something we will have to evaluate as we go through the offseason.”

Both have mutual options for 2020: Grandal for $16 million and Moustakas for $11 million.

Money matters
Milwaukee began the season with a franchise-record $145 million payroll and already has $62 million committed toward 2020's payroll, not including arbitration-eligible player increases and raises due to pre-arbitration players.

Stearns said the budget isn't set yet for next season but stressed the willingness of ownership to provide him the financial flexibility necessary to keep a competitive team on the field.

"The great thing about our ownership group is it’s an ongoing conversation about where our resources are, and the level of resources we can commit in any one year," Stearns said. "[Principal owner and chairman] Mark [Attanasio] and the entirety of our group have repeatedly demonstrated that they are willing to put the resources into this team, to have a competitive product year in and year out. That’s our goal as an organization.

"So, we continue to have those discussions throughout the entirety of the offseason. Then, we’ll see where the team, the roster and ultimately the payroll land as we get closer to Spring Training."

Injury updates
• Stearns said he wasn't sure whether reliever Corey Knebel (Tommy John surgery) would be ready to go at the start of Spring Training but did expect to have the former All-Star closer next season.

Christian Yelich is doing well as he rehabs the fractured right kneecap that brought his season to an early end.

• No decision has been made on whether or not outfielder Lorenzo Cain will need to undergo surgery on his left knee.