Stearns: Brewers open to 'listen' on pitching

November 11th, 2021

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- While David Stearns himself is one of the more intriguing future free agents at the General Managers Meetings this week, the Brewers’ president of baseball operations spoke of being focused on building Milwaukee’s next contender in 2022.

"We're in a fortunate position where we can bring back the vast majority of our team for next year,” Stearns told on Wednesday evening during a break from the meetings. “It's a team that in its present state, we think it's very competitive and can compete once again for a division and hopefully advance in the playoffs. But we also have an opportunity to try to improve the team wherever we can. That can take a variety of different forms.

“I think we're likely to remain a run prevention-first team next year, where we're built around our pitching and defense. I don't see that changing. We also, where there are opportunities to improve our offense, we will take advantage of that. I don't know whether those will emerge at the outset of the offseason or later in the offseason, but we're certainly going to be aware of what's going on in the market and do our best to improve our team where we can.”

That effort will include at least one new hitting coach. As of Wednesday the Brewers were "nearing the end of the process," Stearns said, of replacing hitting coach Andy Haines, whose contract was not renewed last month.

Even after right fielder opted to decline his half of a mutual option for 2022, making him a free agent coming off a career-high 29 home runs, the Brewers find themselves with few glaring holes on the roster. Rather, they will spend the winter deciding where to augment an offense that ranked 23rd last season in weighted runs created plus and 19th in weighted on-base average, two measures of offensive performance that account for ballpark factors.

On the pitching front, however, the Brewers are flush. Their five most-used starting pitchers are all under club control for 2022 and beyond -- , , , and -- with left-handed prospects and Ethan Small on the doorstep.

Will the Brewers consider trading from that pitching surplus in order to improve the offense?

“When you have the depth we have and people know you have the depth we have, it yields conversations and people call,” Stearns said. “People are always looking for pitching. We are fortunate that we have amassed -- I wouldn't say surplus, because I don't think you ever have surplus -- but we have amassed depth. And so, it's natural to have conversations, and I'm certain those conversations will progress throughout the offseason. It's really tough to trade pitching. But we also have to listen and see if there's something that makes sense.”

Part of that group is Small, who missed time in 2021 with a left hand injury but is making up for those lost innings this winter in the Dominican Republic.

“That's a great experience for Ethan,” Stearns said. “First and foremost, we want him to just amass innings. Those are great environments, they are raucous environments. For him to pitch there and have some success there, it's really good to see.”

A line formed for Stearns during a brief media availability in Carlsbad, Calif., on Wednesday during baseball’s GM Meetings, where Stearns himself is one of the sport’s more intriguing commodities.

He is not a free agent this winter. Stearns is under contract with the Brewers for at least the 2022 season. But the Brewers’ longstanding policy of not commenting on the contracts of front office officials makes it difficult to know whether their hold of him extends beyond next year, and Stearns’ name is a popular one at the moment as the Mets -- his boyhood team -- continue a search for their next general manager. Reports this week suggest that the Mets could hire an individual for their vacant GM position this offseason and wait to pursue Stearns for a president of baseball operations post after his contract with the Brewers comes to an end.

In the meantime, the Brewers reportedly have denied multiple Mets requests to interview Stearns -- teams can do so when it involves a lateral move -- and another Milwaukee official, GM Matt Arnold, took his name out of the running from Mets consideration last month.

The interest in the Brewers’ top two baseball operations officials comes in the wake of the team’s fourth consecutive postseason appearance in 2021.