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Brewers in position to compete now and in future

GM Stearns has built formidable club for '18 while not sacrificing farm system
MLB.com @RichardJustice

PHOENIX -- You may have heard that the Milwaukee Brewers have some unfinished business. You know, the rotation could use another arm, perhaps two, if they're serious about contending in 2018, that sort of thing.

This isn't how Brewers general manager David Stearns sees it. This certainly isn't how he views his offseason on any level. As a matter of fact, he's absolutely thrilled with how it played out.

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PHOENIX -- You may have heard that the Milwaukee Brewers have some unfinished business. You know, the rotation could use another arm, perhaps two, if they're serious about contending in 2018, that sort of thing.

This isn't how Brewers general manager David Stearns sees it. This certainly isn't how he views his offseason on any level. As a matter of fact, he's absolutely thrilled with how it played out.

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I join Brewers fans in this mantra: In Stearns We Trust. After two-and-a-half seasons on the job, after improving the team by 28 games in that time, he has earned that much.

"I think we're in a spot where we can consistently compete in this division [NL Central]," he said Saturday morning. "That's our goal. That's our expectation. We have to prove that. There are other teams in our division that have proven that over the course of a long time, that they can consistently compete. We have not done that. So this is our opportunity to prove we belong in that conversation."

Stearns believes he has positioned the Brewers to compete for the National League Central while maintaining a farm system deep enough to allow for sustainable success.

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If six months from now, Milwaukee misses the postseason because Stearns didn't add Jake Arrieta or another free-agent starter, he'll have to take a second look.

For now, though, he has made improvements up and down his roster, adding Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to the outfield, Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo to the rotation and Matt Albers and Boone Logan to the bullpen.

This comes after a season in which the Brewers were one of baseball's surprise feel-good stories, ultimately missing the postseason by just a game.

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But they did win 86 games and are returning their core -- third baseman Travis Shaw, first baseman Eric Thames, right-handers Zach Davies and Chase Anderson, etc. In short, they're trending in a sweet direction.

Did any general manager improve his team more than Stearns? We could debate that one until closing time. Here's another way to look at it: Did any general manager acquire two players as good as Yelich and Cain?

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Cain excited to join Brewers

Stearns had his eye on both of them from the moment the 2017 season ended, and there were times he didn't think he would be able to get either. To acquire both changes the Brewers in all sorts of ways, offensively, defensively, etc.

Years from now, we might look back and see that Cain was the most complete player to change teams this offseason.

Yelich?

Here's what Stearns had to say:

"What has impressed me and us for a long time about him is you have this incredibly talented and well-rounded player so early and young in his career who just consistently, incrementally gets better. We think that's generally how great players are made -- this incremental progress over time until one day you look up and say, 'Holy cow, that guy's one of the best players in the game.' We think Christian has the ability to get to that point."

In the trade for Yelich, Stearns did the single thing he'd tried to avoid doing since getting the Brewers job. It's why he didn't acquire Jose Quintana at the Trade Deadline last summer or Chris Archer this offseason.

His goal then and now was to build a great farm system, one so deep that it would provide the Major League club with a steady stream of talent. To do that means staying away from those four-for-one trades for veteran players.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Yelich happy to join Brewers

Stearns broke that rule for Yelich, sending four young prospects, including highly regarded outfielder Lewis Brinson, to the Marlins. He was willing to do it this time because he viewed Yelich as a cornerstone player who is 26 years old and signed for five more years to a deal that averages around $11.6 million per season.

Now, about that rotation. It's potentially solid even without a high-profile addition. Anderson, Davies and Chacin are a reliable front three, and ace Jimmy Nelson could be back from shoulder surgery before the All-Star break.

After that, there are lots of options, which isn't unlike what the Dodgers have done in spreading starts among, say, 10 starters instead of six or seven. Veteran lefty Wade Miley, throwing as well as he has in years, seems likely to get one of the remaining spots, with another lefty, Brent Suter, in the mix for the other.

Video: Suter on his offseason mindset, Brewers' big moves

Beyond Gallardo, Stearns has high-ceiling prospects in Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta.

"Because we don't have a lot of names in our rotation, I think it's easy to forget that our starting rotation was the strength of our team last year," Stearns said. "One of the main reasons we got where we got was because of how good our starting rotation was, especially the second half, and all those guys are still here."

When Brewers owner Mark Attanasio hired Stearns, he gave him the go-ahead to remake the club's baseball operations staff, which has happened.

Stearns is not ready to take a victory lap. He has brought the Brewers to a certain point, but until there are playoff appearances, playoff victories, there's work to do.

"I think I'm really fortunate that we have this group we have, from the coaching staff to the front office," Stearns said. "It's a group that works very well together. It meshes well together and makes my job a heck of a lot easier. That's what I'm enjoying. Everyone is rowing in the same direction, and when you have that of atmosphere, it makes coming to work a whole lot more fun."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Milwaukee Brewers