SAN DIEGO -- Craig Counsell and Matt Arnold have their best arguments when they’re out on what Arnold calls “old man walks” in Whitefish Bay, Wis., the suburban hamlet where the National League’s longest-tenured manager and the Brewers’ new leader of baseball operations live just a few blocks apart.
Even in the Wisconsin winter, they bundle up against the cold to walk and talk baseball.
“We still argue every day,” said Arnold, who joined the Brewers as assistant GM in autumn 2015, was elevated to GM in 2020 and became the Brewers’ top baseball official in October when David Stearns stepped down as president of baseball operations, making the longtime friendship between Arnold and Counsell even more important to the organization’s success.
“He’s great,” Arnold added. “Every idea is glass half-empty, and you have to prove that your idea is good. In a great way, he challenges every idea, and he makes us better because of it.
“That is so, so helpful for me and for our group because of what he’s seen so much in the game and what works and how it translates to wins on the field. We have a lot of ideas in theory that work on the board, and he’ll go, ‘Wait, wait, wait a sec. That might not work the way you guys are thinking.’ That is an awesome perspective to have.”
They have plenty to debate. Several agents at the Winter Meetings this week in San Diego say the Brewers are among the toughest teams to figure out in terms of their approach to this offseason.
With co-aces Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff (and lefty Eric Lauer) two years from free agency, are they going for it? Or did dealing All-Star closer Josh Hader at the Trade Deadline and then subsequently trading two players entering contract years -- outfielder Hunter Renfroe and Kolten Wong – and getting three young pitchers from the Angels for Renfroe and two bounce-back candidates from the Mariners for Wong, signal that the Brewers are taking a step back?
Brewers officials say absolutely not. Arnold and Counsell both cautioned against judging an offseason in the early days of December.
“There will be adding,” Counsell said on Monday.
Said Arnold: “We’re right in our competitive cycle, so I would characterize us as wanting to put a competitive team on the field in 2023. Getting back to the playoffs is our goal. We raised the expectations making the playoffs four straight years here, and now missing out by a game, I think it galvanizes our group to try to figure out how to get back.”
“The way I’m looking at this,” Counsell added, “and the way I think it’s important to look at it, is we have young position players that are ready to play in the big leagues. We have to have players like that. Maybe not every team, but most teams, you have to develop players from your Minor Leagues and you have to give them a shot. … That’s an exciting thing to do for your organization, and I don’t think it means that we have to take a step back.”
Those young players include Brice Turang, the club’s No. 4 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, who stands a great chance to play second base for the Brewers in the wake of the Wong trade, and outfielders Garrett Mitchell, Esteury Ruiz, Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer -- “and even [Jackson] Chourio at some point,” Counsell said.
Chourio, the Brewers’ top prospect and the youngest player in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list, reached Double-A Biloxi last season while running away with the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year Award. He doesn’t turn 19 until March 11. No 19-year-old has played in the big leagues for the Brewers since Gary Sheffield in 1988.
“I think he did so much that why would you say you're not open to it?” Counsell said.
Add it to the debate topics for his walks with the GM.
“David was the leader, so there's definitely change to our baseball operations,” Counsell said. “But as far as who's got the best chance to hit the ground running for the organization, I don't think there's any question that Matt is that guy.”
Arnold began his first Winter Meetings in charge by gathering the Brewers’ group on Monday morning. Stearns, who remains with the team as a consultant, is not on hand, though he and Arnold exchanged texts on Monday morning.
“Part of what we talked about this morning as a group is this is the group now,” Arnold said. “It’s been sort of an all-hands-on-deck sort of approach from us, and so it’s not just me -- everybody has to step up. Those are huge shoes to fill. This is the group that’s going to have to come up with the answers to how we put the next really great team on the field.
“That’s fun, for sure. The ideas we’re generating, all the challenges we face in every way, we have to come up with the answers for that. It sounds daunting in a lot of ways, but it really is a fun challenge.”