Stearns begins making offseason moves
MILWAUKEE -- Thirty-year-old David Stearns had precisely two weeks from the day he was named the next Brewers general manager to the day that he formally began the job. That day was Monday, the start of a critical offseason for a team in transition.
On that day, the Brewers announced the dismissal of five coaches, including longtime bench coach Jerry Narron, pitching coach Rick Kranitz, outfield instructor John Shelby, bullpen coach Lee Tunnell and first-base coach Mike Guerrero. Tunnell was subsequently re-hired, after the Brewers tabbed Derek Johnson as the new pitching coach.
In his first two media sessions, one the day he was hired and another when he visited the team in San Diego during the final road series, Stearns said his first priority was to take inventory of the manpower already in place, first in the front office and then in the player ranks.
In other words, Stearns has yet to give any indication of whether he'll continue the sell-off of established players for prospects that began under Doug Melvin, who traded away six Major Leaguers between July 21 and Aug. 23.
"This is a game with a tremendous amount of variability," Stearns said the day he got the job, "and we're going to take each decision as it comes and make each decision in the best interests of the overall health of the organization."
Here's a rundown of what he's got.
Arbitration-eligible: Cesar Jimenez, Wily Peralta, Jean Segura, Will Smith.
Free agents: Kyle Lohse.
Options: Adam Lind ($8 million club option, $500,000 buyout)
Rotation: The Brewers began the season with Lohse and Matt Garza atop the rotation, earning a combined $23.5 million. They finished the season with six rookies making starts, each of whom will report to Spring Training with an eye on cracking the group for the start of 2016. Garza will be back barring a trade (he still has two years and $25 million of guaranteed money left on his contract), as will Peralta, Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann. That would leave only one opening for candidates such as Zach Davies (probably the leading contender), Ariel Pena, Jorge Lopez, Tyler Wagner and Tyler Cravy, each of whom had bright spots in 2015 either for the Brewers or in the Minor Leagues. Given that depth, if the Brewers could conjure a taker for Garza, they would probably part with him gladly.
Bullpen: Like the rotation, it's possible to envision a scenario under which Stearns stands pat with the Brewers' bullpen. He has an established closer in Francisco Rodriguez, who turns 34 in January. The Brewers could also shop Rodriguez and fill out the bullpen with a long list of internal candidates, beginning with the left-right tandem of Smith and Jeremy Jeffress. Both have closer-type stuff, if not closer experience, as does right-hander Corey Knebel. August acquisition Jimenez looks like an effective left-handed complement to Smith. Tyler Thornburg, Michael Blazek, David Goforth all have power arms. There are lots of in-house options here.
Catcher: Coming off a 2014 season in which he ranked fourth in National League Most Valuable Player balloting, Jonathan Lucroy proposed a contract extension earlier this year and the Brewers declined. Lucroy shrugged it off as a business decision; he's still signed for 2016, with an incredibly reasonable club option for '17 likely to extend his tenure for the next two seasons. The question facing Stearns is whether there is more value in retaining Lucroy's services to help develop the team's stable of young arms over that time, or in trading him before the end of his current contract for what would probably be (in spite of Lucroy's rough '15 season) an impressive prospect haul. If the Brewers keep Lucroy, they already have a capable defensive backup in Martin Maldonado.
First base: Of all the things to go wrong for the Brewers in 2015, Lind went right. He and Brewers athletic trainers kept his bad back healthy enough for Lind to log his most starts since '10, and he responded by vying with Ryan Braun for the title of the team's most consistent hitter. Like Rodriguez and Lucroy, Lind could have value this winter as a trade chip. The Cardinals were among the teams to show interest in July when Matt Adams was injured. Looking past '16, the Brewers will again have an opening at this position, and each passing year increases the likelihood of Braun's name coming up in talks about first base.
Second base: At the onset of the season, this position appeared to belong to Scooter Gennett, who was eager to emerge from a platoon with Rickie Weeks. But a slow start led the Brewers to demote Gennett to Triple-A in May, and while he re-emerged later in the season as a base-hit threat, he did so in a platoon role. That may be how Craig Counsell proceeds with Gennett in the future.
Shortstop: Jean Segura is the incumbent, coming off a second straight season in which he played stellar defense, but fell short of his early-2013 production at the plate. He has prospects galore nipping at his heels, starting with top prospect Orlando Arcia, who, on the current depth chart, figures to begin next season at Triple-A. Yadiel Rivera is also Major League-ready, at least defensively, and more players are coming at the position. The depth here makes Segura one of Stearns' most intriguing trade chips, if teams are convinced there's offensive development coming.
Third base: When the Brewers traded Aramis Ramirez to the Pirates in June, they left third base wide open. Hernan Perez got the first chance to play every day and showed he was better suited to the bench. Elian Herrera found a hot streak in August and seized the job, but his track record suggests he will not hit enough to be an everyday third baseman. The Brewers are flush with shortstops, but the ones who profile for third base -- Jake Gatewood and Gilbert Lara -- are in the low levels of the Minor Leagues. In any future trades, the Brewers will likely look hard at getting a third baseman in return.
Outfield: After trading Gold Glove Award-winning center fielders Carlos Gomez and Gerardo Parra in July, the Brewers played most of the final two months of the season with Khris Davis in left field, Braun in right and newcomer Domingo Santana in center. Santana is a much better fit for the corners, but with Braun just entering his $105 million contract extension and Davis having re-asserted his hold of a starting spot with a second-half power surge, there is a possibility that the Brewers will return Santana to center next season as a bridge to another prospect acquired in that trade with Houston, Brett Phillips. Shane Peterson had a solid season playing all three outfield spots and was proficient off the bench, so it appears the Brewers also have a good fourth outfielder in place.