Posted on May 23, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Milwaukee Brewers have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season. Heading into the season, the Brew Crew was expected to continue making incremental progress in a long rebuilding process after finishing 16 games under .500 last year. But nearly two months into the 2017 season, the Brewers have far surpassed expectations. Milwaukee is currently six games over .500 and in first place in the NL Central. However, Brewers GM David Stearns says that the team’s success early in 2017 doesn’t mean the club will expedite the rebuilding process.
Since taking over as GM prior to the 2016 season, Stearns has had a plan in place to acquire young talent and build from the ground up. So far, he’s done just that, as the Brewers boast a rather impressive farm system following a series of trades made over the past year. However, with the addition of major league players like Eric Thames and Travis Shaw over the winter, the Brewers have received a short-term boost, enabling them to compete in what appears to be a wide open NL Central. But Stearns doesn’t want that success to alter the team’s long-term plans.
“The plan is to consistently win major-league games over a period of years,” says Stearns. “If that process begins a little bit sooner than people expected, that’s great. And we’ll react accordingly. But it doesn’t change our strategy; it doesn’t change our plan. Our goal is to create an organization that’s going to compete in this division for a lengthy period of time. If that starts a little bit sooner, that’s great.”
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Milwaukee’s surprising start to the season has some already speculating that the Brewers could be buyers on the trade market this summer. Last summer, Stearns traded away all-star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and closer Jeremy Jeffress for a package of prospects that have helped to improve the club’s farm system. Is it possible for the Brewers to be on the other side of such a transaction this season? Could the Brewers turn around and trade some of those prospects for an impact player who could help them secure a division title or wild card spot in 2017?
Stearns indicates that he’s open to just about anything. But at the same time, he’s not about to sell the farm so the Brewers can take a shot at something special in 2017.
“There’s no skipping steps,” Stearns reiterates. “But that’s true whether it’s 2017 or 2020. We are never going to be an organization that skips steps. We’re always going to have to balance near term and long term. There are other organizations that have done that exceptionally well. We think we can walk that balance as well.”
Some of Milwaukee’s best prospects, including outfielders Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips and pitchers Josh Hader, Luis Ortiz, and Brandon Woodruff ,should be ready to contribute at the big league level in 2018, if not later this season. That means a year from now, the Brewers could have several more pieces of the puzzle in place and be in an even better position to compete at the top of the NL Central than they are right now.
The promise of that future could keep Stearns from making any major moves this summer, even if the Brewers remain in contention for a playoff spot deep into the season. This would be a sound approach that keeps the Brewers in a good position to compete in 2018 and beyond.
However, there’s another side of the coin. Milwaukee has played well thus far, but the Brewers may need help down the line if they’re going to remain ahead of the Cubs, the defending world champions, and the Cardinals, a perennial contender. Not making any moves to improve the team this summer could be frustrating for the Brewers, including manager Craig Counsell, who says he manages every game to win, even if the team is still in rebuilding mode.
“I don’t think you should ever put limits on a baseball season,” says Counsell. “David has talked about this, too. You only get so many seasons, I don’t care who you are. So, certainly at the start, why put limits on it? I think we’ll always think like that.”
Milwaukee’s early season success has put Stearns in a tough spot between trying to compete right now and still keeping an eye on the future. Few thought Stearns and the Brewers would be in this position quite so soon, but it’s happened. Despite the challenges it may present later this season, Stearns isn’t about to complain about it.
“The overall plan here is to win major-league games,” says Stearns. “That’s what we’re trying to do and that’s what we’re building toward.”