The Milwaukee Brewers have had a relatively active winter thus far. Slingin’ David Stearns has already signed more major league free agents this year than he did all of last winter (Eric Thames, Tommy Milone), received a nice haul for reliever Tyler Thornburg, and has brought in a series of interesting depth and minor league signings. There have been some missteps (losing Miguel Diaz in the Rule 5 Draft) but overall the direction of the franchise appears to be on the up and up thanks to the moves that the young general manager continues to execute.
Coming into this winter, however, many people around baseball assumed that most of the Brewers buzz would revolve around former-MVP outfielder Ryan Braun. The last remaining player from the 2011 playoff team (following the trade of Martin Maldonado) and the last major trade chip on the big league roster, Braun was prominently featured in rumors throughout summer. That includes various reports about a possible trade to the Dodgers for a package including Yasiel Puig, though there have been conflicting accounts about just how close that deal was to being consummated.
The expectation when the offseason began was that the Brewers and Dodgers would resume those talks, but there really haven’t been any substantive rumors regading Los Angeles or any other potential Ryan Braun suitors to this point. Braun batted an outstanding .305/.365/.538 with 30 home runs and 16 steals across 564 plate appearances last year, but given his age (33) and contract status (four years, $76 mil remaining) there has been plenty of speculation about him as a possible trade candidate for the rebuilding Brewers. Braun’s limited no-trade clause allows him to veto trades to 23 teams (his preference appears to be to play in California or Miami) but that turns into a full no-trade clause next May when he earns his 10-5 rights for spending ten years in the big leagues and at least the last five with the same team.
Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings came and went earlier this month and there was no movement on the Ryan Braun front. Craig Counsell indicated that he’s planning on Braun being in left field on Opening Day, telling reporters rather definitively during the meetings in National Harbor, Maryland that "I don’t see anything to change that. He's our leftfielder." David Stearns himself was on the Wendy’s Big Show locally on 105.7 FM The Fan in Milwaukee on Wednesday and was asked about the possibility of dealing Braun. You can listen to the full interview here, but below is Stearns’ full quote on his All-Star outfielder:
“At this point, my expectation is that Ryan is going to be here next year and going forward. My general thinking right now is that if we were going to get a deal that was going to motivate us to move Ryan, we likely would’ve already gotten it. Obviously we need to keep listening, that’s my job, I generally answer the phone when other GMs call and want to talk about any of our players. Given the offers that have come to us at this point, and he’s still a Brewer, I expect that he’s going to be a Brewer going forward.”
It’s very likely that this could just be posturing on the General Manager’s part, of course, but it is interesting to hear David Stearns essentially double down on Counsell’s strong sentiments that Braun will return to Milwaukee next season. Stearns showed us with the Jonathan Lucroy trade that he’s willing to set a price and be patient while he waits for another organization to meet it, not budging until he gets what he determines is fair value for any of his players. Braun obviously remains an elite player and given the way the market has gone in the last few seasons, his contract should no longer serve as a detriment to his trade value. Clearly, Stearns has not received any that are close to his liking and appears to be comfortable holding on to his franchise player going forward.
Stearns also covered a wide range of other topics in the interview, including:
- Teams knew that if Chris Carter wasn’t dealt, the Brewers were going to non-tender him and allow him to become a free agent. That’s why the club was unable to get a return for the NL’s leading home run hitter last season. He added that Chris was disappointed in the outcome.
- The organization first started talking about Eric Thames and how to evaluate his impending free agency at this time last year, while he was still under contract in Korea. The club feels comfortable that they did well to get to know Thames as both a player and a person over the past year and they believe he’ll be a very productive major league player with Milwaukee. He likened the KBO to an offensive-friendly AAA environment but believes that the reasons that Eric was so successful there will translate back to the states.
- Stearns pushes back against the idea that he was mandated to keep Craig Counsell when he was initially hired on as GM, and now that he’s gotten to know and be comfortable with Counsell he praised his field manager as “the person who could lead our organization back to the playoffs and ultimately to the World Series...I have complete confidence in him going forward.”
- The Jett Bandy trade ultimately came down to the fact that he’s four years younger and has three more seasons of club control than Martin Maldonado, who was “likely nearing the end of his time in Milwaukee.” He also added that Bandy’s - and other players - presence in the clubhouse was a consideration in the deal. “We have to put a group together that we think is going to be a cohesive group, that we think is going to relate to the coaching staff.”
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs