On Monday’s off day for the Milwaukee Brewers, Tom Haudricourt penned an article for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asking David Stearns and Craig Counsell about their thoughts on the team’s current spot atop the NL Central standings. Both men gave quotes that aren’t all that different from anything we have heard from them before.
“The overall plan here is to win major-league games,” Stearns said. “That’s what we’re trying to do and that’s what we’re building toward.
“The plan is to consistently win major-league games over a period of years. 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.”
“There’s no skipping steps,” Stearns cautioned. “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.”
“We think about it like, 'Let’s show up, let’s play the game today, let’s enjoy what we’re doing, and see where that takes us,' ” Counsell said. “It’s a cliché but you take it day by day. That’s what we’re having fun doing. We’re having fun coming and competing every day, and enjoying each other’s company."
“I don’t think you should ever put limits on a baseball season,” Counsell said. “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.”
Within the article, Haudricourt also notes that “anything is possible” for the Brewers at the trade deadline if they keep up their current level of play, including trading minor leaguers (outside of #1 prospect Lewis Brinson) in order to add players at the major league level.
Given the content of the article, the title “Unexpected early success won't tempt Brewers to skip steps in rebuilding process” was quite misleading. This probably isn’t Tom’s fault; it’s likely an editor simply slapped that headline on the article before it headed off for publishing. In today’s click-bait society, where few people actually read the articles they share on Facebook or Twitter, that lead to posts like this from the local sports radio network:
The Brewers open a six game homestand Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays at Miller Park. Despite Sunday's 13-6 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field, the Brewers find themselves still in first place in the NL Central. But just because the young Crew are ahead of the Cardinals and Cubs in late May doesn't mean GM David Stearns has any urge to speed up the process of building a roster by adding free agents or making trades: READ MORE
Nowhere in Haudricourt’s article does Stearns say that he’s not willing to make trades or supplement the current team. He talks about “not skipping steps” and balancing the “near term and long term”, but those are sort of nebulous concepts that to me, mean that he wouldn’t trade high-caliber prospects for “rental players” in order to go “all-in” this year or any in one season (think the CC Sabathia trade). That doesn’t mean Stearns isn’t open to trading from his minor league depth to improve the team with a player who has multiple years of control, and in fact he’s recently had a few quotes that indicate he’s considering all options when it comes to this team, this year.
From May 10th, during an appearance on 105.7 FM the Fan:
“We’re in a position here in a couple of months where we have a realistic opportunity to compete for a playoff spot and we’re talking about that and we’re talking about whether there are pieces we should add or pieces we should keep. Those are conversations I’m going to relish. Our goal is to get to those types of conversations and be able to make those decisions.
If we’re in a spot where we get to, whether it’s July or August past the non-waiver trade deadline and [trading for a player] is the prudent thing for the organization to do, we have to consider it.”
“There’s a long-term strategy here that overrides and guides every decision that we’re going to make. We’re going to stay consistent with that. At the same time, we have to be cognizent of where we are right now and if we get to the point where we’re competing for a playoff spot, that’s a great place to be and we’ll happily have those discussions at this point.”
Stearns told Baseball America before the season that “With the amount of young talent we have on our major league roster and the amount of young talent at the high levels of the minor leagues, we’re understanding this could be the year we take a significant step forward. It may not be. If it’s not, that’s OK and we’ll reassess where we are as an organization. But as we sit here in spring training, our goal is to begin to take that step now.” The organization knew that it was possible that the team could outperform outside expectations this year, and we are seeing that play out on the field.
Stearns also recently indicated he doesn’t necessarily see the team’s current level of play slowing down. From a recent Adam McCalvy radio appearance:
“What he says is, when you look at it and you kind of look at the individual pieces, [Stearns] doesn’t see a strong argument that it’s not sustainable because there’s nobody that’s performing so far above their expectations that are just naturally going to taper off and bring this team down. That was Eric Thames in April...he’s come totally back down to Earth, and yet they’re still winning. Ryan Braun has missed basically all of May so far, and they’re still winning. Starting pitching has not been good, and they’re still winning. Their closer got removed from the role, their big bullpen free agent addition Neftali Feliz, and they’re still winning. Jonathan Lucroy is gone after 5 years, and they’re still winning. There’s all of these factors that are giving inside that Brewers clubhouse some hope that everyone just needs to keep doing what they’re doing and we clearly can win baseball games.”
Yes, it is still pretty early in the season. But we’re less now than a week away from Memorial Day, and as the old cliche goes “Memorial Day is when you can start paying attention to the standings.” The Brewers are playing good baseball right now, having won 7 of their last 10, and even after last night’s loss they remain 1.5 games ahead of the Cardinals and Cubs in the NL Central standings at 25-20 overall.
We shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves and set our expectations for a pennant or anything like that, but at the same time we can’t assume that this team will just stay mired in “rebuild mode” just because “the Cubs and Astros lost for 5+ years.” Stearns has been much more aggressive than either of those franchises in putting a competitive product on the field at the MLB level while still building up his collection of prospects, and those efforts have yielded a top-5 farm system and, so far, a first place team in 2017. If the Brewers keep up their current pace, they are not going to be sellers at the trade deadline, regardless of the deceptive headlines that are out there. To tell the truth, based on the comments made by the General Manager himself, it seems more likely that the Milwaukee Nine become buyers at the deadline if things their strong play continues.