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David Stearns addresses pending free agents, possible non-tenders during end-of-year press conference

The team’s president and general manager knows he has a busy offseason ahead of him if the Brewers are going to make the playoffs three years in a row for the first time

Miami Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers

On a day he hoped to be watching his team once again face off against the Dodgers in the playoffs, Brewers President of Baseball Operations and GM David Stearns instead sat down with reporters for a lengthy postmortem on his team’s disappointing, exciting, roller coaster of a season.

Calling it an “imperfect season,” Stearns still noted there were positives to come out of 2019, and they were able to make the best out of a situation that many of teams would not have been able to overcome:

“Through the first five months of the season, we played very inconsistent baseball. We had periods throughout that span where I thought we were a really good baseball team. Early in the season, I thought we played a very tough schedule, we played it very well. We had a stretch over the heart of the summer where there were a lot of ups and downs. We battled injuries, we battled some inconsistent performance from key players on our team, and we were still able to keep ourselves close enough so that a good run got us back to the playoffs.”

“We recognize this wasn’t a perfect year, maybe not as much went as planned this year as may have in 2018, I certainly recognize that. But overall I’m very proud of the effort and where we got to as an organization this year.”

On the topic of underperforming players, Stearns was asked specifically about Travis Shaw and Orlando Arcia, two players who will be up for arbitration this winter, leaving Stearns & Co. with a potentially difficult decision to make -- bet on past performance and a belief they can bounce back, or assess whether they money they would be due as part of a significant raise could be better used elsewhere.

While noting those as two potential areas of improvement this winter, Stearns did still show some support for both Shaw and Arcia, but seemed to have some tougher love for Arcia, saying the team needs more production both offensively *and* defensively from short, and rather matter-of-factly stating “he’s a better player than he showed this year.”

That kind of evaluation won’t just be reserved for the players, either, as Stearns said no decision have been made on the coaching staff -- which got some noticeable reactions online, but seemed to be said more in the tone of “we’re going to evaluate everything in the coming weeks.”

That thorough evaluation probably won’t include manager Craig Counsell, who Stearns spoke in glowing terms about.

Stearns acknowledged that he knows the Brewers have never made the playoffs three years in a row, but said he’s ready to get to work over the next four months to continue their run of success -- even if the roster could look drastically different in the spring. That’s a start contrast from last year, when he said “basically the same team” from 2018 would return in 2019, which proved to be largely true, outside of the surprise signing of Yasmani Grandal.

The group of soon-to-be free agents is much larger this year, though, headlined by Grandal and Mike Moustakas. Jordan Lyles and Drew Pomeranz also got shoutouts as pending free agents who were a big reason why the Brewers were able to get back to October, with Stearns saying, “I’m sure we’ll be in contact with them.”

Whether Grandal and Moustakas will be back seems to be a bigger question, though. Stearns made it clear he’d like both to stay Brewers, but whether that’s actually going to happen may be out of his control.

“I don’t think it’s particularly controversial for me to say I’d love to have both of them back. They’re two very good players that fit with our organization and fit with our team very well. Whether the realities of the market permit that, and whether the realities of the free agent market permit that, I think is something we’re going to have to evaluate as we go through the offseason.”

On that note, Stearns answered the obvious follow-up question: how much do you have to spend this winter?

“I think the great thing about our ownership group is it’s an ongoing conversation about where our resources are, and the levels of the resources we can commit in any one year. Mark and the entirety of our group has repeatedly demonstrated that they’re willing to put the resources into this team to have a competitive product year in, year out. That’s our goal as an organization, and so we continue to have those discussions. We’re going to have those discussions throughout the entirety of the offseason and then we’ll see where the team and the roster and ultimately the payroll number lands as we get closer to spring training.”

That’s basically 45 seconds’ worth of “we aren’t going to say a number out loud,” but it is true that if any front office has shown a willingness to spend money when the price is right while everyone else counts their profits, it’s the Brewers.

Whether they’re willing to spend enough to keep the best catcher on the free agent market or finally give Moustakas the multi-season deal he’s been searching for for years remains to be seen (and will be a topic for discussion all winter).

Stearns did indicate he knows how important those two are, though, and just how much production he would need to replace if he were to lose one or both of the players that carried the offense through stretches of the season.

Some of the smaller nuggets out of the press conference:

- Stearns is optimistic Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta can bounce back in 2020 after mostly rocky seasons. Where they’ll fit in remains to be seen.

- Brent Suter doesn’t seem to have a defined role, with Stearns answering “all of the above” when asked if Suter will be a starter or reliever in 2020.

- Trent Grisham “will have a role” on next year’s major league team, although what that is yet to be decided. Stearns did say Counsell does a great job of managing Ryan Braun’s playing time, implying there should be plenty of at-bats for players like Grisham even if Braun stays in the outfield (Stearns danced around the Braun-to-first-base question when asked directly).

- At this point, Lorenzo Cain won’t need surgery for any of his injuries (and no other Brewers need surgery to fix any lingering issues).

- Jimmy Nelson gets praise for working himself back to the majors, but he’s another player with an arbitration decision coming in December where all of the ups and downs will need to be evaluated.

- No decisions have been made yet on any player options

- Potential rule changes next year could have a very big impact on how he puts together his roster this winter, but he needs to know what the official changes will be first, whether it’s a 26-man roster during the first five months, a 28-man September roster, a three-batter minimum for relievers, or limits on the number of pitchers a team can carry. Those announcements will be made after the World Series, and Stearns can start to build his strategy from there.


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