Ringolsby: New Brew

The Brewers made their only World Series appearances in 1982.

Two years and 121 days after the final out in Milwaukee’s Game 7 loss to the Cardinals, David Stearns was born on Feb. 18, 1985.

And today, heading in his third full season as the general manager of the Brewers, the 33-year-old Stearns is the man charged with putting the pieces together to get the club back into the Fall Classic—and more.

“I have seen some really good Brewers teams, especially in the last decade,” Stearns said, “but I have never seen a Brewers team in the World Series. My goal is to not only see them get back to a World Series, but to take that final step to a championship.”

Stearns has wasted little time revamping the organization since he was hired in September 2015, and he has quickly made the Brewers relevant again. 

Before the first spring training of Stearns’ regime had even opened, he acquired more than a dozen new players in what was a massive movement of veterans—including Khris Davis, Adam Lind, Francisco Rodriguez and Jean Segura—in exchange for youth that he hoped would be the foundation of the future. Those trades yielded a slew of big league contributors such as starter Chase Anderson, catcher Manny Pina and second baseman Jonathan Villar, not to mention prospects Isan Diaz and Freddy Peralta. 

Stearns upped the ante 2016 by trading Jonathan Lucroy, Will Smith and Tyler Thornburg and receiving big league third baseman Travis Shaw and prospects like Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz and Mauricio Dubon.

Now, Ryan Braun and Jimmy Nelson are the two players remaining from when Stearns arrived.

A franchise that lost 94 games and finished 32 games out of first place in 2015 was a surprise in 2017, when it finished second in the NL Central. With an 86-76 record, the Brewers came up one win shy of advancing to the postseason.

That was good—but not good enough. And with the encouragement (and checkbook) of owner Mark Attanasio, Stearns and Co. had a busy offseason. This time they added established big league players at the expense of prospects, convinced that the rebuild was three years ahead of schedule.

“We went into last year understanding we had young guys who were going to play,” Stearns said, “and we were going to see who fit into the mix.”

So many players took a step forward in 2017 that it surprised Stearns. 

“Our players told us they were ready to complete,” he said

The Brewers listened, which was never more evident than the Jan. 25 trade in which they acquired outfielder Christian Yelich from the Marlins at the price of four prospects, including three of the system’s top 10. Outfielders Lewis Brinson (No. 1) and Monte’ Harrison (No. 5) and second baseman Diaz (No. 9) were the headliners, but in Yelich they acquired a star player who has four years plus a club option remaining on his contract.

“Our strategy is to acquire and retain the best young talent in baseball,” Stearns said. “That needs to be our core. We are never going to build a team with free agents.”

But when the Brewers felt the ground beginning to rumble, they knew it was time to supplement the core with some veteran stability.

So they signed free agent starting pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo and reliever Boone Logan, and then made the ultimate statement on Jan. 26, when they agreed to a five-year deal with free agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain.

It’s a long way from the attitude the organization embraced when 30 months ago Stearns took control of a franchise that was coming off the sixth-most losses in 48 years of existence. 

And there were indications that the Brewers aren’t done tweaking their roster, even if the payroll already is set to make the jump from $63 million at the start of last season to more than $100 million on Opening Day this year.

Most of the speculation has focused on the Brewers adding pitchers, but Stearns isn’t as concerned as outsiders. Nelson, who went 12-6, 3.49 before having right shoulder surgery in September, isn’t expected to be ready to come off the disabled list until late June at the earliest.

And Stearns is quick to say “you need 10 guys over the course of the year who you are comfortable making starts at the big league level.”

But he also isn’t overlooking the fact that the Brewers had arguably the most under-appreciated pitching staff in baseball last year.

The Brewers finished fifth in the NL in ERA (4.01) and rotation ERA (4.10) behind postseason participants the Dodgers, D-backs, Nationals and Cubs, and they ranked sixth in the NL with a 3.83 bullpen ERA. 

“The Brewers aren’t a household name, and they are easy to dismiss,” Stearns said.

That, however, could be about to change.

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