Hey, Erik, yeah, hey, how’s it going? Dave Stearns here. Good, good, yeah, no problem. Thanks for taking my call. Listen, we need to talk. Got a sec? Cool. Thanks.
David Stearns spent the first four and a half years cleaning up an organization in disarray. Now, with a franchise cornerstone in Christian Yelich reportedly locked up for the long-term, Stearns can build both a championship-grade club and his own legacy.
Since David Stearns arrived in Milwaukee, he’s made a clear and conscious effort to prove that he loves stacking players up the middle and for good reason.
But that hasn’t stopped a black hole from forming behind the mound.
What more can we say than that? OK, I’ll try.
Aside from Machado and deGrom, Brewers followers and faithful alike, I say that in the most literal of terms. Almost all those guys were mentioned in one day in Brewers rumors on social media. After last night’s proceedings, a 3-1 victory against Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, David Stearns finalized a deal with the Kansas City Royals for third baseman Mike Moustakas, sending to Kansas City top prospects Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez.
The move gives the Brewers an extra starting-grade third baseman and a fourth lefty bat with pop to accompany Eric Thames, Travis Shaw and Christian Yelich. Shaw reportedly will move to second base, a position where Brewers have routinely underachieved. Social media reaction has been mixed. Amongst the BtB cooperative, the reactions have been mixed.
What do we do when we are caught between genuine, competing choices?
And now . . . let us go straight at our question. I have said, and now repeat it, that not only as a matter of fact do we find our passional nature influencing us in our opinions, but that there are some options between opinions in which this influence must be regarded both as an inevitable and as a lawful determinant of our choice.” William James, 1896
Moustakas is having a very Moustakas kind of year: .249/.309/.468 with 20 home runs, 21 doubles and a Ryan Braun-esque .247 BAbip. He doesn’t have a ton of plate discipline (30 BB/63 K), but it’s not Domingo Santana-grade deficient. Until today, he’s been trapped in the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium, in a division with sizable dimensions in all its parks. Moving to the NLC and its relatively cozy right-field porches might yield a low-key JD Martinez kind of situation.
Moose also has championship pedigree, but we said the same thing about Lorenzo Cain‘s return to Milwaukee: that experience of a pennant and world championship off Blue Ridge Cutoff would help a team without a lot of veteran, postseason experience. He adds more of that, but at this stage of the game, it’s hard to think that Stearns was trading predominantly for clubhouse presence.
So, I understand the kernel of Brewers Nation’s relative disimpression with the move. With Brent Suter down and a clear need at second, the Gausman/Schoop rumors that enjoyed an uptick Friday afternoon and evening made a lot of sense. Stearns using Machado talks as intelligence-gathering to see what the erratic Orioles organization might do against what they did with their superstar infielder seemed like a brilliant stroke of brinksmanship.
More to the point, I have a soft spot for that generation of Kansas City Brewers; Doug Melvin only gave them a full third of their championship-grade starting nine (Cain, Alcides Escobar, Nori Aoki), while Jake Odorizzi was a key component in the Royals garnering James Shields and Wade Davis from the Rays; both of them, as you undoubtedly recall, were essential to their 2015 title. Latter-day Melvin was always more helpful to other teams than he was his own.
Now that we’ve come full circle, the hope is that what we have now is the Milwaukee Royals. And that is one reason why I will to believe that this is the right move for the Brewers.
And I get the questions surrounding Moustakas–none of this really seems like a David Stearns trade. Moustakas has never been one to hit for average (though he does hit to contact), he is certainly limited in the field (Shaw, being a good sport, is moving to second) and he’s neither particularly young nor controllable ( there is a mutual option for 2019; both parties are almost certainly going to pass that up.) He is, however, a good clubhouse guy and the temptation for lots of RF dingers has to be tantalizing for all involved parties.
Further, Stearns hasn’t blown a trade. He has the track record to justify and perhaps excuse a calculated gamble here at the deadline. Getting Joakim Soria for good, but inessential farmhands earlier this week was nothing but savvy. And in trading Phillips and Lopez, the only thing that gets hurt are Brewers’ fans sentiments toward a fantastic human being and tremendous clubhouse goofball (along with that Death Star superlaser for an arm.) It’s a solid value-based trade for a rental and Phillips gets his long-awaited chance to show what he can do unencumbered by a glut of organizational outfielders. There’s no reason to think Phillips can’t shine in Kansas City and can help a rebuilding team break their fall while becoming a doubles machine. Lopez, too, gets a chance to develop in a low-pressure environment; he still has good ceiling and profiles to be effective at the major league level.
Corey Ray made the leap this season, and he profiles to be major league-ready sooner than later. Braun is locked-in as a Brewers lifer. Cain and Yelich are here for the long haul. Phillips, as talented as he is, was due for a change of scenery and a chance to have the stage to himself.
Plainly put, with Moustakas, Brewers fans don’t know what they’re going to get. Advanced metrics seem to indicate that he’s been snakebitten with a moribund team and good opposing defense. His WAR, nonetheless, is trending toward the best it’s been since 2015, a season where he slashed .817 with 57 XBH and the Royals won it all. This would suggest a tendency to hit the accelerator when his teams are competitive, and the 2018 Brewers are nothing if not that.
If he’s also pulling something along the lines of fellow Royals predecessor Carlos Beltran and treating this like a contract year, more power to him. Remember, Beltran went from Kansas City to the Astros and put up video game numbers. Everybody wins if Moustakas outpaces, opts out and earns a big payday elsewhere. (Then again, that was supposed to happen last hot stove.)
In the absence of a clear choice one way or the other, it is acceptable to make the choice with your gut. I understand the consternation of those who don’t get the trade. With the data accessible to us, in a move more suited to William James than Bill, I choose to think this the right one.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.
The Milwaukee Brewers were maligned by fans and pundits alike after not grabbing a big arm in free agency this preseason, but the David Stearns methodology may be turning the talking heads on their heels.
What are the Milwaukee Brewers waiting for?
Now that the Brewers’ logjam is thorough and complete, it has been expected by many that David Stearns would be motivated to move Domingo Santana as the centerpiece of a deal for a starting pitcher. Santana, coming off a very respectable 2017 in which he was just one double shy of joining the 30-30 club, is the most attractive and movable asset he has. It makes sense, because you’d better believe Stearns is name-dropping Ryan Braun at the outset of every conversation to see if anyone will take the bait and no one is.
Santana is young, controllable and emerging: the perfect player for this bleeding-edge post-Moneyball era Baseball seems to be entering. For all the reasons other teams are interested, those are the same reasons Stearns wants him in his organization. And then there’s this this little tidbit I happened upon Tuesday:
Age 23 to 24 improvements:
Player A: BA +16 / OBP +12 / SLG +28 / OPS +26
Player B: BA +22 / OBP +26 / SLG +58 / OPS +83
Player B is Santana. Player A was Dave Winfield, from his third to fourth year in the league. Santana’s leap from part-time to full-time over the same age span isn’t just the natural development of a prospect, it is punctuated equilibrium and a sign that Santana may be more than a solid role player, but a superstar in the making.
In fairness, it’s too soon to say Santana is going to be a Hall-caliber player; Winfield didn’t start really showing his quality until 1978 at age 26. They’re similarly built but different athletes; Winfield was all-everything in Minnesota and starred in baseball and basketball for the Golden Gophers, the latter lending itself well to his instincts in the outfield and prowess at the wall. Santana also has great instincts in the field, but doesn’t have that acrobatic ability or nearly the arm Winfield wielded with impunity. Santana’s swing is smoother and less-violent than Winfield’s looping, almost awkward line-drive craft, yet both have a knack for taking pitches the opposite way.
Similar, yet different, yet similar.
Santana’s 2017 development has him, at this nascent stage of his career, surpassing a Hall of Famer. I suggest this is why Stearns is loathe to move him, and why he’s still a part of the Brewers organization after two major moves for outfielders that have the baseball world still abuzz about what’s brewing in Milwaukee. Where Santana’s value is perceived to be diminished, it would seem that his value has only increased. Stearns is either content to have that kind of upside in his clubhouse, or is waiting for another team to agree to a stronger return for Santana’s services and controllable years.
There is one albatross to Santana, and one clear numerical distinction between him and his Hall of Fame counterpart: 100, as in Santana struck out 100 more times than Winfield in their age 24 seasons. Winfield knew how to work a pitcher and only struck out more than 100 times thrice in his career, taking roughly three walks for every four strikeouts. By way of underscoring the point, Santana struck out 91 times in 2016, playing in 77 games.
If there is any hope for Santana becoming a legend, it will be in his ability to learn plate discipline and work his strikeout figures down. A .371 OBP with 178 Ks in 2017 is less Dave Winfield and more Adam Dunn, but everything else is there: good power and average at the plate, respectable in the outfield, by all accounts a good guy to have on the team. In my estimation, the trajectory for Santana (of course given the benefit of a full, healthy career) is Joe Carter. The floor is Corey Hart, beleaguered by injuries and forced into an unnatural spot in the batting order, hindering his growth. The ceiling, an evolutionary Winfield.
No matter what, Stearns has a very good problem on his hands, and that problem could be great. The Brewers don’t have to move Santana, just as they don’t need to add a starting pitcher. Entering Spring Training with an embarrassment of riches and depth is quite the contrast to where this team was in January 2016, to say nothing of 2006 or 1996. If the injury bug strikes the outfield, there is a starter ready to come in, be it Braun, Brett Phillips, Keon Broxton or Hernan Perez, even Eric Thames or Jonathan Villar in a pinch. Despite the loss of Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison in the Yelich trade, they rightly still have high hopes for Corey Ray and Trent Clark in the system.
Stearns and manager Craig Counsell are unafraid of the unorthodox, which is part of the reason why they’re right back in the middle of the scrum for the National League Central. Now that they’ve moved from rebuild to contention, it’s retaining players with significant value that will help keep them there. Anything less is a move for the sake of making a move, which is irresponsible to the medium-term viability of the club in the same measure that going in on Yelich and Lorenzo Cain was a bold play to win now.
When it comes to Domingo Santana‘s future with the Brewers, true love waits.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.
Despite the seemingly growing malcontent in the ranks of Milwaukee Brewers fans over the team’s lack of big offseason acquisitions, David Stearns and the rest of the front office have been quietly proving that need is not best filled by big names or big money but by good timing and tangible value.
If there was an end-of-season award for best value based on individual players or team payroll, the Milwaukee Brewers would have easily been nominated, if not in prime position for taking it home with little competition.
Instead, manager Craig Counsell was stiffed by the writers for Manager of the Year nomination despite taking a young, generally inexperienced team within one game of the playoffs, ending their season at 86-76, around twenty games above what was almost universally predicted in the preseason, all on a $83 million total payroll. It merits mentioning that Counsell won the award from The Sporting News.
While money has largely been one of the most influential factors across the league as a whole, frugal front offices in recent years have made a statement that money isn’t everything, including the most recent World Series-winning Houston Astros, who hovered just below Major League Baseball’s league average salary at around $150 million. The four years prior have seen no shortage of the small-market, big-result narratives either. The Cleveland Indians made the World Series in 2016 with a total payroll of $115 million. The 2015 Kansas City Royals won it with $132 million while the 2014 version came up with an AL pennant spending only $105 million.
The story of winning has undoubtedly shifted in recent decades, primarily led by the evolution of advanced analytics. Few examples of such transformations have been so prevalent since the development of the forward pass in the NFL and the public eye is now beginning to focus more consistently on baseball’s ‘Moneyball’ revolution.
Brewers fans don’t have to look far, either. Before general manager David Stearns helmed the front office in Milwaukee, he did the lion’s share of the work assembling the talent of these 2017 World Series champion Astros. The major difference? As it stands, the Brewers have only just over $32 million on the books after jettisoning Matt Garza’s $12.5 million final contract year this offseason — and that includes re-upping with the team’s surprise front-of-the-rotation starter Chase Anderson for $11.25 million (two-year with a pair of club options covering ’20 and ’21).
Considering the comparison of wins to cost (86 wins for $83 million), the Brewers got considerable value that ended up just under $1 million per win, one of the best ratios in baseball. In 2018, they’re positioned even better with more payroll headroom and over half the roster still under team control.
The team does have numerous players entering arbitration including Jeremy Jeffress, Jonathan Villar, Hernan Perez, Jimmy Nelson, Corey Knebel and Stephen Vogt, but only Nelson and Knebel look to provide any significant jump in salary and given their talent, the team may try to settle before the deadline. Travis Shaw and Domingo Santana, another pair of 2017 standouts often seen as potential building blocks, may also be candidates for early settlement.
But there is still one looming question that could shift the entire paradigm: Will the Brewers jump into the starting pitching market during the hot stove?
Milwaukee has been linked to just about every starting pitcher on the market entering the offseason, including Jake Arrieta, who was predicted by MLB Trade Rumors to receive somewhere around $100 million on a four-year deal. Although there seem to be chances that the Brewers test the current market, one of the strongest starting pitching markets in recent years, Stearns has shown little consideration for anyone but generally young, controllable starters like Jose Quintana, that is, before he was scooped up by the Cubs just before the mid-season deadline.
But three important factors seem to have gone overlooked in this year’s early hot stove predictions for Milwaukee.
The first is that Stearns puts a premium on value, no matter the position. He did not overpay for either Eric Sogard (who was recently re-signed for $2.4 million) or Neil Walker, yet both produced far beyond their relative pay grades, as did reliever Anthony Swarzak and first baseman Eric Thames, despite the ups and downs of his first year back in the majors. It seems unlikely that the GM will overpay for only average or even tailing production like Arrieta unless his crew sees significant upside in one or more free agent candidates and of course, for the right price.
If he even pursues the position at all, it seems far more likely that Stearns will look for under-the-radar candidates like Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill or Tyler Chatwood, low-cost fill-ins with upside that could again extend far beyond their pay, players who could rise in value or identify those in the system that could become expendable and strengthen the team’s competitive longevity with return on investment, either in production or prospects.
The second, is that the team is already loaded with talented pitchers. Chase Anderson will likely be slotted in the number one spot at season’s start. Zach Davies also looks to be a shoo-in. Brent Suter, who held down Anderson’s spot admirably while the latter was on the disabled list for nearly two months and continued to roll once he returned, is another viable option considering the numbers he posted during that stretch (From July 3 onward: 13 GS, 3.24 ERA, 52 K, 16 BB, 66.2 IP). Brandon Woodruff was nearly lights out in his first foray in the majors, posting a 1.52 ERA with 20 strikeouts and nine walks over his first four starts before getting gassed as soon as the calendar turned to September, stretching him beyond the comforts of the shorter minor league season. Aaron Wilkerson is another option, as he carried his solid Double-A stats (11-4, 3.16 ERA, 1.075 WHIP, 143 K, 36 BB, 142.1 IP) into his MLB introduction (1-0, 3.48 ERA, 0.677 WHIP, 7 K, 1 BB, 10.1 IP).
And of course, that doesn’t even count Josh Hader’s potential transition back into a starting role, the return of Jimmy Nelson or the high upside of minor leaguers Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Luis Ortiz and Cody Ponce, who all could see their first Major League time in 2018.
The third is that Stearns is a man who loves to defy convention. His acquisition of Thames and Jesus Aguilar, who ended up being one of the best pinch hitters in the majors after being abandoned by the Cleveland Indians, largely solved the glaring issue at first base, all for under $6 million — and the duo went on to produce 47 home runs and 115 RBI in 2017.
While the pitching options are more limited than position players when reaching back into the minor league free agent pool or potentially overseas with any level of certainty, especially given the substantial escalation of talent in the majors, Stearns’ history has shown that his economic approach has been his greatest asset.
Whatever the case may be, the Milwaukee Brewers are now positioned with few gaping holes left to be filled and more than enough options to exercise in the coming months. And above all else, given the proven dexterity of their front office, the 2018 team will primed to prove that money isn’t everything.
Jonathan Powell is a co-founder and lead writer for Bronx to Bushville.