General manager David Stearns was hired on Sept. 21 but only officially began with the Brewers this week.
MILWAUKEE — Nearly a week into his tenure with the Milwaukee Brewers, new general manager David Stearns is beginning to set a fresh tone for a franchise in transition.
This has been a busy period for Stearns, who was hired on Sept. 21 but only officially began with the Brewers this week as he transitioned out of his previous job as an assistant GM for the Houston Astros.
"Acquire, develop and retain the best young talent in baseball," said Stearns, sounding like a CEO. "That’s our goal to create an organization and a team that can consistently contend for postseason appearances and World Series appearances."
Owner Mark Attanasio sought someone with a more analytical background in finding a replacement for baseball lifer Doug Melvin, who announced in August that he was moving into an advisory role in the front office.
The 30-year-old Stearns already has an extensive resume working in front offices and the commissioner’s office in New York. Among his initial priorities in this first busy week going through the search process of filling out manager Craig Counsell’s coaching staff and getting to know others in the baseball operations department as he figures out the rest of the front office.
There’s a team on the field to retool, too.
"There’s a long list of stuff . . . we haven’t even gone close to getting there," Counsell said Thursday. "For me, it’s a fun part of it, really."
Counsell and his new boss spent Wednesday night talking baseball while watching the NL wild-card game between the Cubs and Pirates, two of the Brewers’ rivals in the NL Central. Throw in the 100-win Cardinals and the division is loaded.
"We want to be a part of that. We want to make this division better," Stearns said.
Some top issues facing Stearns in his first offseason in Milwaukee:
BRAUN’S BACK: Stearns said that as of Thursday, star slugger Ryan Braun had not had yet scheduled a surgical procedure on his back. With the Brewers well out of contention, Braun was shut down for the final week of the season because of the injury, though the team is confident the former NL MVP will be 100 percent in 2016.
Next season, Braun also enters the first year of the five-year, $105 million extension that he signed in 2011. As of now, Braun is the only player signed beyond 2017, Stearns said, though that could change if the Brewers give an extension to catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
"Ryan has been an integral part of this organization for years. I don’t necessarily see that changing," Stearns said.
LUCROY: The fan favorite missed six weeks early in the season with a broken toe and missed time in September with a concussion. Stearns declined to discuss specifics when asked about the possibility of an extension for Lucroy, but said "Jonathan is the type of guy we like to have here."
Lucroy, 29, is under contract through next season with a club option for 2017.
CENTER AND THIRD: The Brewers seem to be set at the corner outfield positions with Braun and Khris Davis, whose 21 homers after the All-Star break were second in the National League in that stretch only to Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez (27). But center field remains a question following the trade of Carlos Gomez to Houston. Domingo Santana, a power-hitting prospect who came from the Astros in the deal, started 21 games in center, though he’s better suited to play a corner.
Third base is another position that the Brewers might be looking to fill from outside the roster. Hernan Perez is a slick fielder but not a power bat and Elian Herrera seems better suited for a utility role. Jason Rogers might be the best in-house candidate after hitting .296 with four homers off the bench, though he needs to improve defensively.
PITCHING: The Brewers do like the promise that rookie starters like Taylor Jungmann and Zach Davies showed during the season. They’re confident in the back end of the bullpen with veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez and hard-throwing setup men in Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith.
"There are pieces here on which to build," Stearns said. "We just need to isolate those and figure out how best to build around them."