• Brewers Hot Stove Tracker
Stearns' predecessor, Doug Melvin, began the process of skewing young with a series of trades in July and August, and the question now is how far Stearns will continue that effort. Despite the Brewers' 68-94 finish, some trade chips remain if the new GM opts for a Cubs- or Astros-style, all-in teardown.
Here's a look at the situation as it currently stands:
Free agents/options: In the wake of their midseason trades, Kyle Lohse was the Brewers' only big league free agent. The Brewers kept first baseman Adam Lind from joining the list when they exercised his $8 million option on Tuesday.
Needs: With the end of Aramis Ramirez's tenure and no prospects ready to take over at the position, third base is the Brewers' most immediate need. Stearns suggested incumbent Elian Herrera as one option, but it seems likely that the Brewers would prioritize third base prospects in future trades, as they did with shortstop while trading Zack Greinke in 2012. Center field is also something of a question mark for 2016, with differing opinions on whether Domingo Santana can cover the position until No. 2 prospect Brett Phillips is Major League-ready. But barring a shake-up, the Brewers could probably put together a complete pitching staff today, stocked largely with talent under control beyond next season. That's a plus for the new GM.
Potential targets: Heading into 2015, it was possible to see a scenario in which the Brewers were players this winter for a top free agent pitcher, like Wisconsin native Jordan Zimmermann. In light of their early-season collapse and subsequent sell-off, the focus now appears on gathering as much young prospect talent as possible, regardless of position, for seasons further into the future.
"We need to acquire talent," manager Craig Counsell said. "That's not to say there's not talent here, and there are signs of talent coming. There's still development left for a large bulk of those guys."
Trade assets: Lind, who drew interest from the Cardinals and other clubs before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, immediately became a prime trade asset when the Brewers exercised his option. Shortstop Jean Segura also fits that description, since he's arbitration-eligible for the first time and plays the position of greatest organizational depth, with top prospect Orlando Arcia moving quickly toward Milwaukee. Closer Francisco Rodriguez received only modest Deadline play, but could be traded if the Brewers can find a taker for the $9.5 million still guaranteed on his contract ($5.5 million salary in 2016, $2 million deferred salary, plus $2 million buyout of a 2016 club option). There's also some industry buzz that the Brewers will go farther than aiming to trade Rodriguez, and will field offers for fellow relievers Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress. Smith is arbitration-eligible this winter.
Then there is catcher Jonathan Lucroy, whose club-friendly contract runs through 2017 and would be the Brewers' most valuable trade asset if made available. They key word, however, is if.
"Jon is a big part of our team," Stearns said in early October. "Jon, when he's healthy, is one of the best total-package catchers in all of baseball. That's a really valuable component. A healthy Jonathan Lucroy is a reason why we can be better next year. To get where we want to get as an organization, we need more Jonathan Lucroy-type players. Jonathan is the type of guy we'd like to have here."
Financial situation: The Brewers have approximately $54 million in current payroll obligations, including Ryan Braun's bump to $20 million at the dawn of his $105 million contract extension. That figure will grow with jumps in salary for arbitration-eligible players Segura, Smith and Wily Peralta.
Bottom line: "The goal ... is to give Craig a group of players that is going to continuously get better and continuously improve over the course of next year and the years beyond, to the point to where we have that core group again that can be competitive in the toughest division of baseball," Stearns said. "There aren't specific goals from a win-loss perspective because the truth is that I don't know."