Brewers GM focuses on middle infielders

Highest-profile acquisitions have been shortstops

Brewers GM focuses on middle infielders

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Brewers squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the vision?

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers GM David Stearns grew up in Manhattan a New York Mets fan, and his favorite players as a kid should not surprise those who has watched his work in his 16 months on the job. They were Kevin Elster and Rey Ordonez, both Mets shortstops, and later Mike Piazza, a catcher.

Up-the-middle defenders. They remain some of Stearns' favorite players today, as he tries to restock the Brewers with young, controllable talent during a period of rebuilding.

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"Those types of players have many different avenues by which they can contribute going forward," Stearns said. "It can be defensively, it can be through baserunning, it can be by playing multiple positions. …

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"It's probably a team-by-team philosophy. Teams that are looking to use their rosters in different ways, to move players around, are going to be drawn to players with versatility. Teams that have more established players that can hold down a position are probably less inclined to need that. But certainly, there is a recognition that players who can play multiple positions give themselves, frankly, a greater margin for error. If one position doesn't work out, they have an ability to move elsewhere."

That notion -- that a shortstop can move to third base, for example, but not the other way around -- explains why Stearns has acquired so many up-the-middle players in his tenure instead of obsessing over the Brewers' organizational "needs," which include first- and third base. Of his 13 trades, only two have not returned any shortstops, center fielders or catchers. First, the Adam Lind deal in December 2015, which sent Lind to Seattle for three teenage pitchers. And then the 2016 trade that sent Aaron Hill to the Red Sox for pitcher Aaron Wilkerson and second baseman Wendell Rijo.

Stearns' highest-profile acquisitions have been shortstops, beginning with the November 2015 trade that brought Jonathan Villar to the Brewers from the Astros. Villar was the Brewers' Opening Day shortstop last season, then moved to other infield positions after the Brewers promoted their top prospect, Orlando Arcia, on Aug. 2.

Brewers trades under David Stearns:

Nov. 18, 2015
Traded Francisco Rodriguez to the Tigers for second baseman Javier Betancourt and a player to be named later (catcher Manny Pina).

Nov. 19, 2015
Traded Cy Sneed to the Astros for infielder Jonathan Villar.

Nov. 20, 2015
Traded Luis Sardinas to the Mariners for outfielder Ramon Flores.

Dec. 9, 2015
Traded Adam Lind to the Mariners for pitchers Carlos Herrera, Daniel Missaki and Freddy Peralta.

Dec. 17, 2015
Traded Jason Rogers to the Pirates for outfielder Keon Broxton and pitcher Trey Supak.

Jan. 28, 2016
Traded Trevor Seidenberger to the Padres for outfielder Rymer Liriano.

Jan. 30, 2016
Traded Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner to the Diamondbacks for infielder Aaron Hill, pitcher Chase Anderson, infielder Isan Diaz and cash.

Feb. 12, 2016
Traded Khris Davis to the A's for pitcher Bubba Derby and catcher Jacob Nottingham.

July 7, 2016
Traded Aaron Hill and cash to the Red Sox for infielder Wendell Rijo and pitcher Aaron Wilkerson.

Aug. 1, 2016
Traded Jeremy Jeffress and Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers for outfielder Lewis Brinson, pitcher Luis Ortiz and a player to be named later (outfielder Ryan Cordell). Traded Will Smith to the Giants for pitcher Phil Bickford and catcher Andrew Susac.

Dec. 6, 2016
Traded Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox for third baseman Travis Shaw, infielder Mauricio Dubon, pitcher Josh Pennington and a player to be named.

Dec. 13, 2016
Traded Martin Maldonado and Drew Gagnon to the Angels for catcher Jett Bandy.

Subsequent to the Villar deal, Stearns acquired Isan Diaz from the D-backs as part of a five-player swap in January 2016, and Mauricio Dubon in the December trade that sent Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox. Diaz and Dubon currently rank eighth and ninth on MLBPipeline.com's list of the top 30 Brewers prospects, and Diaz cracked the website's top 100 prospects in baseball.

At the moment, seven of the Brewers' top 10 prospects are shortstops or center fielders. The other three players are pitchers.

Some of those players, led by top Brewers prospect Lewis Brinson, an athletic outfielder acquired in the Jonathan Lucroy trade with the Rangers last August, are on the cusp of the Major League. As they arrive, manager Craig Counsell, himself a versatile defender as a Major Leaguer, will have a roster stocked with players capable of playing all over the diamond.

"Ultimately, we have to be flexible with what players are available, and what types of players emerge from our system and get to the Major League roster," Stearns said. "Oftentimes, a Major League club's identity reflects the identity of the top players on the roster, and that may ultimately be our case."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.