Since becoming the Milwaukee Brewers’ general manager over two years ago, David Stearns has shown he has what it takes to run an organization effectively.
After a 73-89 season in 2016, Stearns and company righted the ship a couple years ahead of schedule in 2017 holding a 86-76 record. They fought up until the last day of the season for a playoff spot.
The one thing that has separated Stearns from other general managers is his ability to find the diamond in the rough. There was shortstop Jonathan Villar and starting pitcher Junior Guerra in 2016. That was followed in 2017 with the monster breakout by Eric Thames to start the season. Utility-superman Hernán Pérez, who can literally play every position, has not broken out by any means over the last two years, but has solidified depth and provided a much needed bench role.
Over the past two offseasons, though, Stearns has not made big splashes. Instead, he played it much more conservative with multiple minor league deals and international signings like Thames on team friendly deals.
Not this offseason.
The additions of outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain signaled to the Milwaukee fanbase and the rest of the organization that the rebuild was over. Both bring All-Star value to an already deep outfield.
But the biggest need for the team is starting pitching, and the lack of ‘serious’ attention the organization has paid to it has concerned most fans. With a free agent pool that hasn’t gained traction and players signing relatively team friendly deals, many are left wondering why Stearns has not pulled the trigger.
The answer is probably the easiest one. Take Stearns at his word. He has come out multiple times and stated the team was comfortable with the group of guys they currently had. And why not.
Year after year, Stearns has found the bargain deals. Maybe the lower value pitching acquisitions the organization made this offseason will prove to be high level talent.
So far, the best candidate for the “Stearns’ hidden gem of the year” award looks to be Wade Miley.
The 31-year old lefty had a terrible season with the Orioles in 2017. Posting career worsts in walk percentage and ERA, Stearns signing him to a minor league contract didn’t exactly calm the fears of many.
Fast forward to spring training and Miley has gone 13 innings, only giving up two earned runs and one home run. The one home run is crucial if he is to continue an upward trend.
Last season, he posted another career worst in home run per fly ball rate at 19.4 percent. Improving on that could dramatically improve Miley’s stock.
Another potential breakout arm is Jhoulys Chacín. With the Padres last season, he posted a modest 3.89 ERA but struggled against left-handed hitters a lot.
Against righties, in 2017, he only gave up a batting average of .217 and a .602 OPS. Facing lefties, he is a drastically different pitcher. Left-handed batters batted for an average of .255 against him and had a .789 OPS.
The Brewers have shown they can help pitchers change their mechanics or help pitchers with their command (see Zach Davies and Chase Anderson). Therefore, it’s realistic to think Chacín could improve against lefties under the direction of pitching coach Derek Johnson.
Chacín and Miley are this year’s potential Stearns’ breakout players. With Stearns’ track record it seems more of a question of who, rather than if, at this point. And barring any last second signings or trades, he better hope one of these two pitchers can keep the team afloat in a highly competitive NL Central Division.