There’s been plenty of legitimate questions that have hung over the powers-that-be for Wisconsin’s pro sports teams. The Packers and Bucks have each made significant changes at top-level positions in the front office. And the Bucks ownership has been, well … Bucks ownership. The Brewers, however, have proven to be competent to the highest degree.
David Stearns has rightly received praise since assuming GM duties in place of Doug Melvin. Combined with Mark Attanasio, the Brewers principal owner, the Milwaukee Brewers boast one of the best front offices not just in baseball, but in all of American professional sports. At various times, the Brewers have made aggressive, forward-thinking moves while showing virtuous patience in other situations.
The Right Leader at the Right Time
As an owner, what more could a fan ask for with Mark Attanasio? For the most part, he stays out of the picture – compared to some of the more meddlesome owners around sports – but when he makes an appearance on a Brewers broadcast or interview, he’s super knowledgeable about all levels of the organization’s system. He puts people in a position to succeed and that manifests itself from the very top to the very bottom of the franchise.
(Not that it matters much in this discussion, but the Brewers have proved to be quite the business deal for Attanasio. The investment group headed by Attanasio bought the team in 2004 for $223 million. Compare that to the Miami Marlins, who have had fewer people attend some of their games this season than their minor league affiliates, a franchise notorious for leaving its fans with the short end of the stick that sold for $1.2 billion not quite a year ago.)
The Essence of Forward-Thinking Management
The rebuild came at exactly the right time, too. Much like basketball, although maybe not the quite the same extent, it feels like baseball has undergone a reevaluation of the way its played over the last five to seven years. Position players pretty much all play multiple positions, starters aren’t generally asked to go as deep into games, and the bullpen is used almost completely different. Tearing down the Brewers when they did put them in a position to be ready to build a roster ready to compete in the ultra-modern style. Plus, for the most part, manager Craig Counsell has been eagerly on board with every move and pushed all the right buttons.
Milwaukee’s front office has also shown capable of effectively playing the waiting game. Of course, injuries aren’t necessarily predictable, sitting out high-profile pitching acquisitions proved the right move. Sure, the Brewers could use a dominant pitcher (can’t every team?), but with the benefit of hindsight, it’s not like throwing tens of millions of dollars at the likes of Yu Darvish or Lance Lynn would’ve solved much. Or trading away prospects for Jose Quintana or Sonny Gray. (Quintana has not-so-arguably had the best season of that group, and he currently has respectable-but-not-dominant-by-any-means 3.96 ERA this season.)
In Stearns We Trust
Instead, Stearns & Co. risked popular opinion with some fans and went bargain bin shopping by bringing on Jhoulys Chacin, who’s provided everything anybody could’ve asked for when he signed a relatively modest two-year, $15 million deal. Chacin currently boasts a record of 8-3 with a 3.68 ERA.
Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.
It remains to be seen how the trade market will play out over the next couple weeks. But the Brewers justifiably were in on Manny Machado but unwilling to let the Baltimore Orioles dictate the terms of the trade and grab more or higher-value prospects. Stearns was only interested to the extent that the trade was done on his terms.
Let’s go back to the aforementioned juxtaposition between Milwaukee and Miami’s baseball teams. The Brewers recognized the fire-sale going on with the Marlins and picked up Christian Yelich for peanuts. Even though at the time, outfield was already Milwaukee’s most obvious position of best organizational depth. But Yelich was too good to pass up. He has MVP-candidate upside and is on perhaps baseball’s most team-friendly long-term contract. In the only sport that doesn’t have a salary cap and has recently seen players openly pine for $400 million deals, Yelich is in the fourth year of a seven-year, $49,570,000 pact. The last year of the deal, 2022 (an option year), tops out with Yelich seeing a salary of $15 million. There’s an argument to be made he’s comfortably worth double that amount now, but is on the books for $7 million this season.
Then came the signing of Lorenzo Cain. Fans realized the talent that moves brought. But again, many questioned why Stearns was throwing millions of dollars worth of contracts and spending so many resources at the position of most depth. Cain’s consistency has brought a stabilizing force to the top of the lineup that might not otherwise be there. And with all the Brewers injury woes and prolonged slumps in the case of Domingo Santana, Milwaukee has needed every bit of that outfield depth.
Hiring David Stearns was a bit of a high-risk move when it happened. But it’s proven to have come with a high reward. And Mark Attanasio’s combination of laid-back California demeanor with New York business savvy has been an oddly impeccable fit in Milwaukee. Together, the Brewers have an owner/general manager tandem that can truly be put up against any of MLB’s best. Check your critiques at the door, Brewers fans, the team is in good hands.