With the Milwaukee Brewers 2022 season over, Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns held his end of season press conference today.
In his annual press conference to wrap up the season, Stearns goes over the pending free agents, talks about where they fell short this year, and outlines his plans for the offseason, among other things.
While Stearns usually keeps his plans close to the vest, there’s always something important to take away from these press conferences. In fact, there are several big takeaways from this year’s presser.
Here are the biggest takeaways for Brewers fans from David Stearns’ end of season press conference.
Takeaway #1: Stearns takes responsibility for missing postseason
This was a much needed question and answer. The Brewers were a first place team that was playing well heading into the Trade Deadline. They then traded away All Star closer Josh Hader, failed to add to the team, and the team collapsed down the stretch. Stearns needed to take accountability and responsibility for this downfall, and he did.
As much as injuries and poor performance caused the Brewers to miss the playoffs in 2022, there was a clear shift in this team’s performance and mindset after the Trade Deadline. The players said the message from the front office was clear and it wasn’t a positive one.
There were many mistakes made by the front office in the beginning of August. Stearns has made mistakes before and has publicly held himself accountable for them. It was vital that he did so again here and he did.
Whether this leads to any actual changes into how he builds this team and handles the trade deadline going forward remains to be seen. But at the very least he’s seen the error of his ways.
Takeaway #2: Stearns really thought the Hader trade wouldn’t impact the team
One of the most puzzling things about this season, and there are many, is that the Brewers front office seemingly had no clue the impact that trading away Josh Hader would have on this clubhouse. Sure, on paper it may have made some sense, but these are still human beings with emotions and when an important player and leader like Hader gets dealt midseason from a first place team, it brings out a lot of negative emotions.
By the sounds of it, Stearns and the front office were just like “Eh, it’ll be fine” when thinking about the impact of the trade on the clubhouse, if they thought about it at all. Stearns said it had a more pronounced impact on the team than he thought it would.
To me, that sounds like the front office tried to brush aside what their players would think and took for granted that they would understand the move and still be fine. They completely underestimated what that kind of a trade did to their team. Those are trades that only non-contending, losing teams make in the middle of the year. The Brewers weren’t one of those teams then, but they ended up becoming one after.
Takeaway #3: Don’t expect a lot of free agent signings this offseason
The Brewers have a ton of arbitration eligible players this winter that could see their payroll rise $30MM or more just on those players alone, before signing any free agents at all. When asked about urgency to spend more and build this team, Stearns seemed non-committal at best.
The core of the team is sound, and that’s true. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Willy Adames, and Christian Yelich is a good core. The fact that that was his answer to a question about being active this winter doesn’t give much confidence that they’ll be adding impact players before the 2023 season.
Stearns also added that the Brewers have a number of elite hitting prospects close to the big leagues in Triple-A that are going to be deserving of spots on the big league roster next year. Instead of adding free agents, expect more along the lines of prospect promotions such as Brice Turang, Sal Frelick, Esteury Ruiz, Joey Wiemer, and Mario Feliciano to supplement the offense in 2023.
The budget is likely to be tight again with so many players in arbitration, so their offensive additions may have to be making very little money, especially if the Brewers sign any of their core to extensions.
Takeaway #4: Brewers open to extensions, ownership “motivated” to keep group together
Actions speak louder than words. Ownership can say they’re “highly motivated” to keep this current group together and Stearns can say they always have the goal to lock up talented players, but they haven’t opened extension talks yet with Cy Young winner and staff ace Corbin Burnes. There hasn’t been any indication either way about extensions for Brandon Woodruff or Willy Adames but they also make sense as candidates for long term deals.
The Brewers weren’t going to be able to sign Josh Hader to a long term contract, and that’s why they traded him when they did. In order to avoid the same fate with Burnes, Woodruff, and/or Adames, they’ll need to seek out contract extensions with them otherwise the question about if they’ll be next will always linger.
It’s clear that the Hader trade ruffled a lot of feathers, both in the clubhouse and in the fanbase. It’s unlikely the Brewers will want to go through another PR disaster like that again. If they truly are motivated to keep this core together and avoid another Hader trade debacle, they’ll need to open the checkbook and sign some of these guys. Perhaps the fallout from the Hader deal has made them realize that.
Takeaway #5: The Brewers know something has to change with their offense
The Brewers were among league leaders in home runs in 2022. Yet they seemed to struggle to score runs consistently. Home runs are great, but they were overly reliant on the home run ball, which led to problems when they weren’t getting those home runs.
The highest Brewers batting average among qualified hitters this year was .255 and it belonged to Hunter Renfroe. He was also one of the biggest home run hitters on the club. Willy Adames and Rowdy Tellez both slugged 30+ homers, but their batting average took major dips this year.
Stearns recognizes that their offense needs more situational hitting, just getting on base and moving guys over. That’s an important lesson. It also ties into the Brewers having so many hitters like that waiting in the wings in Triple-A. Garrett Mitchell provided some of that when he was called up. Sal Frelick and Brice Turang are the same way. They rely less on homers and more on putting the ball in play and getting on base.
The identity of this offense needs to shift away from “home run or bust” and more towards getting on base and keeping the line moving.
Takeaway #6: The Brewers need more pitching depth
The Brewers relied on Jason Alexander for more than 70 innings in 2022. That is far too many for a guy who was signed as a minor league free agent and wasn’t supposed to sniff the big league roster all season. The rotation depth was hurt this year by a number of injuries and they didn’t have the quality depth necessary to cover it.
Part of the struggle was in Ethan Small‘s step back this year with his inability to throw strikes and secure a big league spot. Most of those innings for Alexander were supposed to go to Small, but his struggles forced the Brewers to go in a different direction. They will need some more starting pitching depth, so Stearns is suggesting you’re going to see them sign someone to help there this offseason.
The bullpen also struggled down the stretch with injuries and lack of depth. With a couple of bullpen arms hitting free agency this winter, they’ll need to replenish that group as well.
There might be some free agent action this winter, but don’t expect much. Most of the improvements will have to come internally, both from the players, and the front office better understanding what moves they should and should not make.