Brewers laying groundwork at winter meetings

Major League Baseball’s winter meetings got underground in earnest in San Diego on Monday and they were different than years past in a couple ways for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Most obvious was the absence of former vice president of baseball operations David Stearns, who handed the title of top baseball operations man to general manager Matt Arnold in October.

Stearns is still in the fold in an advisory role, but Arnold is the man calling the shots now.

“I miss him a tone,” Arnold said. “I was going back and forth with him this morning and I’m still waiting to see if he might show up at some point this week. I’m not holding my breath. He seems to be having a lot of fun.”

So, too, are Arnold and his brain trust, with the Brewers finally able to gather and operate face-to-face and in-person at Hot Stove Central for the first time since 2019 after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 meetings and the MLB lockout shut all offseason business down on Dec. 1 of 2021 through early March of this year.

“Getting the group is nice because we haven’t been able to do this (since 2019),” said Arnold. “We have a big group here. Just having everybody in the same place is a lot of fun. Anytime you have these kinds of things that bring everyone together, you have conversations that you might not have even thought of before. It’s just nice to Brainstorm with everybody together and their ideas.

“We have a cool whiteboard in there, so we literally just throw stuff on the whiteboard. There’s some good ideas on there and some less-good ideas. The fun is the brainstorming on different ways to get better.”

And make no mistake – Arnold & Co. intend to improve the brewers heading into 2023 after their 86-76 finish this past season left them out of the postseason for the first time since 2017.

Barring any upcoming moves, Milwaukee will return the entirety of its talented starting rotation as well as one of the game’s best young shortstops in Willy Adames, a premier closer in Devin Williams and a budding slugger in first baseman Rowdy Tellez, among other assets.

“We’re right in our competitive cycle, so I would characterize us as wanting to put a competitive team on the field in 2023,” Arnold said. “Getting back to the playoffs is our goal. We raised the expectations making the playoffs four straight years here, and now missing out by a game, I think it galvanizes our group to try to figure out how to get back.”

While some major moves have already been consumed – shortstop Trea Turner and right-hander Justin Verlander signed megabucks free-agent deals with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets on Monday respectively – the rest of the National League Central has been largely quiet aside from the several pre-meeting deals consumed by Arnold.

Most notable among those were the trades of right fielder Hunter Renfroe to the Los Angeles Angels for a trio of young pitchers other second baseman Kolten Wong to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Jesse Winker and infielder Abraham Toro.

For a small-market team like the Brewers, making moves that keep the team both competitive in the present as well as in the future with the acquisition of young, controllable talent is the key to remaining relevant and taking “more bites of the apple” Stearns memorably said in the wake of the Josh Hader trade in August rather than putting fans through lengthy rebuilds.

Keeping in mind the offseason is roughly four months long is key when evaluating trades like the ones that sent Renfroe and Wong packing.

“It is challenging when you look at individual decisions on a certain date in November or December,” Arnold said. “It has to be the complete picture, right? I think one move in a vacuum isn’t going to define our whole offseason. So, I think we accomplish certain things by making those moves, but at the same time we have until opening day and frankly beyond to improve the club.

“That’s where I think maybe some of the confusion could set in. But our goal is to put a competitive team on the field in 2023.”

Manager Craig Counsell also weighed in on the issue, noting the Brewers have highly regarded prospects like infielder Brice Turang and outfielders Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick, Esteury Ruiz and Joey Wiemer ready to impact the major-league team.

“The way I’m looking at this, and I think it’s important to look at it, is that we have young position players that are ready to play in the big leagues,” he said. “We have to have players like that. Every team, frankly, does. That’s what we’re going to do, and that’s what’s going to happen.

“They’re good young players, and they’re going to be very good major-league players, and I’m excited about doing that. That’s an exciting thing to be able to do for your organization. I don’t think it means that we have to take a step back.”

As of late Monday afternoon the Brewers hadn’t consumed any deals, but groundwork might well have been laid for the coming days.

“We’ve been busy,” Arnold said. “I think what we’ve talked about is we want to be in play on everything that does happen. You don’t want to find out about something on the Internet that happened that you weren’t aware of prior to it happening. You don’t want to be disappointed by something that happens and then read about it after the fact.

So, I think what we’ve tried to do is just make sure we’re in play in as many places as possible, and that’s a team effort – everybody here is doing what they can to try to survey the market, the free agents , the trades.

“Just making sure we’re having conversations everywhere.”

While Arnold didn’t want to comment specifically on what’s been worked on, he again reiterated the importance of potentially trying to extend the likes of core players such as Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Adames — “They’re key pieces to our group here,” he said — while acknowledging the bullpen is in an area he’s focusing on improving.

The Brewers already have cut ties with right hander Brad Boxberger other left-hander Brent Suter while trading for right-handers Javy Guerra and Elvis Peguero and agreeing to a 2023 contract with right hander Matt Bush.

“That would be up there, for sure,” he said. “We want to improve the pitching as a whole. Anytime you put a good team on the field you have to have a good pitching staff, whether that’s the front end or the back end of the game. The bullpen would be a priority for us right now.”

Here are a few other takeaways with regard to the Brewers:

∙ Last spring, Counsell mentioned right-hander Abner Uribe as a potential arm that could affect the Brewers’ bullpen in 2022 despite having not yet pitched at the Class AA level. Uribe eventually missed most of the year after knee surgery.

On Monday, he mentioned top overall prospect – Jackson Chourio – while discussing the organization’s talented outfield prospects. Did he really mean Chourio might debut with the Brewers in 2023 after only a cup of coffee at Class AA Biloxi?

“I think he did so much, then why would we just say no to it?” responded counsel. Chourio, who turns 19 in March, is generally considered one of the top 10 or so prospects in all of minor league baseball.

∙ Arnold appeared confident Winker will be able to participate in spring training after undergoing a disc replacement in his neck following this past season.

“Our medical team does a really great job and they spent a lot of time on that and felt he would definitely be good to go for spring training,” he said. “Right now he’s starting baseball activity sometime in spring training, but running should be starting soon.”

∙ While Arnold didn’t want to talk about Counsell’s contract status (it expires after the 2023 season), he indicated it’s on the radar screen of both men.

From the outside looking in, there is little doubt the two sides will come to some sort of agreement moving forward.

“He and I had a lot of conversations about that,” Arnold said. “We’ll spend more time on it, I think, as the season progresses.”

∙ Milwaukee’s Class AAA affiliate, the Nashville Soundshave been named the minor-league organization of the year, a first for the franchise in its 45-year history.

The award “celebrates the overall achievements of the minor-league baseball club which demonstrates excellence across all business functions and in baseball operations.”

Nashville won the International League West Division with a 91-58 record (the only team to surpass 90 victories) while also logging the highest attendance in the minor leagues with a total of 555,576 fans passing through the turnstiles of First Horizon Park in 73 games ( an average of 7,611 per game).

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at

Leave a Comment