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Tipsheet: Front office blunder doomed Brewers to late-season collapse

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Blame David Stearns for what happened to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The team’s baseball czar got cute ahead of the trade deadline. He traded away closer Josh Hader – a team cornerstone – while looking to manage future payrolls and add a long-term asset.

The Brewers crumbled while Hader regained his lights-out form in San Diego, helping the Padres reach postseason play.

All of that made Stearns look like an idiot.

“I mean, that’s going to be the easy story or the easy thing to point to,” Brewers outfielder Yelich told reporters after his team was eliminated. “We’ve had to deal with those questions the last two months. Honestly, we’ll never know. We can speculate and say it was the reason, but at the beginning, I think everyone talked openly about how it was a shock to the room and caught everybody by surprise. That’s the truth, right? 

“But at the same time, we got guys back. We had guys that have been really successful Major League players. So I think it’s an easy way out. You can kind of point your finger and say if we didn’t do [the trade], we would be in the playoffs, but I really don’t think that’s true. I think the guys remaining in this room, myself included, didn't do a good enough job. We had opportunity after opportunity and we just couldn’t capitalize. It’s a tough feeling.”

So what happens to the Brewers now? Hader another year of arbitration left when he got traded, then he was headed to free agency.

Stearns obviously didn’t want to pay him. Will he want to pay pitchers Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Lauer and Adrian Houser, who all moving up the arbitration ladder toward free agency?

Then there is shortstop Willy Adames, who has become a key offensive catalyst. Will the franchise pay up to keep him?

“Who knows what’s going to happen this offseason,” Burnes said. “Who knows what’s going to happen at the next Trade Deadline. At this point, there’s a couple of guys remaining from our 2018 and ‘19 postseason teams, and it’s like, this could be maybe the last year. Maybe next year is the last year. Maybe we get two more years. We don’t really know.”

Woodruff hopes Stearns can keep surviving members of this the band together.

“A lot of these guys, we’re kind of in that same service-time group, so a lot of these guys will be back,” Woodruff said. “It’s another year of knowing each other, being around each other, messing with each other. This last month, we had a lot of fun when we brought in some of the stuff like the ping-pong table. It just brought us together. Looking back now, I wish we would have started that a long time ago.”

Writing for ESPN.com, Bradford Doolittle pondered what the future might hold for the Brew Crew.

While the exact parameters of Stearns' deal remain murky, the Brewers' near-miss in the playoff chase means he should be back in 2023. Reportedly, the highly regarded team president could have opted out if the Brewers went on a deep postseason run this season.

Instead, they had no run at all. Of course, we don't know whether Stearns wants out of his deal. Either way, he isn't the only key member of the Brewers with a short-term contractual commitment.

Ace starters Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff both have two years remaining in their arbitration windows. Milwaukee holds a club option for 2023 on Kolten Wong. Hunter Renfroe is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility.

The Brewers should have money to spend to augment this core, unless they somehow lock up some of these players. A short-term splash on an elite hitter who could bolster the Brewers' lackluster run-scoring operation makes a lot of sense.

At least to us. If the Brewers see things differently, could some of these key players be moved, a la former Milwaukee closer Josh Hader?

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman discusses Miles Mikolas, who has a 2.13 ERA in two starts vs. the Phillies this year. Plus, a happy birthday shoutout to Josie Bissett! And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

TALKIN’ BASEBALL

Here is what folks are writing about Our National Pastime:

Ray Ratto, The Defector: “In the end, everyone takes one job too many, and when you’re in charge in more than one place, you tend to start thinking that every room you enter is just there so that you can enter it as its smartest member. Like every other great manager ever, [Tony] La Russa had a sense of his own infallibility, and in time his ability to hide it faded. He managed more games than anyone who never owned his own team, and that comes with its own self-packed baggage. But La Russa was his own kind of innovator, starting with recreating the modern bullpen before it gave way to the demands of the opener, and managing every style successfully in Chicago the first time, then in Oakland and finally in St. Louis. He worked with and through the widest varieties of talents and egos any manger ever traversed, and for the most part stayed one step ahead of the sickle. He could be indulgent, as he was when Jose Canseco was traded while he was in the on-deck circle in 1992, and he could be petulant when questioned about strategy. He definitely became a symbol for post-modern play-the-right-way anti-modern authoritarianism, the guy once ahead of his time who defended his times after they became outdated.”

Marc Normandin, Baseball Reference: “The Phillies hadn’t been away from the postseason for as long as the Mariners, but still, 2011 was a long time ago, certainly enough so to inflict wounds on the team’s fans and their psyches. The 2011 season marked the fifth consecutive playoff appearance for Philly, but since then, the Phillies were… well, the Phillies mostly made a habit of being incredibly normal. More of a punchline than a success, finishing no higher than third place in the NL East from 2012 through 2020, and their 82-80 2021 campaign was their first over .500 since ‘11—it wasn’t the greatest stretch in Phillies history. It also wasn’t close to the worst, but hey, the decades-spanning run that gave them a leg up on becoming the first-ever franchise with 10,000 losses began over a century ago, well before anyone who will be mad at me for bringing it up was even born, so let’s just drop that subject here. One of the major differences between the 2021 squad that just made it over .500 and this year’s squad that’s going to the postseason is the performance of [Aaron] Nola. Last year, the team’s expected co-ace was below-average in terms of his results, but there were reasons to believe it was an outlier season, and that simply continuing to be Aaron Nola would work well for him in 2022.” 

Michael Baumann, FanGraphs: “With the first 12-team postseason in MLB history right around the corner, we’re hearing a little bit of griping. The playoffs, like your dad’s hand-me-down sport coat, are too big. Look at the race for the last Wild Card spot in the NL, in which the Phillies and Brewers have spent the past two weeks bumbling around like a pair of somnambulant dachsunds investigating a cricket. Eventually one sneezes and forgets what he was doing in the first place, and the other gets tired and plops over for a nap. The cricket escapes unharmed. Surely these are not playoff-quality teams. Surely they’re nothing but an inconvenience to a champion-elect like the Dodgers. But they’ll get a full three-game audition nonetheless. What a waste of time. And by and large, I agree. While the current playoff structure seems to incentivize regular-season competition and could lead to some exciting October action, all things being equal I’d rather go back to an eight-team playoff bracket. Maybe because that’s the way things were when I was a kid, which is the overriding logic behind about 95% of people’s opinions about baseball, art, or society at large, but that’s how I feel. But go back and consider, for a moment, that hand-me-down sport coat from your dad. You’re a teenager, fresh off a growth spurt, all tendons and hormones. The jacket, made for a man, looks weird on the frame of what is essentially a very tall child. But the problem is not that the jacket is too big; it’s that you are too small. On a bigger person, with a more fully developed frame, it would look just fine. So while a 12-team playoff is probably too big for a 30-team baseball league, a 30-team baseball league is preposterously small for the size of the audience it serves.”

MEGAPHONE

“We put ourselves in this position. We didn’t play well down the stretch. I didn’t play well down the stretch. It’s tough. We don’t really have anyone else to blame but ourselves . . . Fifty games is a good start, but that’s why being a playoff team is so hard. You have to do it wire to wire.”

Christian Yelich, on his team’s collapse.

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