Stearns needs to build the Brewers for the long haul

The blood has been spilled. The carnage? A mere 68 wins against 94 losses for the Milwaukee Brewers. Fourth place in the NL Central. The fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft.

Now, the cleanup process begins.

With David Stearns officially taking over as general manager Monday, the next chapter of the Brewers has begun. Stearns has done a deep dive into what he has to deal with and is likely to announce some initial moves Thursday. Manager Craig Counsell started his own housecleaning by letting go all but two coaches Monday.

Brewers fans are anxious as to whether Stearns feels the need to do a massive teardown of the team or whether enduring possibly one more year like 2015 can lead to a sustainable product. Owner Mark Attanasio recently said that plan will probably be revealed to the paying customers sometime before the winter meetings in December. Stearns first has to get his staff in place and then analyze the players on the roster and how they fit into his vision of the future.

Stearns has said he has been impressed with much of the personnel in the Brewers’ front office, so how much he alters the makeup there could give an indication as to his intentions with on-field talent. Massive changes could portend a massive rebuild.

The best part of what Stearns has been given is he doesn’t have any real albatross contracts. Right fielder Ryan Braun is the only player on the roster with a multiyear contract beyond 2017 as his five-year, $105 million extension kicks in next season and he is still a productive player, although he has yet to recapture his 2011 NL MVP form as injuries and a suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal have sapped his stats the last three seasons. Pitcher Matt Garza (two years, $25 million) is a bit more of a problem considering he posted a 6-14 record with a 5.63 ERA. Garza essentially shut himself down for the final month of the season after the Brewers told him he wasn’t going to start anymore in 2015 and he refused to pitch out of the bullpen. Garza was then critical of Doug Melvin, the GM who is stepping aside.

Stearns also has an emerging farm system in his pocket. Of the four trade-deadline moves that sent away five major-league players and brought back seven prospects, four of minor-leaguers (outfielder Domingo Santana, starter Zach Davies, starter Adrian Houser and reliever Yhonathan Barrios) made their way to The Show with the Brewers. And that doesn’t include the prize of those catches, center fielder Brett Phillips, who led the minors in runs scored.

One key to Stearns’ plan is Attanasio, a hands-on owner who likely had a hand in moves involving signing big-name pitchers in recent years to mixed results. Attanasio said he would step back and let Stearns time to make an assessment of where the Brewers are and what the plan should be in order to make the franchise one that competes at a high level on a yearly basis and sustains itself through developing and retaining prospects. As a small market without a ton of revenue yet a dedicated and passionate fan base (the Brewers drew more than $2.5 million fans this season), the franchise can’t afford major mistakes in free agency and has suffered from not consistently producing prospects who made an impact in the majors.

The Brewers have about $46 million in salary committed to players next season, not including first baseman Adam Lind’s $8 million option, seemingly a no-brainer to pick up, even if it is to trade him for more prospects. The cupboard definitely isn’t bare for the Brewers, but expecting a quick fix in order to compete with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs in the NL Central isn’t the answer, either.

Instead, Stearns and Counsell — who has in-depth knowledge of the Brewers’ farm system from his time as assistant GM under Melvin — needs to take his time and build an organization that is sustainable for years. Fans may not like some of the moves coming this offseason and another year (or two) of struggling, but the dividends will pay off with a product that will be able to replenish itself with prospects or trades, giving the Brewers a chance to be competitive on an annual basis, not just once every few years.