Brewers’ Stearns will look for roadblocks to get building blocks

As funny as it sounds, one thing the Milwaukee Brewers are looking for this offseason is roadblocks.

Huh?

More specifically, players who are on major-league rosters or on the verge of being called up who are blocked by an established veteran at their position or potential alternate positions.

Take Jarrod Dyson of the Kansas City Royals. Dyson has had key roles in each of the last two postseasons for the Royals, but primarily as a pinch-runner. But Dyson is entering his age-31 season and is arbitration-eligible for the second time.

With the Brewers needing a stopgap solution to patrol center field until Brett Phillips likely arrives for full-time duty to begin 2017, Dyson makes perfect sense. First, he is cheap talent, slated to make $1.7 million in 2016, according to arbitration projections by MLBTradeRumors.com. Dyson is also in a logjam in the Royals outfield, regardless of whether free-agent left fielder Alex Gordon returns, which is likely. Lorenzo Cain is established in center field and Paulo Orlando appears set to replace free agent Alex Rios in right. Prospect Jose Martinez could also be in the mix after winning the Pacific Coast League batting title at .384, not to mention speedster Terrance Gore, who might have to be kept on the big-league roster next spring due to already burning an option or two.

All are seemingly more attractive than the left-handed-hitting Dyson due to Dyson’s age and the fact he hasn’t hit that well (.255 career average) and only really a base-stealing threat. So why should the Brewers go after Dyson? They would have control over him for the next two seasons and be a veteran who can help Phillips’ transition to the majors whenever that happens. Dyson also excels defensively, a point of emphasis as new general manager David Stearns reshapes the Brewers’ roster. Dyson also can play all three outfield positions and should be a cheap acquisition due to the Royals’ plethora of outfield candidates for one, maybe two jobs. Any move with Dyson, though, may wait until Gordon signs with the Royals or elsewhere as he becomes more valuable to Kansas City should Gordon leave.

Another guy who is roadblocked is Joey Gallo, a power-hitting third baseman in the Texas Rangers system. Gallo is a one-trick pony with his tremendous power, hitting six homers in 36 games during an emergency midseason cameo. He also struck out 57 times in 123 plate appearances, showing he might need a little more seasoning. Gallo is stuck behind veteran Adrian Beltre, who likely has another couple seasons left in him. Shifting over to first base seems questionable as the Rangers used Mitch Moreland there this season and relegated Prince Fielder to being the designated hitter. Gallo played left field during his call-up, but that was because of injuries to corner outfielders Josh Hamilton and Shin-Soo Choo, both of whom are expected to be back in 2016. It could be a push to make Gallo your starting third baseman to open next season, considering his hit .195 at Triple-A following his call-up from Double-A.

I’m not saying Stearns should go out and get Dyson and/or Gallo, they are just the types of players Stearns will be shopping for — at positions of need for the Brewers — as he starts to establish a young, controllable core of players to build a winner. Sure, there are a few free-agent options who could help out the Brewers, but the early steps of the foundation can often be the most important and Stearns will want to stay true to his blueprint.

Brewers need only look at Royals to see how to build a winner

When the Kansas City Royals celebrated winning the World Series on Sunday, the story line was that it was a culmination of a yearlong journey of redemption after coming up 90 feet short of tying Game 7 of the World Series in 2014 against the San Francisco Giants.

But that journey was a bit longer.

Experts took notice of the Royals a couple years ago as a team that was on the precipice of contending, having a young core of position players the franchise developed augmented with homegrown and acquired pitchers.

But it wasn’t an overnight success.

Left fielder Alex Gordon was the second overall pick in the 2005 draft. Catcher Salvador Perez, the spirit of this Royals team and the Series MVP, was an international free agent who signed in 2006. Third baseman Mike Moustakas was the second overall pick in the 2007. First baseman Eric Hosmer was the third overall pick in 2008. Shortstop Alcides Escobar, the AL Championship Series MVP, and center fielder Lorenzo Cain, last year’s ALCS MVP, were among the players acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Zack Greinke before the 2011 season. Another player from the Greinke deal, pitcher Jake Odorizzi, was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays along with outfielder Wil Myers for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis before the 2013 season. Shields was the anchor of last season’s rotation, while Davis has become the best reliever in the majors.

So when new Brewers general manager David Stearns preached to a gathering of season ticket-holders last week that his goal is to acquire young, controllable talent in order to make the Crew a consistent contender, he could use the Royals or the Houston Astros — a team he was assistant GM for until being hired last month and a team that had back-to-back 100-loss seasons just a few seasons ago — as primary examples.

There has been some heavy lifting already done. The Brewers’ farm system isn’t the barren wasteland it was a couple seasons ago. The development of players including shortstop Orlando Arcia and pitcher Jorge Lopez, as well as the acquisition of a handful of players not that far away from being ready for the majors has the Brewers not having to take a major step back.

But there will be growing pains. 2016 figures to be focused on development rather than contending. After that? Arcia, Lopez, center fielder Brett Phillips and pitchers Adrian Houser and Josh Hader figure to be in a group of prospects ready to break through no later than Opening Day 2017. They will join outfielder Domingo Santana, who established himself as an everyday option after his call-up, and right-hander Zach Davies, who pitched well in his September audition and figures to be a rotation candidate going into spring training.

Stearns, still officially formalizing his front-office staff, will begin in earnest the process of molding the roster in the vision he promised owner Mark Attanasio when hired, with first baseman Adam Lind‘s $8 million option his first significant player decision.

Brewers fans will have to be patient. One more thing to keep in mind: The Royals were successful because, for the most part, they kept their core players together at the same level as they migrated through the minors. Everyone points to the talent at Double-A Biloxi — and rightfully so — but with an exception or two, most of that team should be at hitter-friendly Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2016 before becoming ready for prime time.

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.