David Stearns Steps Down As Milwaukee Brewers’ President Of Baseball Operations; Matt Arnold Takes Over

David Stearns has pulled off more than a handful of blockbuster moves during his seven-plus years leading the Milwaukee Brewers’ front office but it’s safe to say his latest might take the cake.

Milwaukee’s president of baseball operations announced Tuesday morning that he was stepping down from the position, with general manager Matt Arnold taking over the role while Stearns moves into an advisory position with the team.

“I know this decision, my decision to step down, comes somewhat as a surprise and provokes some questions,” Stearns said. “This has not been an easy decision for me. This is something I’ve been wrestling with for some time. (Brewers principal owner) Mark Attanasio and I have had an open dialogue really for years about what I’m seeking for my career. Where I am personally and what all of that means for the organization.

“I think we both knew that at some point this day could come and we wanted to make sure that when it did, the organization was properly positioned with very strong leadership going forward.”

The decision had been on Stearns’ mind for awhile and is not either a knee-jerk reaction to what was perhaps the most disappointing season of his tenure nor was it from a desire to immediately seek opportunities elsewhere.

Instead, Stearns said it came as a result of evaluating his life, professionally as well as personally. He and his wife, Whitney, recently welcomed their second child and plan to stay in Milwaukee while he serves in his advisory role.

After that, however, Stearns hasn’t made any decisions other than knowing he’d like to stay involved in baseball in some capacity.

“When you go through jobs like these, there comes a point where taking a step back and exhaling is healthy,” Stearns said. “That’s where I am right now. I want to spend time with my family. I want to be able to pursue some other things that I just haven’t had the opportunity to pursue yet in my career. Where that ultimately leads, I don’t know right now but I’m very much looking forward to having that time, to reflecting on all the incredible things that happened to me and that I’ve experienced and then going from there.”

Boy Wonder

Stearns was just 30 years old when Attanasio hired him to replace veteran GM Doug Melvin in 2015.

A native of New York, where he grew up rooting for Mets, Stearns attended Harvard University where he was a sports writer for the Harvard Crimson and interned with the Pittsburgh Pirates before graduating with a degree in political science.

He spent time working for the Mets and the Arizona Fall League before taking a job with Major League Baseball in 2008, working on CBA negotiations and assisting teams with the salary arbitration process.

Stearns then spent a year working for the Cleveland Guardians before joining the Houston Astros in 2012, where he served as right-hand man to Jeff Lunhow for three seasons and helped turn a franchise that had lost 100 games in consecutive seasons into an eventual World Series champion and perennial American League powerhouse.

With Milwaukee, Stearns saw a similar opportunity. His hiring represented a shift in philosophy from the old-school, traditional method of roster construction to to the analytics-driven approach that has been all the rage in baseball over the last few years.

In his introductory press conference, and just about every interview with reporters after that, Stearns emphasized the need to focus on drafting, acquiring and developing “young, controllable talent” while turning Milwaukee into perennial contenders.

“If you look at the sustainably competitive teams throughout the industry, regardless of the market size, regardless of the city, that’s what they have to do,” Stearns said at the time. “You can’t build a team through free agency. Even the biggest-market teams in baseball can’t do that.

“The trick is to develop a process and a system that allows you to consistently generate that pipeline, even as you are competitive at the Major League level. There are a couple of teams that appear to be able to do that, and that’s certainly our goal here in Milwaukee.”

Unprecedented Success

That philosophy started to pay dividends almost immediately.

Given the freedom to oversee a complete rebuild by principal owner Mark Attanasio, Stearns replaced more than half the players on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster heading into his first Spring Training.

The Brewers still lost 89 games in 2016, but opened eyes with strong performances from a number of young players down the stretch and were the surprise of baseball a year later when they stayed in the hunt for a playoff berth heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

Milwaukee hit its high-water mark under Stearns in 2018. He began the year with a pair of blockbuster moves, acquiring outfielder Christian Yelich in a four-player trade with the Marlins just hours before signing outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million contract.

Yelich would go on to become the NL’s Most Valuable Player after leading the Brewers on a memorable September surge into a winner-take-all Game 163 against the Cubs to settle the NL Central.

The Brewers haven’t been able to replicate that success since. They qualified for the playoffs in each of the next three seasons, setting a franchise record, but lost to Washington in the NL Wild Card game in 2019, then to the Dodgers in three-game Wild Card series following the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign and were knocked out of the 2021 postseason with an NLDS loss to the Braves.

In all, the Brewers won 554 games during Stearns’ tenure, the third-most among National League squads, won a pair of NL Central titles (2018, ’21), made the playoffs four times and produced an MVP, Cy Young Award winner, Rookie of the Year, two Hank Aaron Award winners, a Gold Glove, two Silver Sluggers and four Relievers of the Year.

Hot Commodity

The Brewers’ success under Stearns has made him a popular candidate for openings throughout the industry and he’s been considered a top target of his hometown New York Mets for the last two seasons.

Attanasio denied the Mets permission to interview Stearns last winter. They instead hired Billy Eppler to run their baseball operation but are currently looking to replace team president Sandy Anderson, who plans to step down once his replacement is hired.

The Mets, though, would still need to seek permission from Milwaukee to interview Stearns for the job. Though the details of his contract with the Brewers have never been confirmed by the club, it’s widely believed that he has a year remaining on the contract extension he signed in January 2019.

“I understand people want to know what comes next and the truth is, I don’t know,” Stearns said. “I’m not going into this with any plan. I think my generation, a segment of my generation and I will certainly put myself in this group, is inflicted with a condition where we feel like every single thing must be planned out. Decision A must lead to decision B which must lead to decision C.

“In this case, I’m making decision A because I think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know what decisions B and C will be but I know that decision A is the right thing to do for me. I’m very much looking forward to doing what I can for Matt and I’m going to enjoy that. I’m also going to enjoy having some time away.”

Attanasio confirmed that he discussed the possibility of a contract extension with Stearns but while disappointed, understands the reasoning behind Stearns’ decision.

“We had an active dialogue for several weeks, which really was more personal than it was transactional by a lot,” Attanasio said. I think he spoke very clearly this morning about what his thought process was. So obviously we’re supportive of that.”

What’s Next

While Stearns steps back to catch his breath, the Brewers turn things over to Arnold, 43, who has worked alongside Stearns since he was hired as assistant general manager in October 2015.

“Matt is a premier executive,” Stearns said Tuesday. “He has declined outside opportunities, multiple outside opportunities, to remain committed to the Brewers. Matt is committed to Milwaukee. He has earned this opportunity and I’m very confident the organization is in great hands.”

Prior to joining the Brewers, Arnold spent nine seasons in Tampa Bay where he was hired as professional scout and worked his way up the organizational ladder while helping build a team that won at least 90 games five times in six seasons despite owning one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball.

Though he has a deeper background in scouting than Stearns, Arnold also shares his predecessor’s analytics-driven approach and doesn’t anticipate too much of a change in organizational philosophy moving forward.

“I think we certainly share a lot of values, which is why we work well together,” Arnold said. “I think I might do things a little bit differently but by and large, the success here has been a teamwork relationship. I don’t envision changing a lot here meaningfully in terms of philosophy going forward.”

Arnold inherits an operation with significantly greater expectations than Stearns, who was tasked with essentially laying the foundation that made Milwaukee’s current success possible.

Now, though, simply making the playoffs is no longer good enough. The goal is to get to and win a World Series and it will be up to Arnold to build a roster capable of getting the job done.

“(I) realize where we are as an organizational standpoint with the assets that we have, what we need to do over the next several years to remain competitive here,” Arnold said. “Look, that could take a whole different bunch of pathways. And sometimes you’re presented with things that you didn’t expect to see happen. I think several of the trades we’ve made weren’t there at a moment when we would’ve been talking about this now and they emerged later. And so we just need to be opportunistic and ultimately, I think that will lead us to a World Series.”

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewwagner/2022/10/27/david-stearns-steps-down-as-milwaukee-brewers-president-of-baseball-operations-matt-arnold-takes-over/