Last night, the Brewers made David Stearns their new general manager, and the 30 year old became the youngest GM in baseball. It's a bold step for a franchise that has struggled to elevate itself above mediocrity since...well, since forever. The Brewers haven't consecutive seasons of 85 or more wins since 1987 and 1988. Whatever they have been doing in the ensuing 27 seasons has not worked to build a consistent winner, and it's time for something different.
That's not to slag on Doug Melvin, who did a fantastic job drafting and trading players, but who struggled to supplement his roster with free agents and find value where other franchises could not. And it's telling that, while Melvin was relieved of his duties, he was kept on in an advisory capacity.
Now, before today I didn't know anything about David Stearns, and neither did you. Jeff Passan speculates that Stearns is "all analytics." While that's great in theory, we actually don't know how he'll perform until he's actually in the position to make decisions. Recently oustered Mariners GM Jack Zduriencek was supposed to be stat savvy as well, but wound up completely flummoxed when it came to building an effective roster.
We also know that he's almost impossibly young. The youngest GM since John Daniels took over the Rangers at 28. And while we celebrate the changing of the proverbial guard, it's worth noting that Paul DePodesta only lasted two years in Los Angeles after he got hired at 31 to run their franchise. Obviously, the situation is different in Milwaukee. Without a cutthroat media environment, and with ownership publicly talking about the need to rebuild, Stearns should get at least a few years to show that he is making progress, provided there aren't any disasters. Still, youth is not inherently a good thing on its own.
He's worked for good people though, as part of the Pirates, Indians, and the non-dysfunctional part of the Mets' front offices. Most recently, he assisted Jeff Lunhow in turning around a moribund Houston Astros franchise. In Houston, Lunhow and Stearns didn't just revamp the team, but the franchise's entire culture, selling off all the old horses, then burning down the barn and starting from scratch. Frankly, as the Brewers contemplate how they are going to build a competitive franchise in the most challenging market in Major League Baseball, smack dab in the middle of baseball's most competitive division, Stearns may need to do a similar teardown before the Brewers are relevant again.
Indeed, the fact that Stearns is an unknown is a signal that times have changed in Milwaukee, and previous expectations are out the window. He represents an opportunity to take the Brewers in a new direction entirely without baggage. He comes in full of different ideas, and with a mandate to transform the Brewers. He has the freedom to experiment and to move forward untethered to past decisions, but with Doug Melvin's expertise available. Aside from their payroll, Stearns and his vision will be the only thing determining whether the Brewers can be a successful franchise from this point forward. And as the Rays and A's have shown in recent years, the right leadership team can overcome that final obstacle.
Is Stearns that leader? We'll see. But we know he's different from the failures of the past. And for now, that's good enough.