As is the case when teams are struggling to the extent the Mets have, Billy Eppler's molten hot seat has led to an interesting report about the possible future of the Mets front office leadership. David Stearns, a well known target of Steven A. Cohen, will be a free agent at some point this offseason, has continued to be linked to the Mets. While it may be a little hasty to pencil him in as the Mets next chief baseball executive, it's the perfect time to dream about this offseason and understand why Stearns is so coveted.
First and foremost, it is unlikely the Mets hire David Stearns to be their GM. He has already ascended the font office food chain to the position of President of Baseball Operations (PBO) and we should assume he'd assume nothing lesser than that role in stature. Possible positions for Stearns would be PBO, President, replacing Sandy Alderson or Chief Baseball Officer, a newly created position in the baseball world. In any of the aforementioned cases, Stearns would be tasked with making a decision on Billy Eppler and possibly conducting the search for his successor.
Historically, Stearns has shown an affinity for Tampa Bay Rays front office personnel. He hired Matt Arnold away from Tampa Bay as his top lieutenant in Milwaukee. While there's a strong chance Stearns would want to look to the Rays current front office for his next GM, there is also the possibility he goes with someone who used to work in their front office. James Click stands out as an excellent candidate. Not only did he grow up in the Rays system, he also went on to win a World Series with the Astros, a team Stearns has a strong familiarity with dating back to his time there as the assistant GM. Another great option would be Sig Mejdal, who is currently the assistant GM in Baltimore and also has an extensive history with Stearns.
Beside for name, cache and assembling a potentially highly successful front office, Stearns brings a distinguished knowledge of the game. He has specifically thrived in making trades, major league development, as well as bullpen assembly and waiver claims. These are areas the Mets have failed in since Brodie was in charge and others dating back to the initial Alderson regime. The first area of Stearns' expertise I'd like to delve into is his trade history. Highlighting a few important deals as well as an overall assessment of his trade savvy.
Mets fans know about their failed attempt of acquiring Carlos Gomez prior to the 2015 trade deadline, an ordeal which resulted in a teary-eyed Wilmer Flores. What they may not know is the kind of haul the Brewers received from the Astros for him a few days later. Acquiring Josh Hader, Adrian Houser, Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana in that trade is nothing short of an impeccable scouting feat. All four have had extensive big league careers, which is all but unheard of. When factoring in the quantity of above-average seasons the foursome has produced, it makes this trade a colossal win.
Another, more recent trade worth discussing is the Wily Adames trade in which the Rays received Drew Rasmussen and JP Feyereisen. What makes this trade all the more astonishing is at this point last year the trade looked to be another typical Rays trade. Yet, at this moment, Feyeresisen is no longer on the Rays and Rasmussen may need reconstructive elbow surgery which would see him miss 15-18 months. Given Adames' production of close to 9 fWAR, this trade is yet another strong move by Stearns. One in which he turned two injury prone assets into an up-the-middle mainstay.
His pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the Yelich trade. While Yelich is a shell of his former self due to prolonged struggles with back issues, he was once a perennial MVP candidate. Yet even in his current state, the trade would be considered a monster victory. The Marlins received a haul of 3-4 top 100 prospects, although none have developed, none have made an impact at the major league level and are even on the Marlins. The four prospects moved for Yelich were Lewis Brinson, Isan Diaz, Jordan Yamamoto and Monte Harrison.
Yet, Stearns' ability to consistently win or break even in trades is what truly sets him apart from his peers. Acquiring Freddy Peralta for Adam Lind eight years ago is exactly the kind of move successful franchises pull off. Trading for multiyear starters like Rowdy Tellez, Omar Narvaez, Hunter Renfroe, Daniel Vogelbach and Travis Shaw, are not sexy moves. Yet, acquiring cheap, average starters for close to nothing is exactly how Stearns was able to maintain a competitive team in a smaller market. These are also the kind of moves the Mets have been sorely lacking since the Alderson era. Small, low risk moves that give a team the depth needed to compete through a long 162 game season.
Bill Eppler has shown a complete ineptitude in this arena giving up players like Miguel Castro, Colin Holderman, JD Davis and a burgeoning top 100 prospect in Hector Rodriguez all in the span of a few months. Don't even get me started on Zack Scott's horrendous decisions to give up Endy Rodriguez, a switch-hitting multi-positional catcher who's a consensus top 50 prospect for Joey Lucchessi, a borderline fifth starter. He also traded Pete Crow-Armstrong, a top 15 prospect, for a couple of months of Javy Baez. He should have been arrested from trading under the influence.
Major League Development
The second area I'd like to explore has been the Brewers expertise in developing their own players at the Major League level. The astounding part about it is their systematic development of players passed their perceived ceilings. When an amateur player is acquired a strong level of consensus exists over which players have high ceilings and which have high floors. The usual persistent debate is which is the worthwhile investment, the high-floor player or the high-ceiling player? This is a topic that I have been fascinated with the past few years and is worth dedicating its own article to.
Developing amateur players into MLB players is a feat unto itself. Creating an environment in which the high-ceiling or high-floor player meet those expectations is the challenge of player development. The Brewers under Stearns have had a run of taking talented players and molding them into impact players in ways talent evaluators could not foresee. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta all come to mind, as well as Christian Yelich. Yelich for example, was long considered a contact oriented, alley-power guy who could play the corners very well and CF in a pinch. Yet the Brewers took this profile and added serious HR hitting prowess to it to create an MVP level player.
Corbin Burnes was considered a top 100 prospect, yet due to a few mitigating factors was believed to be a mid-rotation starter or impact reliever. Instead, the Brewers had him replace his straight fastball with a cutter and he's matured into a Cy Young level pitcher and a workhorse. While Woodruff and Peralta are similar to Burnes, the prognosticators did not consider them consensus top 100 prospects. Yet, they too have well surpassed their ceilings and have become fixtures, albeit injury prone, atop the Brewers rotation. Even Eric Lauer, who's been a disaster this season, saw an uptick in both velocity and pitch movement last season to the extent that he was considered an All-Star snub.
Stearns has a proven track record of acquiring talent and helping them improve and succeed past expectation. Jimmy Nelson, Zach Davies, Junior Guerra, Chase Anderson, Jonathan Villar, Domingo Santana, Hernan Perez, Manny Pina, Eric Thames, Keon Broxton, Jesus Aguilar and Avisail Garcia and others are all examples of this. Milwaukee has been the only place some of these players ever succeeded as Major Leaguers, while other had their most successful campaigns as Brewers. His keen ability, to not only identify players who are undervalued by their own organization, but to help them figure out how to be the best version of themselves is another key to the Brewers ability to stay competitive during the Stearns era.
Not only has this been an area the Meta have struggled in of late, it has plagued the Mets for decades. More often than not, players come to the Mets and severely underperform. Examples which come to mind are Jason Bay, Michael Cuddyer, Jed Lowrie, Michael Wacha, Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn and most recently Justin Verlander. The Mets have either failed to target the right players to succeed in New York, have overestimated those players' abilities, or have failed to help them become the best version of themselves. Either way it is evident they have not put them in a position to succeed and have continuously failed to provide them with the proper coaching and assistance for them to perform.
In part II of this series, we will continue to look at and analyze Stearns' skillset and player acquisitions like bullpen assembly and waiver claims.