The Milwaukee Brewers were eliminated from postseason contention on Monday night, snapping their streak of consecutive playoff berths at four in a row. The Brewers, who spent nearly 100 days in first place in the National League Central throughout the year, were done in by their inability to leverage a 32-19 start. From that point forward, the Brewers notched a 53-56 record, falling out of first place for good in early August.
Writing that the end of the Brewers' playoff streak feels like the closing of an era in franchise history is an overstatement. Still, that may come to be the reality of the situation this winter, depending on how the offseason unfolds with respect to president of baseball operations David Stearns and right-hander Corbin Burnes.
For more insight on both individuals, please scroll down this webpage at a leisurely pace.
Is Stearns on his way out?
Stearns has been the Brewers' top baseball executive dating back to late in the 2015 season. He's demonstrated himself to be an intelligent roster builder who has kept the Brewers competitive without ever having an above-average payroll at his disposal.
Stearns' long-term future in Milwaukee has been a talking point ever since the New York Mets began to express interest in hiring him to run their operation two offseasons ago. The Brewers have declined multiple requests to interview Stearns, whose contract runs through the 2023 season (though it included an opt-out clause if the Brewers had won this year's pennant), according to SNY's Andy Martino.
It's unclear if the Mets will try again to hire Stearns this winter (he's been described to CBS Sports by those in the know as a good friend of general manager Billy Eppler), or if the Brewers will be more amenable to allowing him to interview with New York owner Steve Cohen -- perhaps with an eye on extracting compensation for his services if the Mets moved to hire him. Speculation about his future has already started around the industry in recent weeks, however, making it tough to ignore.
Whether or not Stearns is still calling shots in Milwaukee come this offseason, he might not be the only notable member of the franchise whose days are numbered.
Will Burnes be shopped?
Burnes has emerged as one of the top starting pitchers in the majors during the Pandemic Era. In 425 innings over the last three seasons, he's compiled a 2.64 ERA (155 ERA+) and a 5.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 11.6 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference's calculations, ranks as the fifth-most in the majors during that span, behind names like Max Scherzer, Max Fried, and Sandy Alcantara.
It would seem silly for a team with competitive aspirations to contemplate trading Burnes, who will celebrate his 28th birthday in late October, yet it's something the Brewers may have to weigh. Remember, this is an organization that often has to make difficult decisions based on escalating salaries. Josh Hader's increasing financial cost was one of the reasons the Brewers made the controversial call to move him at the trade deadline.
Burnes, for his part, has more than four years of big-league service time. That puts him just two seasons away from reaching free agency. Despite time winding down, the Brewers have not yet approached him about signing a long-term extension -- even though his salary is certain to increase to well over the $6.5 million he made this year.
"You would think," Burnes told MLB.com in September. "You would think maybe there would have been some initial talks last offseason, but nothing."
Perhaps the Brewers believe they can carry Burnes at a higher cost for another season. At some point, though, history suggests they'll have to figure out the sweet spot where they can maximize their return on him in a trade without compromising their competitive desires. It's a delicate dance, and one that Milwaukee is unlikely to come out ahead on, given how rarely a pitcher of Burnes' quality comes along.