David Stearns is a popular guy these days. At the grocery store. Pumping gas for his car. Out for lunch or dinner.
Everyone wants to talk about the Milwaukee Brewers.
“They are excited for the start of baseball season,” said Stearns, who was promoted to president of baseball operations last month. “They are excited to see what can happen this year. From my perspective, that’s all I can ask. It’s a great feeling for all of us to recognize the level of engagement our fan base has. It certainly makes the job that much more enjoyable when that kind of response occurs.”
Next up is the hard part.
Milwaukee is looking to build on a breakthrough season after it won the NL Central last year and made it all the way to the NL Championship Series before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. Reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich anchors a potent lineup, and right-hander Jimmy Nelson could help the rotation after he missed last season following surgery on his right shoulder.
But the Brewers haven’t made consecutive playoff appearances since 1982 and 1983, and the already tough NL Central looks even better than it did a year ago.
“We were close. We got really close to what we wanted to accomplish as a team,” Yelich said. “We have had some time to sit back and reflect on the season and those feelings. You want those feelings again.”
Pitchers and catchers report to Phoenix on Thursday, and the first full-squad workout for Milwaukee is Feb. 19.
The Brewers upgraded their catching situation when they finalized an $18.25 million, one-year contract with Yasmani Grandal in January. The 30-year-old Grandal hit .241 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs last year for the Dodgers. But the switch hitter struggled in the playoffs at the plate and behind the dish.
“He’s right there with any catcher in baseball as far as being one of the best catchers in the game on both sides of the ball,” outfielder Ryan Braun said. “He makes us significantly better. It’s an exciting move.”
Manny Pina, veteran journeyman Erik Kratz and prospect Jacob Nottingham also are in the mix behind the plate.
Milwaukee hosts improved St. Louis on opening day on March 28, kicking off a four-game series. The Brewers begin the season with 10 straight games against the NL Central.