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Polzin: What was Milwaukee Brewers president David Stearns thinking?

"Stearns says he's thinking about keeping the Brewers competitive for as long as possible. The idea is that there will be a breakthrough at some point if Milwaukee keeps making the playoffs, a more-bites-at-the-apple philosophy," writes Jim Polzin.

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Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Josh Hader (left) and catcher Manny Pina celebrate after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates Sunday afternoon, Aug. 15, 2021, at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Charles LeClaire / USA Today Sports
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MADISON — I knew the second I sent out the tweet asking for Open Jim mailbag questions that David Stearns' moves at the Major League Baseball trade deadline would generate some second-guessing.

You didn't disappoint.

Before we get into that discussion, a quick thank you for reading and for submitting questions.

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Seriously Jim ... What was Stearns thinking??

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—7th Inning Stretch (Twitter)

Stearns says he's thinking about keeping the Brewers competitive for as long as possible. The idea is that there will be a breakthrough at some point if Milwaukee keeps making the playoffs, a more-bites-at-the-apple philosophy.

Here's how Stearns put it to reporters: "We are trying to avoid the 'boom or bust' cycle," Stearns said. "We want this organization this year, next year, three years from now, five years from now, seven years from now, that when fans come and watch a Brewers game, they are watching a meaningful game. They are watching a game and a team that can and does go to the playoffs, and a team that has a legitimate chance to win a World Series."

I don't have an issue with trading Josh Hader, who can become a free agent after the 2023 season. He was going to get moved at some point before the start of next season.

Doing it now sends a bad message to the players and fans — I'll get to this later — but the return on the trade was going to get worse the longer the Brewers waited.

Let's focus on that return for a minute: As good as Hader is, teams just don't give up a lot in trades for relievers. I don't love that the Brewers traded him to another National League contender, but what we don't know is what other teams were involved in trade discussions or what was being offered. Stearns had to take what he felt is the best deal.

Immediately designating one of those trade pieces, Dinelson Lamet, certainly makes this situation look worse. But ultimately how this trade is viewed in the long-term will come down to whether the two prospects the Brewers acquired — outfielder Esteury Ruiz and pitcher Robert Gasser — become productive players for the club. It's possible we'll look back in three or four years and consider it a good trade.

I do wonder if the best move would have been to wait until the offseason to trade Hader. Sure, the return wouldn't have been as good. But at least a team that had played really well out of the All-Star Break wouldn't have been forced to move on without one of its biggest stars.

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And that's the issue here: Fans were asking me over the past month if the Brewers were going to go all-in at the deadline and acquire some much-needed offense and additional help. I didn't see that happening, but I thought Stearns would add pieces to make the team a little better.

Instead, the Brewers — at least this year's version of the team — got worse.

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Jim: Brewers still playing for this year? Or have trades made them concede this year? (Yes, overreaction, for sure. But it IS twitter)

— Sheriff Bart (Twitter)

I don't think Stearns and Co. are conceding anything, but there is one counter to my argument above about keeping Hader a bit longer and it's legitimate: It's quite possible — maybe even likely — that the Brewers didn't have a chance to win the National League even with him as the closer.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets both are clearly better teams and, even at full strength, it's hard to imagine the Brewers getting through both of those teams to win the pennant.

We'd all feel better about this team had it not gone 1-5 against NL Central bottom-feeders Pittsburgh and Cincinnati after the trade. But the Brewers are still in solid shape for the playoffs, which means they'll be playing meaningful games over the next two months. Things could be worse.

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Jim: What was the rush in signing Yelich to an extension? He was coming off a serious knee injury. He still had, I believe, two more years on his contract. Don't you think that the Brewers would want to see if Yelich was still the same elite player that he was before the injury? The Brewers are now stuck with a bad contract, which they can ill afford. I do not think that the Brewers expected Yelich to become a lead-off hitter that will probably average mediocre power statistics for the remainder of his contract.

— Andy Shovers (via email)

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and giving Yelich a massive extension back in March 2020 looks bad now because his production since that point hasn't come close to what the Brewers expected.

But I really thought it was a smart move at the time to lock up a franchise player who was 28 and coming off two fantastic seasons: He hit .326 with 36 homers and 110 RBIs in 2018 and .329 with 44 HRs and 97 RBIs the next season, finishing first and second in the MVP voting those campaigns.

Adding seven years to Yelich's deal — making it $215 million over nine years — was a long-term commitment at a hefty price. But it was almost universally considered a bargain for the Brewers because the price was only going to go up over the next two years before Yelich hit free agency.

The Brewers were convinced that the injury Yelich had sustained late the previous season — a broken kneecap — wouldn't be an issue going forward and actually it's been back ailments that have hindered Yelich the most.

Nobody could have foreseen Yelich's production dropping as much as it had. If you saw this coming and thought back in 2020 that the Brewers were making a big mistake, consider yourself in a tiny minority. And please produce receipts because my search of fan reaction after the extension was announced shows a great deal of excitement about a long-term commitment to Yelich.

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If Robin Yount can debut at 18, why can't Jackson Chourio?

—Chris Cesar (Twitter)

A lot has changed in baseball in the nearly 50 years since Yount went from No. 3 overall pick in the 1973 draft to playing for the Brewers later that year, with only 64 minor-league appearances in between. It's a much different structure in terms of service time and how quickly prospects move through systems.

It's also a much-different Brewers organization as well. That was a franchise that was slowly building back when Yount made his debut and there no reason to keep him in the minors.

In Chourio's case, there's no reason to rush him. He's been promoted once already this summer and is batting .291 with a homer and 5 RBIs in 13 games with the High-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

The Brewers have a really good shortstop in Willy Adames and other good shortstops in the system. Chourio has plenty of time to develop.

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Which has the greater probability of happening:

1. Brewers win NL Central, Badgers don’t win B1G West

2. Brewers don’t win Central, Badgers win B1G West

3. Brewers win NL Central AND Badgers win B1G West

4. Brewers don’t win Central & Badgers don’t win West

—Chris Davis (Twitter)

I'm becoming less and less confident that the Brewers will win the NL Central, though that race with the St. Louis Cardinals should go down to the wire.

As for the Big Ten West race, I took some time this week to go through each team's schedule and, wow, it could be a logjam in the standings. I really think a 6-3 record could win this division.

The challenging thing about this question is I can't immediately narrow down the list. All four options seem possible.

Here's how I'd sort it out, from most likely to least likely:

—Brewers don't win Central and Badgers don't win Big Ten West.

—Brewers don't win Central, Badgers win Big Ten West.

—Brewers win Central, Badgers don't win Big Ten West.

—Brewers win Central, Badgers win Big Ten West.

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If Mertz struggles at the start (I don't believe he will) who takes over

—KevinG13 (Twitter)

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Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) throws the ball as Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive lineman Julius Turner (50) defends during the first half on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Vincent Carchietta / USA TODAY Sports

There's a pretty established depth chart at quarterback for the Badgers. Graham Mertz is the starter, and it's not even close; and Chase Wolf is the backup, and that doesn't appear to be all that close at this point, either.

Third-stringer Deacon Hill had a rough spring and, while he looked better in the first full practice we were able to watch earlier this week, I think he has a ways to go to catch Wolf.

So Wolf is the answer. But I don't see Mertz losing his job anytime soon.

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Are there any breakout players you are looking out for as the men’s basketball team heads overseas to France?

— Michael Paduano (Twitter)

Let's start with the caveat that we shouldn't overreact to performances — good or bad — on this trip. For the most part, the level of competition in summer exhibition games like these isn't that high and UW coach Greg Gard likely will mix and match lineups. This trip isn't about winning games impressively — or winning games at all — it's a team-building exercise.

Point is, I'm not sure we're going to know a whole lot more after these four games than we did beforehand.

I was asked in a previous Open Jim mailbag for two predictions: under-the-radar player and breakout player. I chose Markus Ilver and Steven Crowl, respectively.

But I'll toss out another name in regards to your question: Jordan Davis. I'm curious to see if he can make a jump this season now that his brother Johnny and Brad Davison have moved on from UW.

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If the VB match at the Kohl Center is successful, will they try to host home NCAA tourney games there instead of the Field House?

— Kevin Gratz (Twitter)

It's an interesting thought and would: A) Give more fans access to games; and B) Generate more revenue for UW.

One potential complication is making sure the Kohl Center is available on those dates. It's a busy venue shared by UW men's basketball, women's basketball and men's hockey.

Plus, I think there's a possibility of minimizing home-court advantage by moving to the Kohl Center. The Field House is noisier and probably more intimidating for opponents.

Not sure how Kelly Sheffield would feel about this option. But if it were up to me, I'd want to keep these big games in the Field House.

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We hear about other school’s NIL packages that recruits are receiving. What is happening with Wisconsin and their NIL?

—Jo Howard (Twitter)

That sound you hear is crickets chirping.

Our Colten Bartholomew checked in with one of the faces of The Varsity Collective, mega booster Ted Kellner, about a month ago and was told this: "We're being deliberate, going at this slowly, slower than some would like," Kellner said. "But we're making sure we do this right and do it the Wisconsin way."

Kellner said more details would be announced "in the next 30 to 60 days" and we're about halfway through that window. Stay tuned.

One reminder: Both Kellner and UW athletic director Chris McIntosh have been adamant that the collective will not be used to recruit athletes to UW, which is in line with NCAA and UW policies regarding Name, Image and Likeness.

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Does @AaronRodgers12 make wide receivers better or has he always had exceptional talent throughout his career?

—Sean Stephenson (Twitter)

Aaron Rodgers running with the football.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) runs the ball during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022.
Raj Mehta / USA Today Sports

I don't think this has to be an either-or thing. Both can be true.

Has Rodgers been fortunate to work with some really talented receivers? Absolutely. The list includes Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.

But having Rodgers throwing to them has boosted those players' careers. There's no question about that.

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Are the packers going to stay pat at WR?

—Fred Ehle (Twitter)

For now, yes.

The emergence of rookie fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs during the early part of training camp has made me feel better about the situation at wide receiver. There's still no true No. 1 after the Packers traded Adams to the Raiders in the offseason. But between Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Cobb, Doubs and Juwann Winfree, Rodgers seems to like his options. Amari Rodgers has even had his moments and there's still the unknown of what second-round pick Christian Watson can add when he recovers from knee surgery.

So I think Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst will let this play out into the season while keeping an eye on the trade market in case a receiver becomes available who would improve this group.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

© 2022 The Wisconsin State Journal

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