Matt Arnold's first trip to winter meetings as chief decision maker will be important for the Brewers

Matt Arnold is the Brewers president of baseball operations, taking over the team after David Stearns stepped down on Oct. 27.
Matt Arnold is the Brewers president of baseball operations, taking over the team after David Stearns stepped down on Oct. 27.
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Milwaukee Brewers general manager Matt Arnold still remembers attending Major League Baseball's winter meetings as a neophyte in the early 2000s.

"I was looking for a job," said Arnold as he recounted one of his most memorable -- and ultimately fruitful -- forays to the source of much of the game's hot-stove action each winter.

Jon Daniels, who eventually became the Rangers' longtime general manager, let Arnold sleep on the floor of his hotel room each night. Arnold's days were spent working the lobby, trying to make connections with anyone and everyone he was able to meet.

"He was so nice to do that and let me stay there because I don’t think I could have even afforded a room," Arnold said. "I was probably 21, 22, just coming out of college. Just one of those situations where you’re doing whatever it takes and JD was nice enough, because I had been their intern, to let me come and stay with him and pal around and meet with all these different people.

"That’s where you’ve got to cut your teeth a little bit. Work the floor, work the phones and just try to connect with as many baseball people as you can."

Eventually, Arnold's efforts paid off.

"I got hired by the Reds," said Arnold. "They had a $40,000 job and they cut it in half, so it was $20,000 each for me and Nick Krall (named Cincinnati's general manager in May 2018). We started on the exact same day in Cincinnati."

Having been named Milwaukee's top baseball operations man after David Stearns stepped down on Oct. 27, Arnold now leads the Brewers' contingent to San Diego -- and there will be no more sleeping on the floor.

Arnold will have his own suite there, and from Sunday through Wednesday he and his group will put in long hours as they attempt to return Milwaukee back to the postseason in 2023 after a bitterly disappointing end left the 86-76 Brewers on the outside looking in for the first time since 2017.

Yes, indeed, times have changed.

"I haven’t really had a chance to reflect on it," said Arnold, who came to the Brewers with Stearns back in 2015. "But it’s exciting and humbling, having just cut my teeth just trying to get a job on the floor there so many years ago and to now be able to actually run a team – I hadn’t even thought about it like that.

"But it’s powerful in a way that makes you think about all the things that have happened in your career, and all the highs and lows and all the long days and the people you come across in the game."

Here are the roster moves made by the Brewers since the end of the 2022 season

Arnold will arrive having already had a busy offseason. Since taking the reins from Stearns, the Brewers have:

-- Brought back second baseman Kolten Wong only to trade him on Friday to the Seattle Mariners along with cash in exchange for outfielder Jesse Winker and infielder Abraham Toro;

-- Said goodbye to right-handers Brad Boxberger, Trevor Gott, Jandel Gustave and Luis Perdomo, left-hander Brent Suter and rightfielder Hunter Renfroe;

-- Agreed to 2023 contracts with right-handers Adrian Houser and Matt Bush and utility man Mike Brosseau;

-- Added right-handed reliever Javy Guerra and three other pitchers who will expand the organization's depth.

But there is still quite a bit of work yet to be done, with the bullpen and catcher areas of most obvious need.

Then there's always the potentially unexpected move -- something Stearns proved adept at pulling off time and time again during his tenure. The Brewers have had a tendency to add players even at positions of strength when the price is right and there's a belief in someone's potential versatility.

"Staying nimble I think with players we think can help us is always going to be at the forefront of our minds, for sure," is how Arnold categorized the Brewers' priorities heading to San Diego. "Continuing to work toward improving our pitching depth just as a whole is important, and then our catching spot as well is something that stands out.

"It’s a constantly evolving cycle, and we just want to make sure we’re tied in on all the different conversations that are happening in the market just so we can be happy if a great opportunity presents itself."

Armed with valuable players at premier positions, the Brewers are a team to watch at baseball's winter meetings

With the rumors already flying, many observers expect the Brewers to potentially be among the teams that could be the most active. Right-handers Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff and shortstop Willy Adames all have two years of team control remaining, making them hot commodities at premier positions.

On Thursday, Arnold confirmed his phone has been ringing steadily in recent days. Then, a little more than 24 hours later, he'd pulled off the Wong deal.

"(It's ringing) a lot. A lot," he said with a chuckle. "Late, after midnight, every day. We’re plugged in starting when the sun rises. It’s good, and fun, right? Whether it’s trade conversations, free agents – everything just to make sure we’re prepared for next week, and even post-winter meetings and what that could look like going into spring training."

That said, Arnold again reiterated the franchise's interest in agreeing to contract extensions with one or more of those players if possible.

"We want to build around that group," he said. "That’s what you work so hard to get – great players like them – and to have them here now is unique and special. It’s something we don’t take for granted, and we just want to continue to work to put the best team on the field as possible in 2023 and beyond."

Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Willy Adames among 10 arbitration-eligible players remaining for Brewers

Starting pitcher Corbin Burnes is one of several arbitration-eligible players for the Brewers.
Starting pitcher Corbin Burnes is one of several arbitration-eligible players for the Brewers.

Including Burnes, Woodruff and Adames, Milwaukee has 10 arbitration-eligible players remaining. Negotiations on 2023 contracts at the very least are ongoing.

"It's a slow and winding process," Arnold said. "It may move faster for some guys; others it might take a little bit longer, but that’s OK.

"It’s still a work in progress on our end."

The Rule 5 draft wraps up the winter meetings Wednesday. Then Arnold & Co. head back to Milwaukee, where they'll continue to try and improve from the major-league roster on down.

"It's just being prepared. I think that’s the biggest thing," Arnold said. "What are we trying to get at here from what we’re trying to accomplish in 2023 while also keeping in mind the longer-term vision. Assessing the market, making sure we’re in play on as many things that can possibly help the Brewers either now or in the future.

"It’s just being prepared for anything. A lot of things can happen."

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Matt Arnold's first winter meetings as Brewers' top baseball man will be key