By Paul Imig Special to Published Sep 22, 2015 at 4:26 PM

Very few people expected the 2015 Houston Astros to be a competitive team. Yet, with 10 games remaining in the regular season, they are set up to either win the American League West or grab a Wild Card spot.

That lesson in expectations resonated with David Stearns as he transitions from the Astros front office into his new job as Milwaukee Brewers general manager.

Stearns was hired this week by the Brewers to orchestrate a similar turnaround in Milwaukee to the one he was part of in Houston.

The situation isn’t quite as dire with the Brewers as it was for the Astros. When Stearns was hired by Houston as assistant general manager in late 2012, the Astros were coming off of their second consecutive 100-plus-loss season. In Stearns’ first full season there working under general manager Jeff Luhnow, Houston compiled an even worse record.

While Stearns won’t get to fully enjoy the work he put in helping the Astros, he can make the move to Milwaukee knowing that his former club is set up for a good run this season – and for a very bright future.

With the Brewers, Stearns needs to solve what has gone so wrong over the past year. Heading into September 2014, Milwaukee had a 73-63 record. Then, the losing began, starting with dropping eight of nine games to kick off that month. 

Since Sept. 1, 2014, the Brewers are 72-104 and have entered into rebuild mode.

Will it take four or five years before Milwaukee is competing for a division title again? That’s how long it took the Astros, as well as the Chicago Cubs. It could take that long, but Stearns isn’t approaching it with any specific end date in mind.

"I’m a big believer in not setting limits for any team for any year," Stearns said in his introductory press conference Monday. "This is a game with a tremendous amount of variability. We’re going to take each decision as it comes, and we’ll make each decision with the best interest of the overall health of the organization. And the product on the major league field is obviously a major part of that."

Little did Stearns know two months ago that a trade between Houston and Milwaukee would play a significant role in the Brewers’ efforts to get back into contention. The Astros sent outfielder prospects Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips, as well as pitching prospects Adrian Houser and Josh Hader, to Milwaukee in the deal for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. Santana has been an everyday starter since late August, and Houser was just called up from the minors.

That trade, along with the past two draft classes, will help Stearns in the rebuilding process.

BaseballAmerica lists three Brewers among the top-five rated players in the entire Arizona League. Outfielder Trent Clark is No. 1, shortstop Gilbert Lara is No. 3 and outfielder Demi Orimoloye is No. 5. In the Pioneer League, BaseballAmerica also has three Brewers in the top 15. Pitcher Marcos Diplan is No. 4, outfielder Monte Harrison is No. 6 and shortstop Jake Gatewood is No. 15.

"My philosophy and approach to building a sustainable playoff team, I don’t think is really a secret," Stearns said. "You need to acquire, develop and keep controllable young talent; quality major-league talent. If you look at sustainably competitive teams throughout industry, regardless of market size, regardless of city, that’s what you have to do. You can’t build a team through free agency. Even the biggest-market teams in baseball can’t do that.

"The trick is to develop a process and system that allows you to consistently regenerate that pipeline, even as you’re competitive at the major league level. There are a couple teams that appear to be able to do that, and that’s certainly our goal here in Milwaukee."

And before anyone thinks there’s a relatively low ceiling to what the Brewers can accomplish in the future, allow Stearns to give his take on that topic.

"I would not have come here if I did not think it was possible to win a World Series in Milwaukee," he said.

Stearns will have Doug Melvin alongside him, too. Melvin will be stepping out of the GM seat and into an advisory role with Milwaukee.

"(Melvin) has a tremendous amount of experience and wisdom, and I’m going to use that as much as I can," Stearns said. "Doug is going to be around. He’s going to have an office in the front office. I’m going to lean on him throughout this process. He’s already been helpful in getting me acclimated to the people and processes in the organization. He’s going to help me a lot."

Of course, given Stearns’ age, many will question whether he’s ready for this type of undertaking – even with Melvin lending a hand. At 30 years old, Stearns is the youngest general manager in professional sports.

That factor certainly didn’t bother owner Mark Attanasio, though.

"We focused on his experience; he’s got quite an impressive resume of working through a number of successful organizations," Attanasio said, listing the Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets and Cleveland Indians. "He’s seen a lot ... his experience is quite impressive.

"The fact that he was able to achieve all that at a comparatively young age is only a benefit and a testament to his work ethic and his drive."

Attanasio added that Stearns had "significant reporting and evaluation responsibilities" in Houston.

Age has never deterred Stearns in his dealings within Major League Baseball.

"Throughout my career, I’ve always been on the younger side for positions I’ve held," Stearns said. "It’s never proven a hindrance for me, and I certainly don’t anticipate the youthful appearance to hurt me in this one.

"Trust me, I’ve had plenty of text messages over the last 24 hours that have told me I will age tremendously in this job over the next couple years. ... I’m OK being on the young side for general managers."

Whether it’s in two or three years or it takes a full five seasons like it did in Houston, it’s now up to Stearns to lead the Brewers into a successful future.

Paul Imig Special to
Paul Imig spent the past five years working for FOX Sports WI. He began by covering the Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers before taking over the Green Bay Packers beat in 2011. In addition to his writing, Paul also made television appearances nationwide on FOX Sports 1. He can be heard on the radio statewide on The Bill Michaels Show and can be seen on Time Warner Cable's Roundtable show with Dennis Krause. Paul is the 2015 recipient of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's award for Graduate Of the Last Decade (GOLD).