Comparing the tenures of Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins and new Mets President David Stearns

Following the 2015 season, two former Cleveland front office executives were hired to be general managers: David Stearns was hired by the Milwaukee Brewers and Ross Atkins was hired by the Toronto Blue Jays. With news that Stearns has been hired as president of baseball operations for the New York Mets, let’s compare their results.
Pittsburgh Pirates v Milwaukee Brewers
Pittsburgh Pirates v Milwaukee Brewers / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

According to multiple reports, the New York Mets have hired 38-year-old Brewers executive and Manhattan native David Stearns on a five-year deal to become their new president of baseball operations. Stearns grew up in New York City as a Mets fan, and was there when Mike Piazza famously homered in the first game back at Shea Stadium after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

After graduating from Harvard, Stearns even interned with the Mets. His mom still lives in Manhattan. As Joel Sherman of the NY Post wrote, “OnceStearns stepped down as the Brewers’ president of baseball operations after last season and instead served as the Queen of England — I mean an adviser to ownership — to run out the last year on his Milwaukee contract, it was the equivalent of batting his eyes across the bar to [Mets owner Steve] Cohen.”

The Stearns hiring allows for a Blue Jays comparison

Both Stearns and Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins are graduates of the Cleveland front office. In fact, both were hired to be MLB general managers following the 2015 season. So how do their tenures as GMs compare since then? Given Stearns stepped aside to become an advisor to the Brewers ownership after the 2022 season, this comparison will focus on the teams’ fortunes in the seven seasons from 2016-2022.

The now 50-year-old Atkins was hired by his former boss and then new Toronto president Mark Shapiro on December 3, 2015. He’d been vice president of player personnel in the Cleveland organization after a 14-year career in their front office. He inherited the 93-69 2015 ALCS team that ran it back in 2016, with a core that included 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson, the newest ‘Level of Excellence’ inductee José Bautista, Edwin Encarnación and Marcus Stroman.

Stearns was hired out of MLB’s front office by the then Cleveland Indians in December 2011 along with current Minnesota Twins President Derek Falvey as their co-directors of baseball operations. Stearns focused on player contracts, data analysis and strategy in Cleveland, before leaving to become the assistant GM of the Houston Astros in November 2012. He was then hired at age 30 to succeed Doug Melvin as the Milwaukee Brewers GM on September 21, 2015. He inherited the 68-94 Brewers, who finished 4th in the NL Central that year and hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2011.

Atkins versus Stearns head-to-head

After returning to the 2016 ALCS with the core of the team built by his predecessors Alex Anthopoulos and Tony LaCava, Atkins began rebuilding the Blue Jays in 2018, moving starter J.A. Happ, closer Roberto Osuna and relievers Seunghwan Oh, John Axford and Aaron Loup in trade deadline deals, before trading Donaldson to Cleveland for a PTBNL that August. The team’s fortunes bottomed in 2019 when they lost 95 games, and finished in 4th place for a third straight year.

Toronto’s competitive window opened again in 2020, when the team played in an AL wild card series against Tampa Bay. After just missing the postseason by a game in 2021, the Blue Jays returned to the playoffs in 2022 under Atkins’ third manager, John Schneider, losing to Seattle in another ALWC series after a 92-70 record that was good for 2nd in the AL East.

From 2016-2022, the Jays posted a 520-512 (.504) record, with two second place, one third place and four fourth place finishes in the AL East. The 2016 team lost 4-1 to Cleveland in the ALCS, while the 2020 and 2022 teams were both swept out of the postseason in AL wild card series.

Stearns inherited a 2015 Brewers team that finished in 4th place and would finish in 4th place again in 2016. However, by 2017 Milwaukee had a winning record. Excluding the pandemic shortened 2020, the Brewers finished in first or second place in every full season from 2017-2022. In his last five seasons in charge, the Brewers made the playoffs four straight years and missed by one game in 2022. Stearns earned a promotion to president of baseball operations before the 2019 season. From 2016-2022, they went 554-479 (.536), winning NL Central pennants in 2018 and 2021.

Unlike Toronto, the Brewers are a small-market team with a 26-man payroll than ranged from a low of $63 million to a high of $131 million from 2016-2022. Over the same seven seasons, the Blue Jays’ 26-man payroll ranged from a low of $114.5 million to $171 million in 2022.

Stearns was able to reverse the Brewers fortunes with some savvy transactions — including a 2018 trade for Christian Yelich, who won the NL MVP Award in his first season with the Brewers. He drafted 2021 AL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes in 2016, and also acquired Freddy Peralta for Adam Lind in one of his first trades as Brewers GM.

Atkins has been able to complement his homegrown core with some big free agent signings, including Hyun-Jin Ryu, George Springer, Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Bassitt. He’s also added José Berríos, Matt Chapman, Whit Merrifield, Daulton Varsho, Trevor Richards, Erik Swanson and Jordan Hicks via trades.

While neither executive has been able to build a World Series team since overlapping in Cleveland’s front office for the 2012 season, both have been able to build competitive teams playing meaningful baseball games in September and October. Stearns might have a small edge in terms of division pennants and postseason success given what he’d inherited in small market Milwaukee compared to Atkins in Toronto in 2015.