"Clearly, the calls have picked up over the last week to 10 days," Stearns said. "Still largely informational, getting a sense of what everyone is looking for. We've seen this, the last couple of years with the second Wild Card, it generally takes teams a little longer to really hone in on what they're trying to do as the Deadline approaches. I don't think that will be any different this year.
"It gets later and later and later, and it makes sense. You don't want to commit to doing something until you're as confident as you can be about your place in the standings."
The early July discussions have merit, however. Last year, after a Brewers-Mets trade on July 29 fell apart over night due to Mets concerns about the health of outfielder Carlos Gomez, the Brewers were able to pivot and send Gomez to the Astros in a six-player blockbuster by the following afternoon. Stearns, who was Houston's assistant GM at the time, said that was possible because then-Brewers GM Doug Melvin and Astros counterpart Jeff Luhnow had laid groundwork weeks earlier.
Their first serious talks trade talks did not begin until after the Brewers-Mets deal had disintegrated.
"You try to get a sense of what other clubs are doing, where you might have fits, so you can begin to do additional target work on certain target organizations," Stearns said. "At this point, we feel well-prepared in terms of organizations we're likely to have serious discussions with."
In the past, much of that preparation fell to pro scouting director Zack Minasian, who compiled a detailed database of each organization's top-to-bottom depth charts, prospect profiles, payroll data and much more. Minasian remains involved this year with Stearns, assistant GM Matt Arnold, director of baseball operations Karl Mueller and manager of baseball operations Matt Kleine.
"Those guys have done an outstanding job spearheading the group prep work," Stearns said. "It's allowing us to react in a timely matter if there's interest out there."
While the addition of a second Wild Card in each league has drawn more clubs into "the race," the Brewers, eight games under .500 entering play on Friday, are viewed as potential sellers. Trading an established player like Braun or Lucroy for prospects would continue a rebuilding project that began last July with the selloff of Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, Gerardo Parra and others.
This trade season represents another first for Stearns, who was hired in September and formally took over from Melvin on Oct. 5.
"It's exciting," Stearns said. "It's one of the major opportunities during the course of the year where front offices get to make an impact on the organization in a really defined capacity. The Winter Meetings is one of those, the Draft and generally the Trade Deadline. We'll see how it goes. It's certainly a busy time of year."