Stearns identified starting-pitching depth as the Brewers' top priority this winter, and he is not the only Major League GM eyeing that market. Darvish and Arrieta are the top starters available, likely to command nine-figure contracts. Via trade, Tampa Bay's Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi are considered among the top starters who could be moved.
Odorizzi is a former Brewers prospect, but he was in the Minors when Milwaukee shipped him to Kansas City in a December 2010 trade for Zack Greinke. More familiar is Arrieta, 31, who has pitched for the National League Central-rival Cubs over the past four seasons. Arrieta saved his 2017 season with a strong second half to finish 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 2017.
The Brewers have money to spend and a need for pitching, in part because ace right-hander Jimmy Nelson will begin 2018 on the disabled list following right shoulder surgery. It remains unclear how much time he'll miss, but his absence means that Chase Anderson (2.74 ERA in 25 starts) and Zach Davies (3.90 ERA in 33 starts) are Milwaukee's top returning starters.
There is room for a top arm if the Brewers are willing to spend a year or two early.
"I think we're pleased to be able to go into an offseason focused on how we can improve our Major League product," Stearns said. "We're pleased we had a number of younger players on our team continue to develop at the Major League level. It's put us in a spot this year where we feel good about continuing to add to that core group.
"We've honestly never set a timeline on this. We talked about strategy and what was going to guide our decision-making process, but we never said, 'In this year we're aiming to do this, and in that year we aiming to do that.' It's more, 'What is going to motivate our decision-making process?' And that hasn't changed."
In the first 24 hours or so of the GM Meetings, did Stearns get a sense of how quickly -- or slowly -- the market will move?
"I didn't yet. Generally, it's slow until it's not," he said. "There's some event that causes a chain reaction. I don't know when that will happen, but at some point between now and the Winter Meetings, it will."