The way the Astros see it, Stearns' expertise and understanding of the Collective Bargaining Agreement -- he was a member of Major League Baseball's negotiating committee while working for the Commissioner's Office -- and his experience working for three other Major League clubs makes him wise beyond his baseball years.
He wound up being a perfect fit to fill the role as general manager Jeff Luhnow's second-hand man while trying to rebuild the Astros.
"I think for someone that's really only been in the industry for five or so years, he's got a lot of experience," Luhnow said. "The Commissioner's Office is like dog years -- you learn an awful lot from a lot of bright people and he had a great experience there. He has worked for three other clubs and has seen different environments in a short time."
Stearns, 27, started earlier this week and is still learning about the Astros and his new city. Born and raised in New York City, Stearns enjoys the pace of the nation's fourth-largest city and couldn't help but get excited over the prospect of a mild winter as the sun shone on Minute Maid Park on a mild mid-November afternoon.
The thing that's really motivating Stearns is heating up the summers at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros are coming off a pair of 100-plus-loss seasons and are heading into the American League West next year. The opportunity to help build something special drew Stearns to the Astros.
"To be able to join an organization like this and a market like this and be able to work with the staff that Jeff has already created, it's a great opportunity and I'm very excited and looking forward to getting to know the market and getting to know the fan base," he said.
It didn't take long for Stearns to learn history of the importance of baseball in Houston. He grew up a Mets fans and referenced the rivalry between the Astros and Mets in the mid-1980s, though he was barely old enough to walk when the Mets ousted the Astros in 16 innings in Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series.
He's familiar with the Killer's B's and the team blowing the roof off Minute Maid Park only eight years ago, which seems like an eternity when you've lost 213 games the past two years. Still, he believes the future of baseball in Houston is bright.
"Jeff has a tremendous track record of success in St. Louis and building from within and drafting and developing players, and that's the trend the industry has recognized the past couple of years that's essential for long-term sustainability and maintaining a championship caliber," Stearns said. "I'm very much looking forward to joining that group and helping Jeff achieve a great deal of success here. Second, this is a tremendous market and it has an enormously passionate fan base."
Stearns spent last season as the Indians' director of baseball operations, where he focused on contract negotiations, salary analysis, team strategy and roster management. He spent three seasons (2008-11) working in the Commissioner's Office and assisted clubs through contract negotiations, the salary arbitration process and First-Year Player Draft signings.
Stearns also has experience working in the baseball operations departments for the Mets, the Pirates and the Arizona Fall League.
"I'm going to be helping Jeff along a wide range of baseball operations and responsibility," Stearns said. "The Commissioner's Office helped me learn a great deal about our Collective Bargaining Agreement, about the other league rules, about contract negotiations and the salary arbitration process. Those are things I'll be overseeing and I'll be responsible for, but Jeff is an extremely collaborative leader, and I look forward to working with him across a wide range of issues."
The two areas where Stearns has yet to have much experience is scouting and player development, but he will be working closely to scouting director Mike Elias and farm director Quinton McCracken, who's also new to the organization.
"We're all involved in everything, and that's one of the exciting things about working in this front office," Stearns said.
A 2007 graduate of Harvard, Stearns looks at his youthfulness in a grueling business as a positive, and he's had a couple of good role models. He recently worked with Indians president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti, both of whom saw their baseball careers start at a young age.
"I think there are so many incredibly qualified and smart people who are assistant general managers or directors of baseball operations and many other positions," Stearns said. "If somewhere down the road a general manager's opportunity would come my way, that would be wonderful and I would certainly take a lot at it, but for now my goal is to be the best assistant general manager in baseball and do everything I can to help Jeff put a winning team on the field."