Last season according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Milwaukee Brewers opened the year with the league’s lowest payroll at just a shade over $63 mil. That was the second consecutive season that Milwaukee opened the year with a payroll of less than $65 mil after topping $80+ mil in eight straight seasons from 2008-2015. The Brewers did augment payroll a bit during the season when they added players from outside the organization for their playoff run, but even still were among the lowest-spending clubs in baseball.
But the team has made some major additions to their roster since our last update two weeks ago, and the payroll outlook for next season has changed dramatically. Slingin’ David Stearns sent four prospects (including Lewis Brinson) to Miami for Christian Yelich, who is under contract for the next four season plus one club option after that. He also inked an old friend to a new long-term deal, bringing Lorenzo Cain back to the organization that drafted and developed him. Finally, it was reported yesterday that the team has agreed to a modest two-year deal with veteran reliever Matt Albers. So here’s how things currently stand with only a little over two more weeks until pitchers and catchers report:
There are a few caveats to this chart, of course:
- Ryan Braun ($4 mil) has deferred money in his contract which will be paid out at a later date. Also, Yovani Gallardo has $2 mil in incentives available, Eric Thames has $500K, Chase Anderson has $400K, Eric Sogard has $650K, Jeremy Jeffress has $2.2 mil, Boone Logan has $3.2 mil, Lorenzo Cain has $1.3 mil, Matt Albers has $1 mil, and Hernan Perez has an undisclosed amount of incentives built into his contract. Logan’s deal also includes a $625K buyout of his 2019 team option.
- The MLB league minimum is $545,000 and has been assigned to all pre-arbitration eligible players, though ultimately many of those players will make a small amount over the league minimum.
- Pre-arb roster spots aren't set in stone, but they don't really affect the main topic of this post. So if you don't like Jesus Aguilar or Brent Suter or whoever being on this list, swap them out for another pre-arb player. It won't affect the payroll projection.
- Jimmy Nelson will begin the 2018 season on the disabled list after undergoing shoulder surgery, and he won’t return until at least June at the earliest.
Christian Yelich was a highly sought after player not only for his skills on the field, but for the value his contract provides. He signed a 7-year, $49.57 mil extension with Miami back in 2015, and under that deal he’ll earn $7 mil $9.75 mil, $12.5 mil, and $14 mil over the remaining four seasons. The contract also includes a $15 mil club option for 2022, or a $1.25 mil buyout. Those factors were enough to convince Stearns to send three of his most highly rated prospects as well as one of his favorite arms within the organization to Miami.
Cain’s 5-year, $80 mil deal stands out as the largest contract any team has given out on the open market this offseason, as well as the biggest guarantee ever doled out to a free agent in franchise history. It’s a back-loaded deal that will pay him $13 mil in 2018, with his salary increasing by $1 mil each season until it maxes out at $17 mil in 2022. The pact also includes a deferred $5 mil signing bonus that will be paid out in equal $1 mil annual installments from 2023-2027. Cain can earn up to $1.3 mil in incentives each year based on various awards bonuses, including All-Star selection and MVP voting.
Matt Albers’ two-year deal has yet to be confirmed by the club, but it’s been reported by several different outlets since Ken Rosenthal first broke the news yesterday. According to Ben Nicholson-Smith, Albers will receive a $5 mil guarantee over the two seasons, split equally into $2.5 mil salaries in 2018 and 2019. He will be able to earn up to $1 mil in incentives based on appearances, starting at 35 games and maxing out at 65+ games. He’s an inexpensive piece who should help raise the floor of the bullpen. When Albers’ deal is announced by the team, an accompanying roster move will need to be made as the 40 man is currently full.
The Brewers loudly announced that they are ‘going for it’ as a franchise with the two major acquisitions of Yelich and Cain on January 25th. The front office and ownership group decided that 2018 was the right time to flip the switch, and so far they’ve dealt away a chunk of their farm system and added almost $130 mil in salary commitments to the books to strengthen the competitive window that was thrown open last season. After the most recent moves the payroll projection for 2018 has increased to $87,165,000, although that figure would still be one of the lowest in the league.
It doesn’t sound like the team making upgrades yet, either. Mark Attanasio told the crowds at ‘Brewers On Deck’ over the weekend that even after the major commitments that have already been made this winter, there is still room to add a big free agent pitcher if the right opportunity arises. Per Cot’s Contracts, the franchise has never ended a season with a payroll higher than $110 mil (back in 2014), but that was also the 15th-ranked total in the league that year. The Brewers previously sustained payroll levels between the 13th-18th largest in the league from 2008-2014, and based on last year’s league totals it would take a payroll of between $120-$150 mil to rise to that level. But even if spending can rise to the low end of that spectrum in 2018, that could hypothetically leave more than $30 mil for Stearns and company still to play with. It’s worth remembering, too, that every MLB franchise will each be receiving a $50 mil payout from the MLBAM sale soon.
Listening to #Brewers owner Mark Attanasio a few minutes ago, I'd be more surprised than not if the team did not add another starting pitcher. And sounds like it could go either way -- trade or free agency.— Tom (@Haudricourt) January 28, 2018
The Brewers have plenty of different options as to how they can attack the remainder of the offseason. They ought to have more than enough money to outbid anyone and land one of the big fish in free agency - Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta - if they decide that is the best course of action. Or, the front office may settle on adding a cheaper pitcher - which could mean signing Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, or making a trade for a cost-controlled arm like Chris Archer or Danny Salazar. That would give them more flexibility to pursue another upgrade elsewhere on the roster, like a second baseman or another bullpen arm.
It feels like only a matter of time until the Brewers make their next strike. But for now, we can only wait and speculate.