After making their first postseason in seven years and riding a late-season hot streak that propelled them to the NLCS, the Milwaukee Brewers opened up the pocketbooks like never before heading into the 2019 season. Splashy one-year signings of Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas headlined the offseason dealings of David Stearns, and the club opened the year with a franchise-record payroll approaching $123 mil.
Even more money was added to the ledger as a result of myriad trades and signings during the course of the year, and the maneuvering paid off when Milwaukee made back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 1981-82. The team was eliminated in the Wild Card game by the eventual World Champion Nationals, and several significant contributors have already departed from the roster as free agency begins. The challenge now for Slingin’ Stearns and company will be to fill those holes, but there appears to be plenty of financial flexibility as the offseason begins:
There are a few caveats to this chart, of course:
- Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain have deferred money in their contracts which will be paid out at a later date.
- Cain also has incentives built into his deal.
- Arbitration-eligible players Gamel, Shaw, Arcia, Saladino, Davies, Nelson, Knebel, Hader, Guerra, Claudio, and Suter do not yet have their salaries officially set for 2020 so the figures provided are projections from MLB Trade Rumors. Not all of these players are guaranteed to have their contracts tendered, either.
- The MLB minimum salary in 2019 was $555,000 but there will be a cost-of-living increase coming in 2020, though the exact amount has not yet been announced. For this exercise, the minimum has been set at $600,000 to account for the impending raise as well as those who may make a small amount above 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 any of the league-minimum players on this list, swap them out for another pre-arb player. It won’t affect the payroll projection.
- Ray Black, Jake Faria, Deolis Guerra, Adrian Houser, Corey Knebel, Manny Pina, and Tyler Saladino are out of minor league option in 2020 (per Brewerfan.net)
As things stand right now, if the Brewers were to bring back all their players on guaranteed deals and tender contracts to every remaining arb-eligible player, they would be nearly $40 mil below where they started the 2019 regular season. But as the above roster outline illustrates, there are a number of needs that will have to be addressed in the coming months.
After Woodruff, Davies, and Houser, the starting pitching depth is a total question mark. Manny Pina is a capable backstop, but he was a reserve player last year and he has never started more than 84 games in a season. Travis Shaw was one of baseball’s least productive players in 2019. First base is now open with Eric Thames gone. Orlando Arcia is the worst hitter in franchise history and hasn’t graded out as well as hoped on defense. The bullpen is lacking impact arms beyond Josh Hader and possibly Corey Knebel, whose status for Opening Day is up in the air as his elbow continues to mend from Tommy John surgery.
It is going to be a busy offseason for Stearns and his brain trust, and they could open up even more payroll space before the non-tender deadline (Saladino, Nelson, Shaw, Arcia, and Claudio all stand out as potential candidates to get cut loose). We can also hope that a second straight playoff berth and 2.9+ mil people through the turnstiles for the first time since 2011 will mean that Mark Attanasio is willing to push spending to even higher levels than last season.
In any case, this is shaping up to be unlike any other offseason that we have seen under the David Stearns regime.