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 and found new homes.
The challenge now for Slingin’ Stearns and company will be to fill those holes, but there appears to be plenty of financial flexibility with which to work with. Our first payroll projection had the team looking at a hair less than $90 mil for 2020, but since then, Milwaukee has non-tendered five arbitration-eligible players and agreed to contracts with two others, freeing up even more cash for potential additions:
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 Knebel, Hader, and Suter do not yet have their salaries officially set for 2020 so the figures provided are projections from MLB Trade Rumors.
- The MLB minimum salary in 2019 was $555,000 but there will be a cost-of-living increase coming in 2020 up to $563,500. For this exercise, however, 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 like any of the league-minimum players on this list, simply 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, and Manny Pina are out of minor league options in 2020 (per Brewerfan.net).
Accounting for all the departed free agents, non-tenders, and players that were traded away, the Brewers are down some $60 mil in payroll from where they ended the 2019 season. The deals signed by Orlando Arcia and Ben Gamel saved the team $700K over their arbitration projections, and the non-tenders of Travis Shaw, Junior Guerra, Tyler Saladino, Alex Claudio, and Jimmy Nelson freed up more than $15 mil.
Some reports have emerged that the Brewers are expected to run a lower payroll in 2020 than they did in 2019. That would no doubt be a disappointment to many fans, who consistently support the team and come out to the ballpark in droves (2.5+ million in attendance in 12 of the last 13 years despite ranking as MLB’s smallest market). Regardless of how much money the club winds up spending, they have a copious number of needs that will require attention if they wish to remain competitive next season:
- Starting first baseman
- Starting third baseman
- Catcher — either a backup, platoon-mate for Manny Pina, or a new starter
- Multiple starting pitchers
- One or more relief pitchers
- Possibly bench help
There is still plenty of time left in the offseason for Stearns and his brain trust to get multiple transactions done, but the market has been moving faster this year than it has during the previous two winters. The front office may have to get busy making moves sooner rather than later, or risk getting left behind as available players at positions of need find new homes for 2020 and beyond.
I’ll say it again: this is shaping up to be unlike any other offseason that we have seen under the David Stearns regime.