The way that Major League Baseball teams treat free agency has undoubtedly changed in the past two years. Many “rebuilding” clubs would rather fill out their skeleton rosters with Four-A players making the league minimum instead mixing in a short-term veteran player here or there, because why spend any more money than necessary when “wins don’t matter?” The luxury tax threshold has become a de facto salary cap for large market teams, giving front offices in places like Boston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles an excuse to tell their fans that they need to pursue “financial flexibility” in much the same fashion that small-market clubs like Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay profess to their fanbases.
We are at a time in baseball where the Cubs owner can say this with a straight face:
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts on why the Cubs didn't spend more money this offseason on the free-agent market: "Pretty easy. We don’t have any more.''— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 18, 2019
With more and more teams eschewing the open market all together, free agent spending is well on it’s way to becoming the new “market inefficiency.” A team willing to break away from the league-wide group-think regarding free agency and show players that they will spend a little coin can find some pretty compelling deals in the current landscape. At the front of that line are the Milwaukee Brewers.
Milwaukee is the smallest media market in baseball. Yet, instead of crying poor during the last two offseasons, owner Mark Attanasio has given GM David Stearns the resources needed to make major additions to the ballclub. During the 2017-18 offseason, Milwaukee signed Lorenzo Cain to the largest free agent contract in franchise history and the fifth-highest guarantee given to any player during the period, an $80 mil guarantee covering a five-year term. The Brewers also absorbed another $50 mil or so in future commitments when they acquired Christian Yelich and his long-term contract from the Marlins. Those two players were obviously instrumental in the team’s division title and deep playoff run. After last season’s successes, Stearns and company would have been justified in simply bringing back the players under contract for this coming year and giving things another go.
But, rather than rest on their laurels and enjoy the windfall that is playoff revenue and increased ticket sales, the club remained open to any opportunities to further augment the roster. When the top free agent catcher on the market wasn’t finding an offer to his liking, the Brewers swooped in with a one-year deal for the fourth-highest Average Annual Value that any free agent received this winter. Thus Yasmani Grandal will receive $18.25 mil to suit up for the Menomonee Valley Nine in 2019. When a proven veteran infielder experienced was largely ignored for the second consecutive offseason, Milwaukee offered Mike Moustakas enough on a one-year deal - $10 mil - to make him feel comfortable in returning to the place he finished out the 2018 campaign.
We don’t know what the ceiling is as far as payroll spending for the Milwaukee Brewers. But we do know that this club has never before spent as much money on payroll as they project to this Opening Day. With Moose now officially back in the fold, the team is looking at over $120 mil in payroll commitments for the 2019 season. No, that level of spending isn’t in the same stratosphere as some teams, but with the rest of baseball seemingly at a crossroads, there is no doubt that our Milwaukee Brewers are one of the few teams actively trying to win. As a fan, these words from the owner are certainly reassuring:
“Our ownership group is committed to providing the resources to do the best job we can, competing on the field, providing the fan experience and developing our players. The money sort of all came together at once. That wasn’t part of the plan. You can’t sequence this. So, I had to make a decision are we going to sequence it or do everything at once. We did everything at once...All the chips are all in now. We’ll find the money at mid-season if we need to.”