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 for Slingin’ Stearns and company this winter has been to fill those holes, and the front office created plenty of financial flexibility with which to work with. In terms of “activity”, the Brewers have been one of the busiest teams in baseball so far this winter. There have been a significant quantity of moves executed, however the quality of those transactions is still up for debate. Since our last update, the Brewers have all but settled their position player group heading into the upcoming season and resolved one of their remaining arbitration cases, with catcher Omar Narvaez. Two players — left-handers Brent Suter and Josh Hader — may end up going to hearings over their salaries for 2020.
So, let’s assume that Hader and Suter are both successful in their earning endeavors. Here is the highest that payroll would be under that scenario:
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, Josh Lindblom, Eric Sogard, Jedd Gyorko, and Brett Anderson have incentives built into their deals. Avisail Garcia and Lindblom also received signing bonuses that were paid out immediately.
- 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. This is not meant to be an Opening Day roster prediction, the goal is to show the maximum amount of money the Brewers would have to pay out to their 26-man roster.
- Ray Black, Deolis Guerra, Adrian Houser, Corey Knebel, and Manny Pina are out of minor league options in 2020 (per Brewerfan.net).
Since the last update, Milwaukee added Jedd Gyorko to the fold for a base salary of $2 mil in 2020, along with incentives and a $1 mil buyout of a 2021 team option. That all but settles the third base spot, as the plan is for Gyorko and Eric Sogard to platoon at the hot corner, at least until someone plays well enough to earn the spot everyday. Gyorko was one of the league’s worst offensive players last season, but was dealing with injuries and has a solid offensive track record prior to 2019, so he’s an interesting bounceback candidate.
Hader and Suter were also unable to come to terms with the Brewers on contracts for 2020 so they exchanged arbitration figures with the club. Hader filed at $6.4 mil and Suter at $1.25 mil, so if they are both successful in winning their cases, then we’ll arrive at the above listed $99.25 mil figure. The Brewers filed at $4.1 mil for Hader and $825K for Suter, so if the team is successful in arguing for the lower salaries, then payroll would be close to $96,525,000. If Suter wins but Hader doesn’t, then it’d be $96,950,000. If Hader wins but Suter does not, then we’d be looking at $98,825,000. There is a chance that the team and those two players will settle at some sort of midpoint before hearings begin in February, too, though it is widely believed that the Brewers and Stearns are a “file-and-trial” organization.
Josh Donaldson recently inked a four-year deal with the Twins as the last remaining “impact” free agent available, so there won’t be any one-year deals like Moustakas or Grandal falling into Milwaukee’s lap this offseason. The only avenue that remains for them to add a significant amount of payroll to their ledger would be via trade, although unless the team does end up moving Josh Hader, it is unlikely that they’ll be able to execute a swap for anyone of real significance. At this stage of the game, it is probably safe to assume that the Brewers won’t come anywhere very close to matching last year’s Opening Day payroll of roughly $123 million before they get the regular season kicked off at the end of March.
For some fans, that fact has to feel a bit disappointing. The Brewers currently have arguably the best player in the National League in Christian Yelich on what may be the most team-friendly contract in baseball. But instead of surrounding that generational talent with proven, veteran impact players, the front office has instead slashed payroll by some 20+% while replacing most of the men who have been jettisoned with a host of unproven, low salary players, buy-low or bounceback candidates, or guys who might have trouble sustaining what they did last season. That is an awful lot of “ifs” to rely on, and even if the does team look like they’ll be a competitive 80-something win group on paper that ought to have a shot at the playoffs, one might hope that they would be shooting for more than that during the remaining Christian Yelich window.