Despite perpetuating a self-mandated level of austerity for the last two years, the Milwaukee Brewers were able to make another postseason appearance in 2021, their fourth straight. The Brewers slashed payroll heading into the 2020 season, then spent the duration of the 2020-21 winter sending out messages to fans about “operating in the red.” A couple of late deals pushed the Brewers’ Opening Day payroll to just over $99 mil in 2021, which ranked 19th in Major League Baseball. The Brewers haven’t had an Opening Day payroll ranking in the top half of the league since 2012.
Milwaukee finished with the third-best record in the National League at 95-67 and once again outdrew more than half the league despite their supposed small-market status, finishing 7th in the NL in attendance with more than 1.8 mil fans coming through the gates at American Family Field. With full-capacity crowds expected all next season and more widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Brewers can likely expect to get back to closer to the 2.5+ mil attendance they drew from 2017-19.
With that said, an increase in revenue would probably be welcome for the Cream City Nine. They have a bevy of players currently projected to get increases in arbitration as well as several others slated for contractual increases. Maybe it’s finally the time Mark Attanasio and company decide to support a top-half of the league payroll! Or maybe the club will soon start crying poor again, put some PR spin on it and talk about how “creative” they need to get with their resources. There hasn’t been much messaging yet either way, but here’s an early look at where things stand with the 2021-22 offseason getting into full swing:
There are a few caveats to this chart, of course:
- Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. each have deferred money built into their contracts which will be paid out at a later date.
- Josh Lindblom, who was outrighted off the 40-man roster last May, remains with the organization and is owed a $2.75 mil salary in 2022.
- Trevor Gott signed a free agent deal but the terms have not yet been reported. We know it is a split contract, though, with different levels of pay depending on whether Gott is in the majors or minors. Gott signed a $700K deal last offseason, so he will probably be in a similar range in 2022. For now, we’ll use our imputed league minimum until more information comes available.
- Cain, Yelich, Kolten Wong, and Freddy Peralta have incentives built into their deals.
- Wong and Bradley, Jr. have buyouts attached to contract options for 2023.
- The Brewers paid $2 mil in buyouts to Avisail Garcia when he declined his mutual option. Ryan Braun begins deferred payments in 2022, and Cain’s begin in 2023. JBJ and Kolten Wong have deferred payments coming to them, and so will Yelich but his are well down the road.
- Arbitration-eligible players Jace Peterson, Omar Narvaez, Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff, Josh Hader, Dan Vogelbach, Willy Adames, Corbin Burnes, Eric Lauer, Jandel Gustave, Adrian Houser, Rowdy Tellez, and Luis Urias do not yet have their salaries officially set for 2022. The figures provided are courtesy of the projections put out by MLB Trade Rumors. Not all of these players are guaranteed to have their contracts tendered, either.
- The MLB minimum salary in 2021 was $570,500. With the upcoming expiration of the CBA, it’s difficult to know what the minimum salary will look like for 2022. There is typically at least come kind of cost-of-living increase. For this exercise, the minimum has been set at $650,000 to account for the (likely) 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 like Tyrone Taylor or Justin Topa, swap them out for another pre-arb player. It won’t affect the payroll projection.
Depending on how you want to factor in deferrals and buyouts, the actual on-field commitments may be slightly lower than the $113+ mil figure presented. Still, though, for an organization that has only had an Opening Day payroll over $100 mil once since 2016, this would be a notable level of spending to put forth. Some likely non-tenders may provide a bit more “flexibility” but the Brewers are in need of some serious upgrades on the offensive side of the baseball.
Perhaps Slingin’ David Stearns could float out some of his talented, arbitration-eligible pitchers to potential suitors as he pursues impact bats. The Brewers have options at first base, third base, and in the corner outfield spots, but those are also the most likely places that they could look to bring in someone new. The Brewers could go any number of directions with their roster this offseason and be justified in doing so. Expect some outside-the-box thinking from the front office this winter as Milwaukee looks to extend their playoff streak to a half-decade.