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!
When we took our first look at the club’s payroll picture, Major League Baseball was still actively in its offseason. Now, the CBA has expired, owners have locked out the players, and transactions at the MLB level have been frozen since last week. The Brewers completed a handful of moves before the lockout began, which amounted mostly to a reallocation of resources while keeping the Opening Day payroll projection in a similar place:
There are a few caveats to this chart, of course:
- Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich 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 has a buyout attached to his contract option 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. Kolten Wong has deferred payments coming to him, and so will Yelich but his are well down the road.
- Arbitration-eligible players Omar Narvaez, Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff, Josh Hader, Willy Adames, Corbin Burnes, Eric Lauer, Adrian Houser, 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.
- The MLB minimum salary in 2021 was $570,500. With the 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.
There have been quite a few changes since we last checked in, most notably the deal that sent Jackie Bradley, Jr. and two prospects to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Hunter Renfroe. That allowed the Brewers to clear their books of Bradley, Jr.’s contract for 2022 and the option/buyout for 2023 and helped net their presumptive starting right fielder for the upcoming season. Dan Vogelbach (projected $2 mil) was non-tendered, and John Curtiss (not arb-eligible but rehabbing from Tommy John) was released. Pedro Severino was signed for $1.9 mil to replace Manny Pina as backup catcher, and Rowdy Tellez ($1.94 mil), Jace Peterson ($1.825 mil), and Jandel Gustave ($675K) agreed to contracts to avoid arbitration and give the Brewers come cost-certainty as the winter goes on. All-in-all, the payroll projection has dropped by about $1.6 mil since the offseason started.
With Renfroe ready to take the reigns in right field and JBJ out of the picture, it’s likely that Tyrone Taylor sees an increased role as the regular fourth outfielder in 2022. Tellez sits atop the depth chart at first base currently, and Luis Urias is still the top candidate to man third base. If Milwaukee makes another big addition for an impact before the start of the new season, though, first base or third base appear to be the most plausible spots for upgrades. There will be additional pitching depth to be added, certainly; with Devin Williams coming back off injury, the Brewers could use another veteran arm with late-inning experience to bridge the innings to Josh Hader.
Overall, the case could be made that there isn’t a ton of obvious maneuvering left for the Brewers to do this winter. Maybe they try to land a big fish, like Freddy Freeman or Kris Bryant. More likely, though, is that when/if the owners and players ever come to an agreement, Slingin’ David Stearns will focus more on fleshing out his depth and building redundancy across the roster.