The Brewers enter an offseason in which the payroll picture isn’t very pretty.
One of the biggest criticisms of Brewers owner Mark Attanasio from fans in recent years is that he’s unwilling to put up a big payroll for the roster and improve the team with big free agent spending.
Frankly, I think these criticisms of Attanasio are a little unfair and don’t properly give credit to Attanasio for what he’s done.
First of all, Attanasio is a competitive guy and he wants the Brewers to win and be successful more than anyone. He’s been willing to extend payroll for the right players over the years, i.e. Ryan Braun, Christian Yelich. In 2018, the payroll was pushed to a record amount for the franchise and then that record was set again in 2019 when they jumped to a $134MM payroll.
They cut back down to $97MM in 2020 after the free agent departures of Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal. The replacements they found were much cheaper and while the results weren’t what anyone wanted, that doesn’t mean their logic wasn’t sound.
Moustakas was a fan favorite, but his four year contract with Cincinnati is going to pay him much more than his on-field contributions will be worth over the next four years. He hit just .230 this past season. As lovable as he is, an AAV of $16MM for a corner infielder going into his mid-30s is an incredibly risky proposition for a team that needed to prioritize signing Yelich, who has a far higher likelihood of sustaining his success as he ages.
Same thing goes for Grandal. A catcher going into his mid-30s with an $18.25MM AAV over four years is incredibly risky, even for one as good as Grandal has been. There was a high chance he would’ve had to move to first base at some point, and since the NL didn’t have the DH at that point, keeping him wouldn’t have been worth it given how much playing time he would lose as he aged.
Now that the DH ended up arriving in the NL, although possibly going away in 2021, there’s a good chance the next CBA will include the universal DH going forward. Had the Brewers known that, perhaps they would have been more willing to pay up for Grandal. It’s impossible to know for sure.
The Brewers 2021 Payroll
On to next season’s payroll, Brewers President of Baseball Operations and GM David Stearns has stated that he expects a tighter budget for next season coming off a year in which the Brewers had no fans in the stands and revenue was way down.
But just how much tighter will it be? In a recent Twitter poll, 33% of fans think the Brewers payroll will fall below $85MM for next year, while another 33% believe it’ll fall between $85MM and $90MM, while 17% believe it’ll be between $90MM and $95MM and another 17% think it’ll exceed $95MM.
The Brewers were at $97MM in 2020.
From our complete offseason preview article, we know that there isn’t much wiggle room heading into this offseason if the Brewers keep most of their current group together.
Now the Brewers have a new stadium naming rights deal starting in 2021, with American Family Insurance taking over for MillerCoors. That should help increase available money, right? Well, not by as much as you might think. According to reports, AmFam is paying $4MM a year for the rights, while MillerCoors only paid $2MM a year, so that’s only a couple extra million dollars, and for 2021, that might just go to offset some of the other financial losses faced.
The Brewers are also due a new local TV contract at some point, but there hasn’t been any reports of a new deal despite the last deal allegedly running out prior to the 2020 season. Perhaps there’s an extension clause in the contract that no one reported as being picked up, but that’s just speculation.
For the past few years, the Brewers have gotten great TV ratings in the local market, which should lead to them getting an increase in money in the next TV deal, but since the Fox Sports regional networks were sold to Sinclair, things appear to have been slow moving while the merger continues.
Keep in mind the Brewers are financially restrained by the market they’re in and the amount of money they can bring in. They are not going to be able to reach consistent $175MM-$200MM payrolls that the Cubs or Dodgers can do.
If the Brewers tender everyone and only lose Braun and Eric Sogard by declining their contract options, the payroll will be at around $91MM. Even if they do non-tender some, which they will, there is still only a small amount of payroll flexibility.
The payroll, in my view, is going to be somewhere between $85-95MM for next year. They can’t completely gut the payroll and go much lower than $85MM and still expect to field a competitive team. With the amount of payroll tied up in just Yelich, Cain, and Avisail Garcia, that already takes them over $40MM on just the outfield and that would be nearly half the payroll.
The Brewers also are not going to give up on 2021 and try for a “rebuild” and sell off anyone making decent money to sink down to a crazy low payroll.
Changes will need to be made to the roster and while the Brewers likely won’t be players for the upper tiers of free agents, they can still make impactful additions. Trading Josh Hader or trading/non-tendering Corey Knebel could clear millions of dollars in payroll while adding to the roster in other areas.
Every team across baseball is facing tighter budgets this winter, not just the Brewers. Lots of players will be non-tendered and could be available for the Brewers when they normally wouldn’t be.
This offseason is going to be interesting to watch in many ways. How the payroll will shake out is one of them, but if they go lower than $85MM, it’s hard to see that being a competitive team, but I wouldn’t put anything past Stearns.