Attanasio feels payroll puts Brewers in good position
A little over a year ago, Milwaukee Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin addressed the media prior to the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day, all smiles despite the recent departure of free agent first baseman Prince Fielder.
The team was coming off a berth in the National League Championship Series, and payroll had rocketed to over $100 million for the first time in franchise history.
"That comes with winning," Melvin said at the time. "When you win, you gotta pay the players if you want to continue to try to win and be competitive. If you don't, you tell people you may have to take a step backwards."
So what does that make the 2013 season?
The Brewers dealt Zack Greinke at midseason last year, only to make an improbable run at the second wildcard spot. The team decided not to extend Shaun Marcum, or replace him (yet) with a similarly priced veteran arm.
There was an offer on the table to Ryan Dempster, but he chose a more lucrative deal in Boston. That was that.
"That would have added eight figures plus to our payroll this year, it didn't work out for us, but had the right player come in we would've spent the money," Attanasio said. "But we're not going to say 'OK, well, we don't have that player so let's just spend $10 million on another player.' It has to be the right player, the player has to agree to come and it has to fit with what we're trying to do."
What the Brewers are trying to do is rebuild on the fly, and whether the decision to trim payroll by about 20 percent is a true "step back" remains to be seen – especially since the offense has several players hitting their prime years in Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy.
Melvin and Attanasio certainly don't think so.
"It all starts with winning – if we didn't think we could win we wouldn't do it," Attanasio said of the cut back in payroll. "Once we do think we can win it's going to be increasingly important for our team to develop young players and have them perform at high levels. Really, that's where we've had all of our success. If you think about it the players on the team now – Ryan, Rickie (Weeks), Corey (Hart), Yovani (Gallardo), Jon Lucroy coming up – the strength of the team is in bringing young players along."
This offseason, Brewers management spoke often of the young core of Braun, Weeks, Hart and Prince Fielder coming up as unproven position players being key to the success the team has had since 2008. They needed a chance, just like Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta do now.
"There's three kinds of spending: There's just spending just to spend, there's wise spending and then there's bad spending, and I've been involved in all three of them," Melvin said. "This is a year that we're going to give the opportunity to give the ball to our pitchers."
At publication, Baseball-Reference.com had the Brewers payroll at about $73 million, which is about 10th or 11th (give or take a couple hundred thousand) in the 15-team National League. The Dodgers top out at nearly $220 million.
In the Central the Brewers trail the St. Louis Cardinals ($112 million), Chicago ($102) and Cincinnati ($98).
The Brewers can afford to give young pitchers an opportunity to play in 2013 and see what happens because Melvin has set this team up with maximum financial flexibility for the next four seasons – especially since Attanasio has proven he's willing to open the wallet.
With an Opening Day payroll at or around $100 million however, there isn't much room for improvement in the case of injury or underproduction. It's something the organization wanted to correct for this season.
"We've always wanted to add at midseason and what happened though with the budget stretched to where it was last year the only way we really could justify adding at midseason was if we were seriously competing, which, unfortunately at midseason, we weren't," Attanasio said.
"We saw it last year with our ability to get back into the playoff race with two playoff teams, you could be seven or 10 games out at midseason and still have a shot. Now we're in a position this year, even if we're back seven or eight, nine, 10 games, to add at midseason given where we have our payroll, if we have the right kind of player come up and depending how we see the division playing out at that time."
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