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In Sports Commentary

Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has reshaped the team into perennial playoff contenders. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi)

Brewers dealing from position of strength this offseason

Nearly a full month into the free agency period, and all remains silent in the offices just off Miller Parkway. It's not unexpected, or particularly disturbing. Some free agents have been signed and some major trades have been made, but none of it has really affected the Brewers all that much.

The Cardinals and Reds haven't done anything (yet), or any major players in the other National League divisions.

One of primary reasons for this is the Brewers are one of the few teams which, as it sits, has no openings at any position. If the brain trust of Doug Melvin, Gord Ash and Ron Roenicke feel Carlos Gomez deserves to play every day in center field and Jean Segura can do the same at shortstop, all that is left to do is fill out the bench. There isn't much room there, either.

That starting lineup, which led the National League in home runs and stolen bases and includes an MVP, is due to make around $45 million.

Dollar for dollar, it's the best in baseball:

First base: Corey Hart ($10 million)
Second base: Rickie Weeks ($10)
Short: Segura (estimating about $400K on rookie level contract)
Third base: Aramis Ramirez ($10)
Right field: Norichika Aoki ($1.125)
Center field: Carlos Gomez (estimating about $4 million through arbitration or 1-year contract)
Left field: Ryan Braun ($8.5)
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy ($750K)

There aren't many holes in the pitching staff either. There's Yovani Gallardo of course, followed by Marco Estrada, who has proven he is a starting pitcher. To a slightly lesser extent, so has Chris Narveson.

That leaves Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Mark Rogers to battle for two spots. That's if the organization decides to go with that group. Chances are they'll look for a Randy Wolf/Jeff Suppan type for the middle of the rotation and bump one of those arms to the bullpen, but such a starter is rather affordable.

There are some openings in the bullpen, and that unit is clearly the team's primary concern. But, you have a proven closer in John Axford, and some pieces are already in place on the front end with Jim Henderson, Manny Parra and Brandon Kintzler.

Quality bullpen arms are hard to find and can be expensive, but this team was 10th in all of baseball in payroll at just under $98 million. As the team stands, and estimating some hefty arbitration or 1-year contract raises for several of the pitchers, it has under $70 million tied up in players you expect to be on the Opening Day roster.

The team has tremendous financial flexibility not just this year, but for years to come.

There have been reports the Brewers have reached out to Hart about an extension, but right now his $10 million will be off the books come 2014. Gallardo, Weeks and Ramirez are only under contract through 2014 (excluding options).

Braun's salary doesn't balloon until 2016 – and by that point the $19 million he'll be earning will seem like a steal. Heck, it already does and he's three years away from it.

It's a great place to be sitting as a fan base. They can wonder if Josh Hamilton will sign here, if Zack Greinke might return, or if Melvin will strengthen the bullpen with arms like Jonathan Broxton, Mike Adams or J.P. Howell.

Maybe the Brewers will get in on the trade market for yet another ace, or a proven youngster that is under team control for several years.

Plenty of hand wringing will happen, sure, but think about this – how fortunate do you feel that you can do that? It wasn't that long ago when the Brewers were annually among the lowest payrolls in baseball, even after Miller Park opened in 2001.

Since Mark Attanasio took over the team, the payroll has climbed, moves have been made and let's face it – the Brewers have been considered playoff contenders since 2007. This team had real World Series aspirations the last two years.

There hasn't been that type of quality, and consistency, since the late 1970s and early '80s.

That consistency is where the Brewers focus is because as teams have proven over the last few years, all you need to do in baseball is get into the playoffs. After that anything can – and most likely will – happen.


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