The Brewers’ $100 M Ball Club | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

With all the projections being made about the Brewers’ 2014 season, here’s one you can take to the bank — the Brewers payroll will exceed $100 M for the first time in the organization’s history. AP compiled the Opening Day payrolls for every MLB team and Deadspin fleshed them out. AP’s initial estimate has the Brewers dishing out $103,844,806 to start the season. This is a 14.1% increase over last year’s Opening Day payroll of $91,003,366, also projected by AP.

Of course, exact figures can be hard to determine and, honestly, teams prefer it that way. In late February, Wendy Thurm of Fangraphs calculated a $100,500,000 payroll for the Crew. The discrepancy can be attributed to how bonuses are calculated and if deferments are thrown into the mix.  For example, AP has Aramis Ramirez banking $15,137,803 this year, even though Cots’ Baseball Contracts notes that Ramirez’s 2014 base salary is $16 M with $6 M deferred. Meanwhile, AP projected Ryan Braun to make $11,398,611 in 2014, a figure that ignores the prorated $2.5 M signing bonus he’ll receive this year as part of the 5-year extension he signed in 2011. Even though the AP and Thurm don’t land on the same number, they both agree that the Brewers will spend nine figures to field a team this season.

This year, the Brewers will become the 23rd MLB team to have ever crossed the $100,000,000 payroll threshold — leaving only the Rays, Royals, Indians, and A’s in the AL and Padres, Rockies, and Pirates in the NL. AP projects that 16 teams will start the season with a payroll north of $100 M, making this the first season that a majority of teams will be spending north of $100 M on their players.

And to think some people are convinced that the sport of baseball is withering on the vine. The argument is that it’s an anachronistic game unsuited for the short attention spans of the modern world. Yet, MLB ball clubs are spending $3,453,960,397 on just their major league players this year. That’s an increase of 10% over what they spend on their Opening Day rosters from last year. Is that additional $314 M being spent by nostalgic and civic-minded owners who are not worried about the bottom line, or is it a sign of strength for America’s pastime? I’d have to go with the latter.

$100 M payrolls may now be commonplace in the MLB, but they haven’t been around as long as you think. No team shattered the chandelier ceiling until 2001 when the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers all spent more than $100 M. That year, teams spent a combined $1,969,086,313 on payroll. Fourteen seasons later, team payroll spending has increased 75% to get us to today’s numbers. With the tide rising at such a rate, it was inevitable that the Brewers would cross the $100 M mark.

Yet, even though the Crew is hanging another digit on their expense sheet, it doesn’t mean the team’s buying power has also increased.To find out, I decided to contextualize the Brewers’ bankroll. Using estimated payroll figures from Baseball-Reference, I charted out the total amount spent on MLB payrolls going back to the 2001 season, when the first $100 M teams arrived on the scene. Then I figured out how much of the total MLB payroll came from the Brewers on a yearly basis. For example, using AP’s Opening Day numbers, the Brewers’ 2014 payroll of $103,844,806 accounts for 3.00% of the total MLB payroll. As you’ll see below, that falls right in line with how much they have traditional spent in relation to the rest of the league –

Year Total MLB Payroll Brewers Payroll % of Total MLB Payroll
2014 $3,453,960,397 $103,844,806 3.00%
2013 $3,139,660,195 $86,455,000 2.75%
2012 $2,943,863,340 $95,717,000 3.25%
2011 $2,872,256,542 $86,636,333 3.02%
2010 $2,757,480,197 $81,108,278 2.94%
2009 $2,794,045,244 $81,384,502 2.91%
2008 $2,694,090,063 $80,937,499 3.00%
2007 $2,498,698,987 $70,986,500 2.84%
2006 $2,337,874,617 $57,970,333 2.48%
2005 $2,189,013,398 $39,881,000 1.82%
2004 $2,078,666,943 $27,528,500 1.32%
2003 $2,128,862,128 $40,627,000 1.91%
2002 $2,028,877,522 $50,287,833 2.48%
2001 $1,969,086,313 $43,886,833 2.23%

Over the last 14 seasons, the Brewers bankroll accounts for around 2-3% of the total MLB payroll. Their buying power fell to its nadir during the 2004 season. Right before Mark Attanasio and an investment group, bought the team before the 2005 season. Since then, Attanasio has steadily increased the payroll while also keeping the Brewers’ percentage of total MLB payroll around 3%.

While on the field much is unknown about the Brewers’ 2014 season, one thing is set in stone — their payroll will eclipse the spending record for the organization. That said, just because the team is breaking the bank, and Attanasio expects the team to contend because of it, doesn’t mean it will happen. So even though the Brewers will have their highest payroll ever, their spending power is consistent with previous seasons. $100 M no longer buys you an elite team. It’s just the cost of business.

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