Earlier in the off-season, I examined the state of the Brewers’ roster and payroll for the 2014 season. There weren’t a lot of mysteries because of the number of contracts already on the books and young players with jobs locked up. Since then the Brewers have traded Burke Badenhop and Norichika Aoki, held onto their two arbitration eligible players (Marco Estrada and Juan Francisco), and failed to land a first baseman at the Winter Meetings. With all these new factors in plays, it felt like a good time to run the numbers again, see where the Brewers stand, and what we might expect from them before Spring Training.
With Norichika Aoki and his $1.95 M salary now in Kansas City, here’s how the outfield shapes up. I’m assuming that the fourth OF/bench spot is Logan Schafer’s to lose with Caleb Gindl next in line. Gindl did posted a 111 OPS+ over 57 games last season but Schafer’s a stronger defender and his tools a better compliment to Khris Davis.
*$10M base salary plus $2.5M signing bonus. Ryan Braun’s 2011 extension included a $10M signing bonus that is being paid in equal installments from 2012 to 2015.
That’s four players at the cost $20,500,000. Unless one of these players, not named Braun, is used as trade bait, next year’s outfield is set.
Here are two more players costing the team $2,500,000. Consider them locked and loaded for next season.
Now onto the parts of the team that still have question marks.
Everyone and their mother knows that the Brewers need help at first base, but more on that later. For now, here’s what we know about next season’s infield —
*Francisco’s exact salary is still to be determined. The above arbitration estimate is courtesy of Matt Swartz and MLBTR.
That’s an additional six players at a total of $23,900,000. With the cost of another first baseman still to be thrown into this mix.
*Estrada’s exact salary is still to be determined. The above arbitration estimate is courtesy of Matt Swartz and MLBTR.
Four members of the starting rotation will run the Crew $26,500,000. Obviously, another arm, most likely young and inexpensive, will be added here.
Here’s the part of the team most up in the air.
Right now, I have Will Smith, who was acquired from the Royals for Aoki, penciled in here. Don’t be surprised if the Brewers see if the left-hander might be a fit for their RHP dominated starting rotation. Either way, expect him to be a part of the pitching staff going into the season.
So that is four players costing the team $4,450,000.
Combine everything above and the Brewers’ payroll department is cutting $77,850,000 worth of checks on 20 players.
I believe it’s safe to say that Tyler Thornburg has earned himself a spot on next year’s 25-man roster. Last season, over 66.2 IP, he managed a measly 2.30 RA9 and compiled a 1.9 bWAR. Whether he lands in the rotation or bullpen is still to be seen, but let’s give him a roster spot and add his $500,000 salary to the equation. Now the Brewers are spending $78,350,000 on 21 roster spots. So what does that tell us?
With four roster spots to fill, the Brewers will add a first baseman and three pitchers. Expect the final decision on the three pitching spots to get worked out in Spring Training. The Brewers have a stable of young and inexpensive arms that gained big league experience last year. If they wanted to, the Brewers could fill those three remaining P spots with players earning around the league minimum. Going that route would add around $1,500,000 to the payroll and push it to around $80,000,000.
Depending on whether Tyler Thornburg lands in the starting rotation or bullpen, the Brewers will need to add an arm to fill the other spot. Team controlled and inexpensive players, who fit the bill, include Donovan Hand, Alfredo Figaro, Mike Fiers, Hiram Burgos, Jimmy Nelson, or Johnny Hellweg. Of course, all of these guys could also be considered as a sixth or seventh inning option. Also add Michael Blzaek and Rob Wooten to the list of players who will be considered for the sixth and seventh innings. That’s eight in-house options vying for three roster spots.
Of course, there’s a concern that the bullpen, outside of Tom Gorzelanny, lacks a veteran presence. So there’s the chance, and definitely the money, for the Brewers to add a veteran arm to the bullpen. Don’t be surprised if the team lets the relief pitcher market play out then signs someone. But, as I noted above, it’s also not necessary. The team has plenty of internal options if they wish to focus payroll elsewhere. Like, say, a first baseman.
The free agent market for first basemen has withered quickly. For an idea of what options are still out there (via both free agency and trade), check out Charlie Wilmoth’s piece on MLBTR. Following the signings of Corey Hart and James Loney, word around the campfire was that the Brewers were now more likely to land a first baseman through a trade. Which brought one question to my mind, why did the Brewers’ front office let it get this far?
After running next season’s numbers again, even if the team signs a veteran bullpen arm for a few million (Michael Gonzalez made $2,250,000 last season), the team is still only spending between $80,000,000 to $83,000,000 on 24 players. The Brewers have averaged a payroll in the range of $88,000,000 over the last five years. Unless Mark Attanasio has tightened the purse strings, there should be money to spend.
My confusion surrounding the front office’s first base strategy is simple. After depleting their farm system to land Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and sign Kyle Lohse, right now, the Brewers have money available to sign a first baseman. But they have put themselves in a position where they will most likely have to give up more young talent to get a first baseman. And, since the Brewers desperation at first base is obvious, why wouldn’t a potential trade partner’s demands be high and unwavering?
Maybe Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio have something up their sleeve that none of us are expecting. Maybe Aramis Ramirez arrives at Spring Training and starts breaking in a first baseman’s mit. Maybe they have more faith in a Juan Francisco/Sean Halton platoon then they are letting on. Because, right now, they look like a desperate team backed into a corner.
Last season’s first base failings were on account of a rash of unexpected injuries and bad luck. The front office can’t take the brunt of the blame for what happened. But the potential disaster brewing at first base this season, well, that’s a different story. That would be a mess of the team’s own making.