Examining the payroll

Posted by Steve

Now that the Brewers’ main pieces are in place, we can get a rough idea of what the payroll would be if the season started tomorrow. Here is a list of players’ guaranteed salaries for 2008 (salary figures taken from rotoworld). The players in bold are the players who I believe would break camp with the 25-man roster (Again, this is if the season started now.  I don’t actually expect the Brewers to have a 13-man pitching staff on Opening Day). Note that the 2008 league minimum salary is $390K (must be a rough life, eh?).

Ben Sheets- $11 mil

Yovani Gallardo- Near minimum

Jeff Suppan- $8 mil

Chris Capuano- $3.75 mil

Dave Bush- Arbitration Pending (between $2.25 and $3 mil, I’ll go with 2.65)

Carlos Villanueva- Near minimum

Claudio Vargas- $3.6 mil

Manny Parra- Near minimum

Eric Gagne- $10 mil

David Riske- $4.3 mil

Derrick Turnbow- $3.2 mil

Salomon Torres- $3.2 mil

Guillermo Mota- $3.2 mil

Brian Shouse- $2 mil

Chris Spurling- Near minimum

Seth McClung- Near minimum

Mitch Stetter- Near minimum

Jason Kendall- $4.25 mil

Eric Munson- $525K

Mike Rivera- Near minimum

Prince Fielder- Near minimum

Rickie Weeks- Couldn’t find… Made $1.35 last year, so $2 mil should be a safe bet

J.J. Hardy- Arbitration Pending (between 2.4 and 3.05, I’ll go with $2.75)

Bill Hall- $4.8 mil

Ryan Braun- Near minimum

Mike Cameron- $6.25

Corey Hart- Near minimum

Gabe Gross- Near minimum

Joe Dillon- Near minimum

Tony Gwynn Jr.- Near minimum

Gabe Kapler- $800K

Craig Counsell- $2.8 mil

Vinny Rottino- Near minimum


That puts the total for those on my 25-man roughly around $81-82 million, and it could end up a bit higher if some players meet contract incentives. Last season they had a $70.9 mil payroll. All indications from the club are that Mark Attanasio made a nice profit last season. The Brewers did very well with attendance, and are poised to do so again, so it makes sense that they’d allow more room in the budget for player salaries.

That said, $82 mil is probably a bit higher that what they can/will accommodate. There have been rumblings of about an $80 million “cap,” so if that’s the case they’re probably a bit over. Even if they aren’t, with the way the Brewers sit right now, they don’t have much wiggle room to make a deal at the trade deadline.

Now for some observations.

  • My decisions for the 25-man roster were not all chosen based on talent. In a few cases, salary and/or minor league options came into play. A glaring example of this is Claudio Vargas winning a spot over Manny Parra, who still has an option remaining and will make league minimum compared to Vargas’ $3.6 mil.
  • The Brewers will have one of the most expensive bullpens in the majors. This is well off the norm, as they have generally had a patchwork bullpen featuring at least a couple league-minimum pitchers. 2008 is a complete 180; the way things look right now the cheapest reliever will make $2 million. Spending big money on a bullpen is something you don’t (or at least shouldn’t) do unless you believe you have a legit chance at the playoffs.
  • There are some unattractive contracts there, as with most any team (Counsell, Mota, Vargas) but they are far outweighed by the production received from pre-arbitration players. Players like Hart, Braun, Fielder, Gallardo and Villanueva are simply indispensable to a mid-market team.
  • As you can see, something has to give with the starting pitching. The Brewers find themselves in a unique situation of having a surplus of competent starting pitching. They have eight candidates for five spots. Of those eight, only Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan and Yovani Gallardo are guaranteed spots, so let’s take a look at the next five.
    • I think the safest bet right to make the rotation, whether right or wrong, is Capuano. He has a few things going for him: He has been more successful in the past than any of the other three; he’s making $3.75 mil (not going to pay him that to pitch in the minors) and he’s lefty in a rotation filled with righties.
    • Villanueva may have an edge as well. He pitched very well out of the bullpen in a long-relief role for the first half of the season and also in some key starts down the stretch.
    • Bush has some things going for him too. Enigma or not, he continues to tempt with strong secondary numbers. He’s no longer very cheap, and he also could be a candidate for the bullpen (he was a closer in college).
    • Parra really appears to be the odd man out, and it’s really too bad. Many teams would love to throw him in their rotation. He’s a talented pitcher and a lefty, but he has an option remaining and is inexpensive. He’s not going to get a spot over the more proven Villanueva, so odds are he starts the season in AAA.
    • Compared to the other four, the only thing Vargas has going for him is a salary fat enough to keep him out of the minor leagues.

Here’s how things sit right now. Two of those five pitchers would start in the rotation, and one would probably pitch out of the bullpen in long relief. That leaves two to either be traded or sent to the minors.

Based on that, it makes sense to just send Parra to Nashville. Couple problems with that, however: That still leaves four pitchers for three spots, the Brewers probably need to trim a few million off their payroll and Vargas at $3.6 mil doesn’t have much value to the Brewers.

That points to Vargas being traded, which is what I expect to happen. There are teams who are desperate for pitching that would probably take on his salary. The Brewers may not get much in return, likely a low-level prospect or two, but as long as they can move his salary that will be fine. That will probably put the Brewers just below $80 million.

In this scenario, the Brewers probably have a few options.

Option A: Capuano and Villanueva in the rotation; Bush in long relief.

Option B: Capuano and Bush in the rotation, Villanueva in long relief role similar to the first half of last year.

Option C: Bush and Villanueva in the rotation, Capuano in long relief.

This is honestly too tough for me to really decide. I’d like to keep Parra in a starting role, so unless two pitchers are traded he’ll be in Nashville. but I really would like to see what Villanueva could do starting all season in the big leagues. If for some reason you held a gun for the purpose of forcing an answer out of me (“MARK IT ZERO SMOKEY! YOU’RE ENTERING A WORLD OF PAIN!”) I’d probably choose A. Bush could very well be dominant in short outings and Parra can be a phone call away to fill in if/when an injury occurs.

By the way, I likely just wasted an hour and a half of my time (and a few minutes of yours) because the odds are quite good that some sort of injury will occur along the way. The nice thing is the Brewers are better equipped to deal with those injuries than most teams.



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