Know Your Enemy – Milwaukee Brewers

This is the third in a series of 5 articles that will try to get Pirate fans inside the organizations of the Pirates’ NL Central opponents.  I explained the rationale behind these articles here and previously reviewed the Houston Astros  and Chicago Cubs .

This article will look at the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that the Pirates get compared to the most (along with the Cincinnati Reds) in terms of what our market can bear payroll-wise.  The Brewers have an owner in Mark Attanasio who did what everyone hopes Bob Nutting will do: spend the money when the time is right to make a move.

Payroll Committments 2011-2014 (does not include arbitration or min-scale players)

2011 — $32.371 million

2012 — $30.871 million

2013 — $28.621 million

2014 — $21.788 million

The Brewers have committments to four players beyond this year: Randy Wolf, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Yovani Gallardo.  I don’t consider Wolf to be a core player, but the Brewers have wisely locked up the other three.  There is talk of a Ricky Weeks extension as well.

Estimated Payroll 2011 (includes arb and min-scale estimates)

All players with asterisks (*) next to their names have estimated salaries.  If a player is a first year guy, $400K, two years $425K, three years $450K.  For a 3 year arbitration player, arb-1 is 40% of their market value, arb-2 is 60% of market value, and arb-3 is 80% of market value.  Again, these are only my estimates.

C — George Kotteras $450K (*)

1B — Prince Fielder $17M (*)

2B — Ricky Weeks $4.8M (*)

SS — Alcides Escobar $425K (*)

3B — Casey McGehee $450K (*)

LF — Ryan Braun $4.288M

CF — Lorenzo Cain $400K (*)

RF — Corey Hart $6.833M (*)

SP1 — Randy Wolf $9.5M

SP2 — Yovani Gallardo $3.5M

SP3 — Manny Parra $1.6M (*)

SP4 — Chris Narveson $425K (*)

SP5 — Free Agent $5M (*)

Bench — Mat Gamel ($425K *), Jonathon Lucroy ($400K *), Joe Inglett ($800K *),  Craig Counsell ($2.3M *), Corner OF ($2M *)

Bullpen — John Axford ($425K *), Latroy Hawkins ($4.25M), Carlos Villaneuva ($1.3M *), Zach Braddock ($400K *), Kameron Loe ($750K *), Free Agent ($750K *), Free Agent ($1M *)

The team should also not be picking up the options for Trevor Hoffman, David Riske (released in August), Doug Davis, and Gregg Zaun.  That adds up to $2M in buyouts on those options.  The grand projected total for this lineup is $71.471M.

Historical Payrolls 2005-2010

2005 — $39.9M (81 W – 81 L)

2006 — $57.6M (75 W – 87 L)

2007 — $71.0M (83 W – 79 L)

2008 — $80.9M (90 W – 72 L)  *made playoffs

2009 — $80.2M (80 W – 82 L)

2010 — $90.5M (62 W – 70 L, as of 9/1/10)

The Brewers’ owner, Mark Attanasio, has put his wallet where his mouth is.  He put money into the team when they were ready to contend and take the next step.  The Brewers rented CC Sabathia in 2008 and he nearly put them on his sizeable back for the stretch run and the playoffs.  The Brewers, however, may be in wait and see mode this offseason for fear of not wanting to overcommit too many resources. Assuming the Brewers want to keep payroll no more than $80M, as a way of hedging their bets, they could still spend $8.5M more than I have projected above.

Bad Contracts

Now that the Brewers are out from under the Jeff Suppan contract after 2010, they don’t really have any bad contracts, but they have two that aren’t real great.

Randy Wolf was pretty well overpaid when he signed his deal.  He will earn $9.5M in 2011 and 2012, with a $1.5 buyout in 2013.  Latroy Hawkins will earn $4.25M in 2011 and hopefully pitch more than 18 games, as he did this year.

Potential Help From the Minor League System

The Brewers built this current incarnation of their team through solid drafts during the mid 2000’s.  The Brewers method of operation was pretty simple during those times.  Find bats, even if that person can’t really play defense all that well (Matt Laporta, Ricky Weeks, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder) and power arms that we hope will turn into something (Kyle Heckathorn, Zach Braddock, Yovani Gallardo).

However, their recent drafts have been more conservative and the early returns have not been great.  Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the departure of scouting director Jack Zdureinck to become Seattle’s GM or perhaps the Brewers are simply having their luck readjusted after getting so many franchise pieces so quickly.  The Brewers had some back luck in August when their 1st round pick, Dylan Covey, found out 4 days before the deadline that he had Type 1 Diabetes.  He chose not to sign in order to properly learn how to control it and went to the University of Florida.

After going through the rosters of the 4 full-season teams of the Brewers, there are some guys who will be able to contribute and be solid, but only 1 or 2 potential stars.  These are projected starters, not bullpen/bench guys, and the estimated time of arrivals:

  • Mat Gamel 1B/OF (AAA in 2010), 2011 arrival
  • Brett Lawrie 2B (AA), 2012
  • Amaury Rivas RHP (AA), 2012
  • Wily Peralta RHP (AA), 2012
  • Erik Komatsu OF (A+), 2012-2013
  • Cody Scarpetta RHP (A+), 2013
  • Kyle Heckathorn RHP (A+), 2013
  • Jake Odorizzi RHP (A), 2013

Of this whole group, Odorizzi is the star and he is 20 years old and putting up huge K rates and allowing few hits this year in Low A.  The others pitchers on this list are all good solid pitchers who should be #3’s or #4’s, which has a tremendous value to a team.  As you can see in the projected payroll section, the Brewers need a 5th starter and may have to go to free agency to fill the spot.

Mat Gamel and Brett Lawrie were both predicted to be above-average players at one time or another, but I see them both as solid players and not stars.  Gamel has regressed in recent years and is a complete butcher at 3B.  He’ll end up at 1B or the OF.  Lawrie is said to have very little interest in his defense at 2B…playing the field is just the down time between at-bats for him.

What Should They Do? — The Brewers should quietly be searching around MLB this offseason for what Prince Fielder’s trade value is.  After his arbitration or bargained contract is determined (very likely a 1 year deal with Boras primed to parade Fielder through free agency), the rest of the league will know what his salary allocation will be.  The Brewers could very well get a Texeira-lite type of package for Fielder: in this case 2 young major leaguers and 2 prospects.

They should non-tender: Todd Coffey and Carlos Gomez.  Coffey earned $2.025M in his arb-2 this year and is simply not worth a raise on that.  Carlos Gomez is not very good at the game of baseball.  He doesn’t have any power, doesn’t steal a lot of bases, and has horrible plate discipline.  He is not worth going into arb-2 with (he’s a Super 2), even if his projected salary is $1.6M.

They should not re-sign: Dave Bush.  Yes, the Brewers need a 5th starter and I have allocated $5M to that, which is around what Bush made this year ($4.215M).  However, Bush is not that great and I would rather take my chances on a new pitcher rather than re-hash a known poor quantity in Bush.

What Will They Do? – The Brewers will probably load up for one last run with Prince Fielder.  Their bullpen was pretty awful this year and there is little help on the horizon from the minors, so they will need to hit the free agent market pretty hard.  A 5th starter may be in order as well.

I can’t see the Brewers trading for these options as they don’t have that deep of a farm, so the checkbook will have to be out this off-season.

Trending Up, Trending Down, or In Flux? — The Brewers are definitely in flux as they seem to be poised to go to arbitration with Fielder this year and gauge how their 2011 season unfolds.  If they are contending, they will ride it out with Fielder and take their chances with him in free agency.  If they are way out of contention in June 2011, you may seem him traded to a contender.  If Fielder is traded, the Brewers will then be trending down.

The Brewers are a team with serious pitching deficiencies behind Gallardo and the next wave of pitching talent may not arrive en masse until 2013.  By 2013, the Brewers will then have to start thinking about an aging corps of hitters.

Things could be a little dicey come June/July 2011 if the Brewers are not in contention.

Up next: The St. Louis Cardinals

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