PHOENIX, Ariz. – Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio claims his team “had an operating loss” in 2019 but that isn't why the club's projected payroll has dropped nearly $30 million.
Attanasio says the Brewers are down from last season's franchise-record $132.6 million payroll because president of baseball operations David Stearns didn't find any splashy free-agent fits, instead preferring to rely on depth, versatility and manager Craig Counsell's knack for balancing options.
"There’s nothing that David didn’t do this offseason that he wouldn’t have done if we’d have had a different budget number," Attanasio said. “He’s always free to come to me and say, ‘I want to do ‘fill-in-the-blank.’ I want to acquire 'fill-in-the-blank.’”
Milwaukee was fifth in the National League last year in attendance at 2,923,333 and has been in the top-6 each of the past three seasons, yet it was 11th in the NL in payroll. Only the Pirates and Marlins spent less than $100 million among NL clubs, which is roughly where Milwaukee projects for 2020.
The owner denied that recent deals for Lorenzo Cain ($80 million, five years), Yasmani Grandal ($18.25 million, one year) and Mike Moustakas ($10 million, one year) forced any kind of correction in the budget this winter, nor did they hinder Stearns from making efforts to retain either Grandal or Moustakas.
Instead, Milwaukee felt good values couldn't be found in an offsesaon when other teams ramped up free-agent spending.
"There’s nobody we missed this offseason because of price that was on our list," Attanasio said. "We did want to sign Yasmani Grandal, so maybe one, but I’ve never said no to a player acquisition because of cost.
“Never once because of cost.”
He pointed to the team's success during his ownership tenure — the Brewers have the fifth-most victories among National League teams over the last 15 years — as evidence that the budget-conscious, but not budget-driven, approach has worked.
"If you’re going to run a baseball team properly, you really have to look at a rolling basis how you’re doing," Attanasio said. "We had some (losing) years as we were building and we always want to keep our powder dry somewhat for the next opportunity, whether it comes next season or next offseason.
“We weren’t in the playoffs every year, but that’s what we’re trying to do and so we don’t want to dig a hole for ourselves. Franchises get into trouble when they overspend and end up with a mountain of debt and then you go into a long period of rebuild.”
As for this season, Attanasio has faith that Counsell can coax another postseason run out of the roster he's been given.
"We’re trying to create the most favorable matchups we can," Attanasio said. "We have a brilliant manager that has proven now three years running that he can gain an advantage through matchups.
“He’s being given quite a tool box to work with.”