MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers are open to exploring contract extensions for National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes and some of the team’s other young stars, principal owner Mark Attanasio said ahead of Thursday’s home opener at American Family Field. But neither side has made an initial offer, he indicated.
That the Brewers emerged from the lockout with 10 players still eligible for salary arbitration was a sign of the young, controllable talent currently on the books -- just the type of players teams typically explore locking into long-term deals for cost control and, in some cases, to buy a year or two of free agency. Among those players were Burnes and infielders Willy Adames and Luis Urías, all of whom were arbitration-eligible for the first time, as well as All-Star starter Brandon Woodruff and three-time NL Reliever of the Year Josh Hader, who are nearer to free agency.
Hader has one year of club control remaining beyond this season, and Woodruff, who initially qualified for arbitration as a “Super 2,” has two years left on the books after 2022. That puts Woodruff on the same timeline to reach free agency as Burnes -- following the 2024 season.
“It was such a scramble and a truncated period of time to get camp open, deal with many -- 10 or 12 -- arbitration cases this year and potential hearings, and get ready for the season,” Attanasio said. “We didn’t get to focus on long-term that much. But we’ve tried in every case to keep as many players as we can, and we succeeded with Christian [Yelich], obviously, and got Freddy [Peralta] to a contract. So, we’re always looking at that.
“We have a really good group of guys in the clubhouse. We’d love keeping all of them. So, we’ll see where all that goes.”
Have there been any recent extension discussions?
“Not yet,” Attanasio said.
FanGraphs estimated the club’s Opening Day payroll at $137 million, the highest in Brewers history. Attanasio has defended the club’s payroll level relative to larger markets and argues it’s imperative to leave flexibility to add during the season as needs arise.
“I think everyone should look at things we have done,” he said. “We’ve kept Josh Hader all these years, for example. Anybody’s bet on that would have been, ‘Oh they wouldn’t have spent’ -- I think he’s up to something like $11 million a year for a reliever -- and with our payroll it wouldn’t have been efficient to do that. Our goal is to win games, and the last couple nights were stressful enough, but seeing him out there, I felt it was going to be OK, and it was.”
Speaking of contracts, there’s the ongoing matter of president of baseball operations David Stearns, a native New Yorker and boyhood Mets fan who has reportedly drawn interest from that team. SNY’s Andy Martino reported over the offseason one of the great mysteries of the past few years: How long is Stearns under contract with the Brewers?
Martino reported it like this: If the Brewers win the NL pennant in 2022, Stearns will be a free agent after this season. Anything short of playing in the World Series, and Stearns remains under contract for 2023 with the Brewers.
Pressed to confirm or deny those details, Attanasio demurred. The Brewers’ policy is to not comment on any aspect of the tenure of club officials, including Stearns and manager Craig Counsell.
“This is like the favorite parlor game in terms of baseball ops in New York is to try to figure out what David’s contract is," Attanasio said. "I think the only two people who really know it are me and him. Actually, Marti Wronski, who is our general counsel, probably knows.
“But we’d love to keep David here obviously. Again, looking at all the contracts we have, we still have time with David, we still have time with a lot of the players.”
With four consecutive postseason appearances and counting, the next step is on everyone’s mind as the 2022 season begins, Attanasio said. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Brewers’ only World Series appearance in 1982.
“You all spend some time with David and Craig, they should get a huge amount of credit for what we have going on here,” Attanasio said. “And they both have big teams behind them. The Brewers have the second-most wins in the National League the past five years behind the Dodgers. We’ve made the playoffs the past four years. It all starts with them.”