MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers still have more than six weeks to set a 25-man roster for Opening Day, but chief operating officer Rick Schlesinger is already certain of one thing: This will be the most expensive team in franchise history.
Without specifying the team's own internal projection, which skews higher than some outside sources because it accounts for in-season callups, incentives, insurance and other costs, Schlesinger said he expects the Brewers' 2014 Opening Day payroll to top the record set in 2012, when the Brewers were coming off of a National League Central Division championship. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's estimate at the start of that season was $101.2 million, which until now represents the only nine-figure payroll in Brewers history.
"No matter how you measure it, and there are a lot of different ways to measure it, I can tell you that it's going to be north of $100 million," Schlesinger said.
After their costly 2012, the Brewers' payroll dropped significantly in 2013, to around $88 million, when some big salaries came off the books, including Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum and Francisco Rodriguez. Now the Brewers are pushing higher again, with the biggest expenditure going to free-agent acquisition Matt Garza, who will count for at least $10.5 million in the first season of his four-year, $50 million contract. Garza's true 2014 salary is actually $12.5 million, with another $1 million available in incentives, but $2 million is deferred each year without interest.
Other players will account for a bigger chunk of payroll dollars per their current contracts, including outfielder Ryan Braun ($10 million salary plus a $2.5 million portion of the signing bonus he's still due), pitchers Yovani Gallardo ($11.25 million) and Kyle Lohse ($11 million), second baseman Rickie Weeks ($11 million), third baseman Aramis Ramirez (who only accounts for $10 million because another $6 million is deferred) and center fielder Carlos Gomez ($7 million).
Those seven players alone will account for $73.25 million in 2014 payroll.
Then add Rodriguez, who is returning for $3.25 million, plus pitchers Marco Estrada ($3.325 million) and Tom Gorzelanny ($2.8 million), catcher Jonathan Lucroy ($2.3 million) and first baseman Mark Reynolds ($2 million, assuming he makes the team), and the Brewers are just shy of $87 million for 12 players -- not quite half of the 25-man Opening Day roster.
"The way I look at it, you look at the growth of the industry in general, and how we're doing in revenues locally, and it makes sense," Schlesinger said. "Mark [Attanasio, the Brewers' principal owner] has always said, 'Listen, I'm going to take every cent I can and invest it back into the stadium and invest it back in the players.' The fans over the year have supported us, the national television dollars are increasing, the health of the game from a revenue perspective has never been greater, so it's only natural and fitting that we use those monies to invest in our product.
"I think fans have a correct instinct that, yes, payroll should be going up. With the way our team is constituted, we should have a payroll that stretches us. I don't want to have a payroll where it's very comfortable that, no matter what happens, we're going to have a positive income number. I want us to be challenged as a business … and we go for it, and take risks and stretch ourselves from a financial perspective in a rational way. That's what our fans want. I want to be in that position, to stretch ourselves financially so we have a chance to win a World Series."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy.