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Inbox: Will Crew's payroll surpass last year?

Beat reporter Adam McCalvy answers questions from fans
January 3, 2020

How much more money do you see the Brewers spending this offseason? Over or under last year’s Opening Day salaries? -- @MarkyMark03 If you ask me, one of the most interesting stories of this offseason is the intense focus on the Brewers’ payroll figure. I don’t remember a winter in

How much more money do you see the Brewers spending this offseason? Over or under last year’s Opening Day salaries?
-- @MarkyMark03

If you ask me, one of the most interesting stories of this offseason is the intense focus on the Brewers’ payroll figure. I don’t remember a winter in which the figure itself, and not a debate of the comings and goings of individual players, so dominated the discussion on talk radio, on social media and on barstools around town.

It’s a fair topic. If the Brewers choose to decrease their Opening Day payroll by a third -- essentially, that’s where they are right now -- coming off consecutive postseason appearances, with Christian Yelich in his prime, with Ryan Braun going into his final guaranteed season, and with no advance warning to fans, that would be cause for a heated debate. Fans would deserve a detailed explanation for why the club came to that decision. Is it the coming negotiation on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement? Was it a misread of this offseason’s spending? Is it a commitment to younger players? Was last year’s $125 million Opening Day payroll untenable for some reason we can’t see from the outside? Whatever the reasons, fans would expect explanations.

When president of baseball operations David Stearns was asked at last month’s Winter Meetings whether he believed fans should get a window into the club’s thinking on payroll, he said, “I think our fans are most concerned about whether we’re putting a competitive product on the field and whether we’re winning. That’s our goal. That’s our ownership’s goal. And I believe over the course of the next three months, we’re going to be able to put a competitive product on the field that is going to compete in a very challenging division.”

At that moment, did he know whether the Opening Day payroll figure would come down from last year?

“I don’t,” Stearns said.

I know “competitive product” will rile some readers who want to hear club officials talk more explicitly about trying to win the World Series. Fair enough. But what I have struggled to understand is why this raging debate is happening so early -- way before teams are done spending to build their rosters. We’re still three weeks shy of the date Stearns acquired Lorenzo Cain and Yelich two years ago and changed the course of the franchise. I would suggest we table this discussion until Opening Day.

Are the Brewers done adding to their starting rotation mix? Taijuan Walker and Alex Wood, for example, are out there and could be solid lower-cost additions to the staff.
-- @rod2518

"If we were going to go into the season today, we feel good about where we are,” Stearns said after singing Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom on top of trading for Eric Lauer.

But history says he will keep adding arms, perhaps into Spring Training (like Wade Miley) and the regular season (like Gio Gonzalez).

Is it possible for Christian Yelich to deliver another season even remotely as great as the past two?
-- @wall2k4

Doubting the man only makes him stronger. Yelich just turned 28, and there is no reason to believe his fluke injury in September will impact his 2020 season. He won the National League MVP Award in '18, and he arguably was better in '19. So, sure, it’s possible that he will continue to deliver excellence.

Any word on Corbin Burnes? Do the Brewers still view him as a rotation piece or solely bullpen, permitting he can get it together in the first place?
-- @Tpanasewicz

Freddy Peralta is apparently working on a third pitch and absolutely dominated winter ball. Any chance he returns to the rotation if he has a good spring, or do they like him more in the bullpen?
-- @Nick31626000

I’m grouping these two questions together because Burnes and Peralta enter 2020 in similar positions. The Brewers have not given up on them as starters despite last year’s struggles. As Stearns said, “Pitchers, and young players in general, rarely have linear career arcs.” The question will be opportunity. Right now, it looks like the top five starters on the depth chart are (in some order) Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Anderson, Lindblom and Lauer. It will take 8-10 starters throughout the season, however, and whether Burnes and Peralta (and Brent Suter) get opportunities depends on need.

Who are you most excited to watch play in 2020?
-- @Telvu

If we’re talking about the “Not Named Christian Yelich” category, it’s Burnes, easily. He’s 25 years old, his stuff is sensational and despite last year’s misery, he has shown he can get MLB hitters out.

Could the Brewers request a fourth option for Taylor Williams after missing 2015-16, or will he enter camp out of options?
-- @djoctagone

Great question. I checked on this, and indeed the Brewers have been granted a fourth option on Williams. He can be shuttled back and forth between the Minors and Majors in 2020.

What is your favorite Spring Training field (besides American Family Fields of Phoenix of course)?
-- @loveof_diamonds

Tempe Diablo Stadium. Fun fact: It’s the one-time Spring Training home of the Brewers. Maybe they should have stayed.

Can Keston Hiura still hit?
-- @AJKolodziej

Confirmed. The man can hit.

What was the first candy of the decade?
-- @cbriz

Chewy SweeTARTS. Weird choice, but I found one in the car door cupholder, left over from the ride up north for New Year’s. I am not ashamed of eating car door candy.

Just wondering if you do any podcasts or recommend any? I’m missing Brewers baseball talk.
-- @BryonnotByron

• Lane Grindle’s Brewers on Tap

• Mark Feinsand’s Executive Access

• Anthony Castrovince and Richard Justice’s Morning Lineup

I apologize in advance for Castro’s puns.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.