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Attanasio: Brewers had operating loss in 2019

@AdamMcCalvy
February 18, 2020

PHOENIX -- The Brewers operated at a loss last year after stretching the budget to sign Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas to one-year contracts, said principal owner Mark Attanasio on Tuesday. It was his first public acknowledgment that the team finished in the red in 2019. But Attanasio, addressing reporters

PHOENIX -- The Brewers operated at a loss last year after stretching the budget to sign Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas to one-year contracts, said principal owner Mark Attanasio on Tuesday. It was his first public acknowledgment that the team finished in the red in 2019.

But Attanasio, addressing reporters on the sidelines of the Brewers’ first full-squad workout, defended an approximately 20 percent reduction in payroll compared to Opening Day last year, saying offseason baseball decisions were driven by market factors and not by an edict to lower salaries.

“Yeah, we had an operating loss last year,” Attanasio said. “If you’re going to run a baseball team properly, you really have to look at a rolling basis how you’re doing. 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. 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.

“In 15 seasons -- this is in the media guide; I didn’t commission this statistic -- the team is fifth in the National League in wins over our 15 seasons. And I give our whole ownership group credit for that because they’ve been supportive of everything we’ve done. Top five gets you in the playoffs. 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. There’s nobody we missed this offseason because of price that was on our list. We did want to sign Yasmani Grandal, so maybe one.”

The Brewers’ payroll has been a matter of intense focus this winter, coming off a season in which they made the playoffs for the second straight season while drawing 2,923,333 fans to Miller Park, good for eighth of 30 Major League teams in the league’s smallest market. Following that successful season, the Brewers embarked on a particularly active offseason, letting go Grandal, Moustakas and a number of other productive players via free agency or trade, and replacing them with a high volume of more moderately-priced players on shorter-term contracts. Grandal got a four-year, $73 million contract from the White Sox. Moustakas signed for four years and $64 million with the Reds. The Brewers filled those vacancies by trading with the Mariners for catcher Omar Narváez and signing veteran free agents Eric Sogard and Jedd Gyorko to platoon at third base. Combined, Narváez, Sogard and Gyorko cost $9.125 million.

The Brewers made a slew of other moves, parting with midseason pickups Drew Pomeranz (four years, $34 million from the Padres) and Jordan Lyles (two years, $16 million from the Rangers) and trading starters Chase Anderson and Zach Davies in deals that had financial components. Most of the players Milwaukee brought in were on shorter-term deals; of the 10 Major League free agents signed this winter by Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns, only pitcher Josh Lindblom (three years, $9.125 million) and Avisaíl García (two years, $20 million) required multi-year guarantees. Only García was guaranteed in excess of $10 million.

The Brewers have another free-agent deal in the works with utility man Brock Holt, which could be finalized Wednesday after he takes a physical. Terms of that contract have yet to be reported. Assuming it is a Major League contract, the Brewers would have to open a spot on their full 40-man roster for Holt, another “Swiss Army Knife” player for manager Craig Counsell to move around in search of favorable matchups.

“We talked at the fan event [in January] to ‘trust the process,’ and we have a very disciplined process,” Attanasio said. “You need to look organically where this is going for a whole season. There was free-agent inflation -- maybe some pent-up inflation in free-agent prices this year -- so we were better buyers in down markets and more deliberate in frothy markets. But it doesn’t mean there’s not capital available at midseason to support the team if we’re in position. You can ask Doug Melvin and David Stearns both: In 15 years I’ve been blessed to have great people in charge, I’ve never said no to a player acquisition because of cost. Never once because of cost.”

Did the Brewers push payroll too far last year?

“No,” Attanasio said. “I think we had an opportunity with Yasmani Grandal; he came to us without doing a long-term deal and then Mike Moustakas was available. We had a budget, [we] exceeded the budget to get Moose and we got him. I asked David this question and you can ask him -- there’s nothing that he didn’t do this offseason that he would have done if we’d have had a different budget number. 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.’

“I’ve never said no.”

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