Cubs, Brewers illustrate baseball's boom-bust cycle
Practically neighbors, the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers illustrate baseball's boom-bust cycle.
At Wrigley Field, the Cubs have boosted payroll by about $50 million this year in an effort to win their first World Series title since 1908.
At Miller Park, the Brewers overhauled their roster after finishing last in the NL Central and cut their big league player budget to under $60 million. That's the lowest in the major leagues, according to a review of contracts by The Associated Press. Just eight of the Brew Crew make over $525,000, which is barely above the big league minimum.
They're many rungs below pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and David Price, the first trio to reach $30 million in the same season.
''I think we're underdogs,'' Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. ''Tampa is a great example, where it's proven that payroll isn't everything. The payroll figure to me is not important because teams have had great seasons without payroll.''
Chicago is now among the biggest spenders, with an opening-day payroll in the $170 million range. After losing to the New York Mets in the NL Championship Series, the Cubs went on a free-agent spending spree that added outfielder Jason Heyward, infielder Ben Zobrist and pitcher John Lackey to a roster that already included Jon Lester and young stars Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.
''The pressure is going to be possibly greater, and I want us to embrace the pressure,'' Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
The Los Angeles Dodgers remain baseball's biggest spender, but their opening-day payroll of around $230 million will be a drop of $40 million from the record they set last year. And the total could climb, with Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda alone able to earn $10.15 million in roster and performance bonuses.
The New York Yankees, who topped the majors in spending for 15 straight seasons before the Dodgers leapfrogged them a year ago, raised their opening payroll by $5 million to about $223 million.
Based on rosters as of Thursday, the average salary will rise about 4-6 percent to approximately $4.4 million, according to the AP's projections. Teams have until noon EDT Sunday to get down to 25 active players, and the opening-day average will depend on how many players are put on the disabled list.
With several teams in rebuilding mode, the number of $100 million payrolls could decline from 22 at the start of last season to 19.
Milwaukee is at the bottom of the payroll list for the first time since 2004, the last season before Mark Attanasio bought the team from Bud Selig's family. Other small spenders include the Florida pair of Tampa Bay (about $65 million) and Miami (approximately $73 million).
Other retooling teams made huge cuts. Philadelphia dropped about $40 million to around $90 million and Cincinnati sliced about $30 million to $90 million.
''You have to continuously develop a pipeline of young talent that's going to power your organization, especially if your goal is to compete year after year.'' new Brewers general manager David Stearns said. ''That emphasis becomes accentuated when you're in a middle or a smaller market.
Kansas City raised its payroll by around $20 million to the $135 million range in an effort to become the first repeat World Series champion since the 1998-00 Yankees. The Mets, who lost to the Royals in a five-game Series, upped payroll by nearly $40 million to almost $140 million. That includes $3.5 million for outfielder Michael Cuddyer, who retired.
The Los Angeles Angels' $165 million payroll includes $24 million for outfielder Josh Hamilton, who is playing for Texas. As part of last year's trade, Los Angeles agreed to pay the Rangers the entire cost of Hamilton's 2016 salary. That's not the only subsidy for the Rangers, who are receiving $35 million in all this year: $4 million from Detroit as part of the November 2013 deal to acquire Prince Fielder and $7 million from Philadelphia stemming from last July's deal to obtain Cole Hamels.
The AP's figures include salaries and prorated shares of signing bonuses and other guaranteed income for players on active rosters, disabled lists and those on the restricted list whose actual 2016 pay has been calculated. For some players, parts of deferred money are discounted to reflect current values.
Payroll numbers factor in adjustments for cash transactions in trades, signing bonuses that are the responsibility of the club agreeing to the contract, option buyouts, and termination pay for released players.
AP freelance writer Mike Cranston contributed to this report.