Attanasio: 'Exciting' to see foundation of future

Attanasio: 'Exciting' to see foundation of future

MILWAUKEE -- A Brewers roster with nine players soaking in their first Major League Opening Day translated to one of the sport's lowest opening payrolls, according to a USA Today analysis that ranked Milwaukee 29th of 30 teams, at just over $61 million.

Teams and outside sources measure payroll differently, so that figure has room for interpretation. But whatever the precise sum, the Brewers' spending on Major League players has come down from 2014, when they topped $100 million in Opening Day payroll for the first time, and from the start of '15, when they were just shy of nine figures before shifting into a rebuilding phase. Those funds are now being directed to other areas, Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said, including the potential for contract extensions.

"There is a trend in Major League Baseball towards having earlier signings to control talent," Attanasio said. "As David [Stearns, Milwaukee's second-year GM] pointed out, that can be a risky business. But we'll look at player performance and player ceiling, I guess, in making some of those valuations."

That trend continued Monday when the Cardinals and outfielder Stephen Piscotty agreed to a six-year, $33.5 million deal. In the past week, the Indians finalized four-year deals with infielder Jose Ramirez and catcher Roberto Perez.

The Brewers already made a run at one such player early in Spring Training, reportedly offering 25-year-old middle infielder Jonathan Villar an extension that would have guaranteed about $20 million.

Villar, who is on track to reach arbitration eligibility following this season, turned that offer down, preferring for now to go year to year. It is not known whether the Brewers have engaged any of their other emerging players about an extension.

The trick is choosing the right players, Stearns said.

"This is an energetic, young, athletic team," Stearns said. "There are going to be ups and downs throughout the season. We know that. But on Opening Day, I'm very excited at 1:10 [for first pitch] to watch this team work."

Besides potential contract extensions, the Brewers have grown their scouting and analytics departments, expanded their operation in the Dominican Republic, added video capabilities and other technology at their Minor League affiliates to better evaluate prospect development, and remain in talks to purchase one of those teams -- the Class A Advanced Carolina Mudcats.

The Brewers also spent millions over the winter on renovations to the food service operation at Miller Park and continue to seek a long-term answer to their Spring Training question -- whether that means enhancing Maryvale Baseball Park or moving elsewhere. The Spring Training effort, Attanasio said, "is more a function of player development than having a fun six weeks in Scottsdale."

"But where the rubber meets the road is the success of the Major League team," Attanasio said. "That's what all of this is geared toward. ... It's all about getting players here and having them perform here."

Attanasio sees progress in that department.

"Last year, we had no idea what we had. No idea," he said. "Now this year, at literally every player position, each of those players could be a part of the next great Brewers team. Every one of those guys has not only the opportunity, but has demonstrated the talent in the Major Leagues. That is very tangible progress for us, and it's exciting.

"I talked last year about being on the ground floor. We just didn't know how long we would be on the ground floor. … We're no longer on the ground floor, and that's exciting."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.