"When I first bought the team, it was like, 'Are you ever going to get to 40 [million dollars]?'" said Attanasio, who purchased the team following the 2004 season, when the Brewers spent just shy of $28 million on players. "Now, we're arguing between 82 and 79."
He does concede that it is a somewhat significant point. At $82 million, the Brewers are less likely to spend on one of the remaining free-agent starters. Instead, club officials have discussed beginning the season with a relatively thin starting rotation and looking to add early in the year.
"If we were at $79 million, we might have already gone out and gotten one of those pitchers," Attanasio said.
Today, the team's five-man rotation includes Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra and Seth McClung. The most experienced backup is Chris Capuano, who probably will not be available until May 1 because he's recovering from his second career Tommy John surgery.
"There is the potential that prices will continue to come down and somebody may fall," Attanasio said, referring to a point that it would make financial sense for the Brewers to add another starter before the season. "But we don't want to count on that, because there's no way of knowing.
"We also think that as teams fall out of contention early, they may be open to shed payroll, more than in previous years. Right now, we have strong [ticket] re-sales, but not every team has that. So, if a team falls into trouble ... it would be a shame for us if deals are out there to be had and we were tapped out."
Brewers officials have had talks with the representative of former Cardinals right-hander Braden Looper, and general manager Doug Melvin has said repeatedly that he will not close the door on Ben Sheets. In both cases, finances represent the major hurdle. Both Looper and Sheets are seeking multiyear deals. Particularly in Sheets' case, the Brewers are hesitant to offer one.
Other pitchers at least discussed internally by the Brewers included Oliver Perez (who reportedly agreed to terms on Monday with the Mets), Jon Garland (who signed last week with the D-backs) and Randy Wolf (who remains a free agent).
But the Brewers were not tremendously interested in any member of that trio. Club officials felt Perez's asking price was way too high, were concerned that Garland had allowed more than one hit per inning in four of the past five seasons (including 237 hits in 196 2/3 innings last year) and that, prior to 2008, Wolf had not reached the 30-start plateau since 2003.