MILWAUKEE -- Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio characterized as a calculated gamble the decision to let general manager Doug Melvin push payroll to record levels for 2012.
"I think it's a function of our confidence in this team," Attanasio said. "If we didn't feel as confident as we feel, we wouldn't be spending money like this. For example, when K-Rod accepted arbitration [reliever Francisco Rodriguez eventually signed for $8 million], Doug and I were actually excited. ... There's always $8 million in the budget for a really good pitcher."
The Brewers fielded a $27 million team in 2004 before Attanasio's purchase was unanimously approved in January 2005. Seven years later, the Brewers' payroll is at or above $100 million, depending on your accounting, boosted by free-agent investments like third baseman Aramis Ramirez and pitcher Randy Wolf, and in-house extensions for Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and others.
Pegging payroll is an inexact science that depends on how one counts deferred salaries, insurance policies, past buyouts and plans for in-season acquisitions. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put the Brewers' Opening Day figure at $101.2 million, up from $88.4 million at the start of 2011. USA Today, which annually tallies team payrolls, put the Brewers at $97,653,944 -- 10th highest of the 30 Major League teams. The difference from the Journal-Sentinel figure may be the $2.5 million posting fee paid before the Brewers signed Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki.
Whatever the precise number, it's a big one, considering Milwaukee is Major League Baseball's smallest media market.
"We're going to do everything we can to maintain payroll," Attanasio said. "But we focus on our ability to compete, and that often dictates the payroll. ... If you look back two years ago, we had a real pitching problem, and we were looking at what our budget was going to be, and all of a sudden we were able to get Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke. I wasn't planning on a $96 million payroll [by the end of] last year. It's opportunity-driven."
Attanasio tied the Brewers' payroll increases to the steady attendance at Miller Park, where more than three million fans have passed through the turnstiles in three of the past four seasons. The club is also entering its new television rights deal with FS Wisconsin that Attanasio said would cover the next eight seasons.
The Brewers' next big expenditure could be for Greinke, who is in the final year of his contract. The sides have been talking about an extension that could more than double the current record contract for a Brewers pitcher -- Jeff Suppan's four-year, $42 million deal.
"Star players command increasingly high compensation averages," Attanasio said. "You have to look at how you set your team to address that."