Ben is right in that Brewers fans showed in record-setting fashion they will pack Miller Park to support a winning team, but Jake is just as correct in pointing out that there is a danger in putting too many dollars in one basket. This is essentially the dilemma facing the Brewers and other mid-payroll teams as they look at the free agent market.
According to someone familiar with the Brewers' front-office strategy, who spoke on condition of anonymity, a team generally wants its top-salaried player to account for no more than 15 percent of the total payroll, and the top three players to account for no more than 25 percent. Obviously, this is only a guideline; special players could prompt a team to bend the rules. Teams with a disproportionate number of so-called zero-to-three-year players making the league minimum or close to it may also be tempted. The Blue Jays, for example, signed Roy Halladay to a long-term contract that actually decreased in annual value from 2007 to 2008 and now will jump up again, because it fit the rest of their payroll puzzle.
So let's look specifically at Sabathia, who was flat-out fabulous for Milwaukee over the second half of 2008. For argument's sake, let's say he gets a contract identical to the Mets' Johan Santana's: six years, $137.5 million, an average of just over $23 million per season, and about $17 million in the first season. If the Brewers' payroll remains in the neighborhood of $90 million in 2009, Sabathia's $17 million would account for just short of 19 percent of the total. The payroll would need to jump to $114 million for a $19 million player to fall under the 15 percent threshold. By the way, the Mets' Opening Day payroll this season was about $137 million.
The Brewers would probably have to decline center fielder Mike Cameron's $10 million option to afford Sabathia, and again for the sake of argument, let's say they do that. That would leave Jeff Suppan ($12.5 million) and Bill Hall ($6.8 million) as the second- and third-highest paid players on the team, unless first baseman Prince Fielder wins more than $6.8 million in arbitration (a very real possibility). If the top three are Sabathia, Suppan and Hall, the trio would account for about $36.3 million, or 40 percent of a $90 million payroll. For that threesome to fall under the 25 percent threshold, the Brewers' 2009 payroll would have to jump to $146 million.
The next question becomes, Would Sabathia take fewer dollars to stay in Milwaukee because he enjoyed the team and the city, and because the relatively young Brewers are poised to be competitive for the next few years? That type of sentiment always sounds good in September and October, but come November and December, players are under extreme pressure to get the richest deal possible, because it affects not only them and their families, but all of the free agents to follow.
If money were no object, the Brewers would have already handed Sabathia a blank check. But unless the team somehow negotiates a new television deal that pays like Miller Park is in Chicago, it becomes difficult to fit a player like Sabathia onto a realistic Brewers roster.
Can the Brewers afford not to sign CC?
-- Rick H., Onalaska, Wis.
What is the typical salary range at each Minor league level (Rookie, Class A, Double-A, Triple-A)? I know in the Majors it's $390,000 to whatever A-Rod's salary is.
-- Brad K., Milwaukee
The Major League minimum in 2008 was indeed $390,000, and it goes to $400,000 in 2009 according to MLB's press release when the labor deal was struck.
According to someone in the Brewers' Minor League operations, typical Minor League salary ranges break down like this:
Rookie ball: $1,100 per month to $1,300
A ball: $1,300 per month to $1,500
AA: $1,600 to $6,000
AAA: $2,500 to $15,000
It gets more complicated at the Double-A and Triple-A levels because there are six-year Minor League free agents in the mix who account for the high end of the Double-A scale. Most Double-A players are in the $1,600-$2,000 range.
At Triple-A, the low end is players who advanced through the various levels of the organization. The high end is for Minor League vets with big league experience.
I am watching the National League postseason, and it is great to see Geoff Jenkins. While he is not a starting player, you watch the Phillies' games and he is on the top step cheering and motivating through the entire game. Do you see him coming back after his Philly contract is up to be a leader and sub, much like Jeff Cirillo did?
-- Kevin P., Galesburg, Ill.
Cirillo was an excellent pinch-hitter and served as a defensive backup at all four infield positions. Jenkins does not have the same versatility, and the Brewers rarely sub for their corner outfielders, so I am not sure if he would be the best choice for a backup.
I definitely see him returning as a coach or a Spring Training instructor. Robin Yount dropped in on Spring Training through most of Jenkins' Brewers career, and Jenkins mentioned that as a possibility when it became clear his Milwaukee tenure was over.
What is Ray Durham's contract situation? I thought he was a good pickup and change of pace from Rickie Weeks' slumping play all year.
-- Jacob G., no hometown
Durham is a free agent who made $7.5 million in 2008 and turns 37 at the end of next month. He got some big hits for the Brewers down the stretch, but I have a hard time seeing where he would fit on the '09 club, especially with shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar knocking on the door of the big leagues.
How likely is it that Gabe Kapler will be back for the `09 season?
-- Holly M., Hartford, Wis.
I suppose that depends on how Kapler's torn "lat" muscle heals, and whether he wants to play another season. He was very "in the moment" during the year, and I do not think he was focused at all on his plans for 2009. I believe the Brewers would love to have him back.