COLUMN: Brewers gamble paid off; Are Pirates willing to do the same?

COLUMN: Brewers gamble paid off; Are Pirates willing to do the same?


COLUMN: Brewers gamble paid off; Are Pirates willing to do the same?


The National League Divisional round of the playoffs begin today and Pittsburgh Pirates fans will be watching the Milwaukee Brewers while their own team is hitting the golf course.

If there’s a silver lining in that, I guess watching the Brewers compete for a World Series is a lot better than watching the Chicago Cubs or St. Louis Cardinals play for one.

Milwaukee stole a lot of the headlines in the offseason by signing Lorenzo Cain to a big deal and trading for Christian Yelich.

Those moves paid off in a big way as Yelich should be the National League MVP and Cain put together a 6.9 WAR season.

When the moves happened, the general public saw a Brewers team that was opening the wallets and going for it, when in reality their payroll wasn’t that much more than the Pirates.

Excluding $5 million in deferred salaries to Ryan Braun and Cain, and $2.5 million in signing bonuses to pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Chase Anderson, the Brewers’ actual payroll on Opening Day was a shy under $90 million.

So they weren’t going out and spending the $200-300 million that many thought.

That number was still near the bottom in baseball as the Brewers are in the smallest media market.

The average Opening Day payroll in baseball was right around $140 million.

It wasn’t hard for the Brewers to spend in what was a slow offseason as they had the majors lowest payroll in 2017 at $57 million.

For everyone that thinks that the Brewers are a small market team and spend money in ways the Pirates don’t, here’s a look at their Opening Day Payrolls the past few years.

2012: $101.2 million

2013: $84.3 million

2014: $95.4 million

2015: $102.3 million

2016: $56.5 million

2017: $57.6 million

2018: $90 million

What this shows is that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio will increase payroll when he feels the club is a contender and has a window and will cut payroll when he doesn’t feel the team can compete.

I know the question is coming from everyone so I will ask it myself.

Is Bob Nutting willing to do the same?

The Brewers surprised many in 2017 by winning 86 games and gambled in 2018 with the additions of Cain and Yelich.

And make no mistake about it, that’s what those moves were.

A gamble.

The Brewers gambled that both moves would lead them to the postseason and it did.

Had the gamble not paid off and Cain and Yelich weren’t as good as they were and the Brewers were treading around .500 this season, the organization might be ridiculed for making such moves and investing the money they did.

But they had to gamble and it paid off.

They brought in a pair of talented outfielders to a team loaded with outfielders.

What are they thinking? Where’s the pitching?

They gambled.

Milwaukee rolled the dice on Yelich and Cain, hoping not to crap out.

Yelich should win the MVP after winning the batting title with a .326 average, ranking third with 36 home runs and ranking second with 110 RBIs.

He also led the league with 7.6 fWAR.

Cain put together a fine season of his own as a guy who did a little bit of everything for the Brewers.

What else did the gambles on Yelich and Cain accomplish?

It allowed Brewers general manager David Stearns to go out and acquire guys like Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop and Gio Gonzalez, who all paid dividends down the stretch to help Milwaukee win the National League Central.

When Stearns came to Milwaukee, he tore down the pieces that needed to be torn down and rebuilt them slowly.

It didn’t take long as Stearns got the Brewers in the position to take a shot on guys like Yelich and Cain.

They have about $93 million on the books for next season already, leaving Stearns in a position to possibly take another gamble in the offseason, maybe this time on a frontline starting pitcher.

The Brewers gambled. So did the Houston Astros a season ago.

They go their young core in place and gambled that last season was the time to make a run for it.

They won a World Series.

The thing with gambling though is you don’t always win.

More often than not you lose.

But you have to be willing to take the chance.

Status quo isn’t getting the Pirates anywhere.

The gambled at the trade deadline on Chris Archer and I still think that will work out.

But they need more if they want to be playing in October.

The Pirates surprised many by winning 82 games this season.

Will they roll the dice like the Brewers?

That remains to be seen, but until I see different, I’m going to say there’s no chance in the world Neal Huntington goes out and acquires a couple big pieces in the offseason.

If that’s the case, he won’t be a popular guy again in the offseason.

This Pirates team needs to score more runs in 2019 to compete for a division title.

The only way to accomplish that may to follow what the Brewers did and gamble.

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