MILWAUKEE -- Mark Attanasio learned a valuable lesson last season: Spending more money doesn't always result in more wins.
The Brewers owner stretched his wallet thin last season with payroll at 98.2 million, and the team failed to make the playoffs. This season, Attanasio is quite alright with payroll dropping to somewhere in the 80 million range because it provides him and general manager Doug Melvin with something they didn't have last season: flexibility.
The Brewers aren't going to spend just to spend. It's something Attanasio has learned over the course of his eight years writing the checks.
"I think it really is the function of the quality of your players and not your payroll," Attanasio said at Brewers on Deck. "We did learn in 2009 and 2010 where we filled payroll and that just doesn't work.
"Had the right player come in, we would have spent the money. But we are not going to say OK we don't have that player, so let's go spend 10 million on another player.' It has to be the right player and he has to fill what we are trying to do."
Since purchasing the Brewers in January 2005, Attanasio has shown a willingness to add pieces when Melvin feels the club is close to competing, especially at midseason.
With the payroll as high as it was a year ago, Attanasio would have felt comfortable adding more salary only if the Brewers were really in the race at the time of the trade deadline and they weren't. However, another lesson learned was how quickly a team can get back into the race even after July 31 thanks to the new second wild-card spot.
"We saw last year with our ability to get back into the playoff race with two (wild cards), you can be seven or 10 games out at midseason and still have a shot," Attanasio said. "Now we are in position this year, even if we are back seven, eight, nine or 10 games, to add at midseason given where we have our payroll if we have the right kind of player come up depending how we see the division playing out at that time."
The area where the notion of "spending just to spend" could have come into play was in the team's starting rotation. Melvin has said there are three types of spending in baseball: spending wisely, spending badly and spending just to spend. This year, the Brewers opted for wise spending. Attanasio and Melvin weren't going to toss out big money to free-agent pitchers because they felt they had younger, better options in-house.
Now those decisions are being questioned and called a gamble, but Attanasio is comfortable handing the ball to his inexperienced starting rotation.
"I'm really excited to see how these guys do," Attanasio said. "They not only kept us in the race, they got us back in the race last year.
"One thing we can measure is how many of these guys are getting asked about in trades, and the answer is all of them. If other teams, including winning teams, want these guys, why not us use them?"
The word flexibility doesn't just apply to making trades down the road. Attanasio believes it also is important the club isn't weighed down by big major league contracts preventing the team from checking out other arms in the organization.
"I think it gives us the ability to move guys back and forth from Triple-A," Attanasio said. "Having open roster spots gives you flexibility to bring other guys up. Not all of these guys are out of options. We have other good pitchers in the minor leagues; we have a list of five or six (other) guys who we think are major league-ready."
Despite all of the inexperience in the rotation and offseason changes in the bullpen, Attanasio fully expects the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers to compete for the postseason. He never expected the bullpen he spent so much money on building would have collapsed the way it did last season nobody did.
"It was durability of the starters and then performance of the bullpen," Attanasio said of the 2012 Brewers' demise. "Hopefully with younger pitchers we aren't going to have durability issues, and hopefully with the new bullpen guys we aren't going to have performance issues in the bullpen."
With 14 players playing in the World Baseball Classic, Attanasio isn't concerned about an added risk of injury and believes the earlier competition could help the ballclub. To him, Jonathan Lucroy or Martin Maldonado have the same chance of catching a foul tip off the hand in a spring training game as they do competing for their nations.
"I'm hoping we have a faster start this year," Attanasio said. "We've had a little trouble coming out of the gates in other years with slower starts. I hope with a lot of guys playing at a higher level we get out to a faster start this year.
"We do aim to compete this year. We do expect to compete for the National League Central."
And with the added flexibility, the Brewers are in position to be able to add a piece down the road if they are indeed competing in the loaded division, or even for a wild-card berth.
"I'm aware come midseason whether it's (pitching) or somewhere else we may need back and fill," Attanasio said. "We're ready to do that."
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