Mark Attanasio is dissatisfied with the economics of the game he bought into five years ago, in spite of the fact his franchise's value has probably doubled since. And while his complaints – subsequently slapped down by Yankees president Randy Levine – might seem disingenuous, perhaps they should be viewed as a service to his loyal customers.
Prince Fielder is due to be a free agent after 2011.
( Ross D. Franklin/AP)
Attanasio has done wonderful work as owner of the mid-market Brewers, who are relevant again, both in the standings and at the gate. They were in the postseason a couple seasons ago for the first time in forever and have drawn 3 million in each of the past two seasons. The Brewers' payroll the season before Attanasio arrived was $27.5 million. It's been about triple that in the past two years.
At the risk of flogging opening week with too much money chatter – hey, Attanasio started it – let's consider the reasons the Brewers under Attanasio have progressed to where they are.
Braun was kind enough to agree to an eight-year, $45 million contract, the final season of which will pay him $12 million in 2015.
Fielder is due to be a free agent after 2011. He'll be 27. By then he could have 250 home runs and 700 RBIs. He'll be entering his prime. The potential first-base market that offseason: Fielder, Ryan Howard(notes), Albert Pujols(notes), Adrian Gonzalez(notes). All but Fielder will be in their 30s.
The specter of free agency started this, of course. Negotiations on an extension for Fielder aren't exactly running downhill, which has clearly frustrated Attanasio, who told USA Today this week, "We're struggling to sign Prince Fielder, and the Yankees' infield is making more than our team."
Levine countered for ESPNNewYork, accusing Attanasio of whining and wondering where all the revenue-sharing money has gone in Milwaukee and places like it.
Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, doesn't often subject his high-end clients to contract extensions, not with free agency so near, but he has met with Attanasio.
Not willing to referee an Attanasio-Levine slap fight, Boras' only observation on the matter Wednesday was this: "Prince Fielder is a franchise player. As I've said all along, franchise players pay for themselves. Three million fans in Milwaukee is historic. When they bought the franchise the team was drawing 2 million. It's a good example of what sluggers – including Ryan Braun – can mean to a franchise at the gate."
Attanasio, according to Brewers officials, on Wednesday was in meetings, attending the club's home game against the Rockies and then flying cross country, so was unavailable to come to the phone. But, the Brewers would appear to be financially healthy, certainly enough to pay market value on their best player if they really wanted to, and without resorting to calling out their sugar daddy, the Yankees. While we could debate Fielder's value and his potential for longevity in that body, don't underestimate the worth of a power hitter in the post-steroids era and the fact he hardly ever misses a game. Mark Teixeira's(notes) contract (eight years, $180 million) led to Joe Mauer's(notes) (eight years, $184 million), which arguably could lead to Fielder's.
We'll pause here while Attanasio gets a cup of water.
A combination of published accounts and common sense would have the Brewers pulling in at least $200 million in 2009, between baseball's general fund ($40 million), revenue sharing ($30 million), local revenues ($20 million) and game revenues (3 million fans at about $40 a head). They meet their payroll (about $80 million), operate the rest of the franchise (draft picks, international signings, regular overhead costs, insurance payments) and pay off the debt from purchasing the franchise, and that would seem to leave plenty left for Fielder (and, hey, maybe a couple pitchers).
No, the Brewers can't operate like the Yankees or Red Sox or even the Cubs. But, Attanasio didn't buy one of those teams. He bought the Brewers, in little Milwaukee. Because of that, he paid $223 million for the franchise, rather than three or four times more than that for a franchise in a major market. He rode Fielder and Braun (and a half-season of CC Sabathia(notes)) to the team's first playoffs in a generation.
The system is imperfect, but it's not as imperfect as Attanasio would have us believe.
No owner, as far as I know, has ever sold a baseball franchise for less than he bought the place. In that regard, and in the vernacular of the housing market, every owner in history has bought his club in a buyers' market and sold in a sellers' market, no matter the condition of the national economy. It's the surest thing in investing. That, and taking the Globetrotters and the points.
They buy in. They know the rules. The Yankees and Red Sox and other large markets charge more for tickets, draw more fans, make more in their television deals and have wider and faster-running revenue streams. They always do.
The rest survive. And they count their money when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town. And they make their profits when the game is robust and people turn on their televisions to watch, if only to root against the powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox.
The worst you can say about revenue sharing – other than Hank Steinbrenner's one-time observation, "Is it even American?" – is that it can, in some cases, reward laziness and dimwittedness. The best you can say about it is, Go Twins, Go Rays, Go Rockies. And, yes, Go Brewers. Go and pay Fielder.