COMMENTARY | When you play in a small market like Milwaukee, bargain hunting is a more common practice and players are more than welcome to take a hometown discount. However, the Brewers' payroll surfaced $100 million on opening day last season, uncharted territory for a franchise that was dead-last in payroll not even ten years ago. That number is expected to drop significantly in 2013, probably below the $80 million mark.
That doesn't mean the Brewers are giving up all hope on the season. There are still several top-tier players on the roster, and salary-suckers like Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum and Francisco Rodriguez are off the books. Based on how much players are making in comparison to their production on the field in recent years, there are plenty of Brewers' who are outperforming their contracts. Engage the top five bang-for-your-buck Brewers.
1. LF - Ryan Braun
In 2011, Ryan Braun won the MVP award, and he was also making a measly $4 million. This is a true story. Braun made $6 million last season and will continue to see a yearly increase in his salary, as he is set to make $8.5 million in 2013.
2016 is when the real money hike takes place with Braun, but based on how he has performed throughout his career with the Brewers, it's well deserved. He's coming off a season in which he hit .319 with 41 HRs and 112 RBIs, essentially matching the numbers he put up in his MVP season two years ago. He's not only the most valuable Brewer, but he's also the best bargain on the roster and perhaps in all of baseball.
2. C - Jonathan Lucroy
Despite his unfortunate suitcase incident last season, Lucroy is an extremely valuable member of the Brewers because of his chemistry with Milwaukee's pitchers, his defensive ability and most importantly, his knack for coming through in the clutch. Lucroy hit .389 with runners in scoring position last season, but his broken hand derailed the Brewers' season.
Luc made a whopping $500,000 in 2012 and that number only gets bumped to $750,000 this season. He led all Brewer hitters last season with a .320 average while bopping 12 HRs and driving in 58 RBIs. Lucroy is as steady as they come, and considering his miniscule contract, he is a huge bargain for the Brewers and has a legitimate chance to be an all-star in 2013.
3. 3B - Amaris Ramirez
Prior to the 2012 season, Ramirez inked a three-year, $36 million deal with the Brewers, and fans were skeptical about the signing. He was 33 years old at the time, and even though Ramirez was coming off a pretty solid season, it was in a contract year, making his performance in 2011 with the Chicago Cubs potentially deceiving.
But as Braun's protector in the lineup, Ramirez almost matched the production of the departed Prince Fielder, forcing opposing teams to pitch to the Hebrew Hammer. While making just $6 million last year -- the same amount as Braun -- Ramirez hit .300 with 27 HRs and 105 RBIs, and he will make $10 million this upcoming season. He also finished ninth in the MVP voting and drastically improved his defense at the hot corner. Despite his history as a Cub, Brewer fans have embraced A-Ram as one of their own.
4. RF - Norichika Aoki
For someone who wasn't supposed to even start coming in last season, Norichika Aoki turned out to a heck of an import for Milwaukee. Even though injuries to other players benefited Aoki, he took advantage of his opportunities and the Brewers had no choice but to make him an everyday player.
What made Aoki even more valuable besides his solid production and $1 million salary -- in addition to the $2.5 million negotiating bid -- was how he succeeded in the lead-off spot. Finding a competent lead-off hitter had been an issue for the Brewers, and Aoki managed a .355 on-base percentage in 2012. The value of the lead-off hitter cannot be overstated, and Aoki and Ramirez have turned out to be two of the most bang-for-your-buck signings in baseball.
5. SP - Marco Estrada
It's time to show Marco Estrada some love. After beginning the 2012 season in the bullpen, Estrada quickly became a mainstay in the rotation following Chris Narveson's shoulder injury, and he never looked back, achieving a better ERA than now-team ace Yovani Gallardo at 3.64. Unfortunately, that didn't translate into many victories for Estrada, but making the leap from long reliever to No. 2 starter in the same season was pretty significant.
Estrada will see his annual salary jump from $486,000 to $1.955 million thanks to contract negotiations due to arbitration, but if he can continue to build on his 2012 campaign, he could earn himself a nice little long-term deal. For now, he's one of the most valuable members of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.
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- Norichika Aoki
- Ryan Braun