Milwaukee GM given $30 million goal

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has been asked to cut the team's payroll to $30 million next season, a cut that could wind up making it the lowest payroll in baseball.

The $30 million target was recommended this past weekend by the team's board of directors and first reported Sunday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Melvin said he is committed to improving the club no matter what fiscal constraints the board places on him.

"I don't have any problem with the club and what we're doing," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday from the general managers' meetings in Phoenix.

But the future of another Brewers executive, president Ulice
Payne Jr., appears uncertain after only one year in charge.

"I am in discussions about my situation," Payne told the
Journal Sentinel for a story that appeared on its Web site early

Payne also told the newspaper he didn't know anything about the
short statement the team issued Tuesday regarding its budget. The
statement did not include any figures.

Payne did not return several messages left by The Associated
Press seeking comment. He took over the Brewers in September 2002,
becoming the first black team president in major league history.

The payroll level could force Melvin to deal both of his All-Stars, first baseman Richie Sexson and left fielder Geoff Jenkins.

Sexson will make $8.6 million next year, Jenkins $8.25 million. Both are eligible for free agency after the 2004 World Series.

"I've never been told I have to move either one of them," Melvin said. "But if you keep them both, it limits what you can do for now and the future in other areas."

Melvin needs a right fielder, a catcher and starting pitchers, but he might have a hard time getting top value for his All-Stars because the club's fiscal constraints are now public knowledge.

The Brewers, who have finished with losing records in 11 straight seasons, pledged higher payrolls and more competitive teams when they sought legislation to finance much of the cost of Miller Park, which opened in 2001. But they have finished last in the NL Central for two straight seasons.

Attendance has dropped from 2.81 million in 2001 to 1.96 million in 2002 and 1.7 million last season.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker said cutting the team's payroll could keep even more fans at home.

"It's just frustrating to see, what appears to be at least, the retreat by the Brewers in terms of fielding a competitive team," Walker said. "Those same people who are paying the bill should also feel like they have a team that's worth watching."

Milwaukee's payroll fell from $49.9 million at the end of 2002 to $40.6 million at the start of 2003. Final figures for this season have not yet been tabulated.

Melvin said he might have some flexibility and could take a recommendation to the board for a higher ceiling.

"I'm not taking myself out of the free-agent market," Melvin said. "What people don't understand is we could offer a multiyear deal that's heavily backloaded if the right player comes along."

Melvin said he wishes the payroll figure hadn't been revealed.

"We know our payroll will be reduced, though. And whatever the payroll will be, it's part of our long-term planning," he said.

Melvin said he hasn't been told whether the team wants to slash payroll over several seasons, not just in 2004.

"I take it a year at a time, but I'm hoping in a couple of years we'll be able to really get involved in the free-agent market," he said.

Melvin said fans have complained about the decision to lower payroll.

"You have to have a vision and a plan, and we try to stay with it to get the organization in a little better financial state before we're able to make some moves to add payroll or add free agents," Melvin said.

He said the long-range plan still is to wait for minor league prospects to develop.

"I don't think anybody has ever said we're going to go out and be aggressive and add a free agent, to go out and spend $10 million to $12 million more," Melvin said. "It might make the club a little bit better for now, but it doesn't make the club better for the future."

Melvin said he'll have plenty of flexibility after 2004 because only one player, infielder Enrique Cruz, is signed beyond next season.

"But the payroll target number all depends on how we draw. Revenue is all tied into that," Melvin said.

Timothy Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said payroll cuts raise questions about the club's future.

The MMAC helped the team with a low-interest $14 million loan to build the stadium and has supported the club by guaranteeing millions of dollars worth of season ticket sales over the years.

Sheehy said the group will continue to support the franchise.

"We're certainly not baseball experts, but I think we also understand that the community has a big stake in this," Sheehy said, citing public money invested in the stadium, the subsidized loan and millions more in cash from the business community. "It shouldn't come as a surprise that we're concerned if we don't see the same level of commitment on behalf of the ownership group."