Where, exactly, is the money for Jose Reyes?

While the Marlins seem to be trying their hardest to woo Jose Reyes, the Brewers are still consistently being mentioned as a possible destination for the free agent shortstop. Most people linking the Brewers to Reyes are saying they have “money to spend” with Prince Fielder also hitting the free agent market.

How much money do they really have to spend, though? Not as much as you may think.

It’s easy to see why the connection is being made. Fielder made $15.5 million last year. Reyes figures to make around $15-$20 million a year on the free agent market. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like too much of a payroll increase for the Brewers.

There’s a problem, though: the Brewers have already spent most of that “Prince money” through extensions for the guys who were willing to stick around.

Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Yovani Gallardo will get raises that total over $13 million. That would mean just over $2 million of the “Prince Fund” is left over. If the Brewers are going to have the money to sign Reyes, it’s not going to be because they let Fielder walk.

Of course, Fielder leaving isn’t the only salary relief the Brewers will be getting. Francisco Rodriguez, Yuniesky Betancourt, LaTroy Hawkins, Jerry Hairston Jr., Takashi Saito, Craig Counsell, and Mark Kotsay are all also coming off the books.

K-Rod made a lot of money in 2011, but the Brewers wind up with only about $3 million of salary relief from him (this is a rough estimate, based on the reports following the trade that New York was picking up roughly half of the $4.9 million he was still owed and $3.5 million for his buyout. The buyout later increased to $4 million to get K-Rod to waive his Games Finished clause, so I’m tacking $500,000 onto the ~$2.5 million they paid him). Declining Yuniesky Betancourt’s option only saves them a little more than $2 million after paying his $2 million buyout.

Brewers Free Agents

In total, the “rest” of the Brewers’ free agents free up an additional $15,575,000 from the books. A grand total of roughly $31,075,000 is gone from the 2011 payroll when you factor in Fielder. Subtract what’s already owed in extensions and expected arbitration raises (using MLB Trade Rumors’ estimates), the Brewers would have less than $9 million to spend if the payroll doesn’t increase, and that’s before you also factor in automatic contract renewals for guys like John Axford and Jonathan Lucroy, who will make close to the league minimum. When you include those renewals, the amount of free agent cash drops closer to $7 million or so.

Of course, we can’t assume the payroll will stay the same. After a deep playoff run, it’s reasonable to think (maybe even expect, considering how close they were to the World Series) that Mark Attanasio would be willing to push the limits of the organization’s budget even further. We just don’t know how far he can push payroll before he’s operating in the red, or just how long he’d be willing to operate that way while the team tries to win a World Series. We also don’t know how much help will be given by a new television deal that kicks in after next season, or how much help the team gets through revenue sharing.

Even if Attanasio is willing to further expand the payroll, you have to wonder how much. It’s hard to even fathom the Brewers carrying a $100 million payroll, but it would probably be necessary if the Brewers were to sign Reyes while also filling out the rest of their roster. With all the talk about Reyes, it’s easy to forget that the Brewers will likely need to find a few relievers and a reserve infielder or two.

Even if Doug Melvin brought the likes of Hairston, Hawkins, and Saito back, he would have a hard time staying under $100 million without trading away other valuable assets. It wouldn’t be impossible to do, but it would take some creative maneuvering. Would it be worth creating a hole in the rotation by trading Randy Wolf, for example, if the offense isn’t going to be noticeably improved by swapping Fielder for Reyes?

It’s fun to think about Jose Reyes playing for the Brewers, but at this point, it doesn’t look entirely realistic. Of course, I was saying something similar this time last year, and we all know how that turned out. At this point, the Brewers may be better off trying to make modest improvements in multiple areas than trying to make a big splash at one position.

Note: Future contract figures taken from Cot’s Contracts