Yesterday, I talked about the players that changed teams in a supersized Transaction Tuesday, but today I want to look at payroll and specifically what the recent moves will do to payroll moving forward beyond 2018.
Ask five people who follow payroll and you’re going to get five different answers on what the 2019 current payroll will be. That’s because none of us actually know. We deal in a world where unless the information is completely public, we just don’t know all the little ends and outs. That said, while you will get different answers, they typically will be in a tight range. Someone might say the Braves have about $110 million in future commitments while the other four will be within $5-$10 million. Long story short – we’re probably real close, but almost certainly wrong.
The four deadline deals the Braves completed brought four players who the Braves have added some level of commitment to for the 2019 roster so, of course, things for the future have changed. Let’s divide this up in a neat manner.
$11,166,667 – Julio Teheran ($11M+one/sixth of a $1M signing bonus)
$8,000,000 – Kevin Gausman (arbitration estimate 3/4)*
$5,500,000 – Mike Foltynewicz (arbitration estimate 2/4)*
$600,000 – Sean Newcomb (pre-arbitration)
$550,000 – Placeholder for young starter
$25,816,667 – Total
$8,000,000 – Darren O’Day ($9M base salary with $1M deferred)
$4,500,000 – Arodys Vizcaino (arbitration estimate 4/4)*
$1,200,000 – Dan Winkler (arbitration estimate 2/3)*
$1,100,000 – Rex Brothers (arbitration estimate 2/3)*
$1,000,000 – Sam Freeman (arbitration estimate 2/3)*
$1,000,000 – Jonny Venters (arbitration estimate 3/3)*
$950,000 – Chase Whitley (arbitration estimate 2/4)*
$650,000 – Jacob Lindgren (arbitration estimate 1/4)*
$600,000 – A.J. Minter (pre-arbitration)
$600,000 – Shane Carle (pre-arbitration)
$600,000 – Jesse Biddle (pre-arbitration)
$600,000 – Grant Dayton (pre-arbitration)
$20,800,000 – Total
$600,000 – Placeholder
$1,150,000 – Total
$21,359,375 – Freddie Freeman ($21M salary plus one/eighth of $2.875M signing bonus)
$600,000 – Ozzie Albies (pre-arbitration)
$600,000 – Dansby Swanson (pre-arbitration)
$600,000 – Johan Camargo (pre-arbitration)
$1,200,000 – Charlie Culberson (arbitration estimate 1/3)
$550,000 – Placeholder
$24,909,375 – Total
$5,700,000 – Ender Inciarte ($5M salary plus one/fifth of $3.5M signing bonus)
$2,500,000 – Adam Duvall (arbitration estimate 1/3)
$600,000 – Ronald Acuna Jr.
$550,000 – Placeholder
$9,350,000 – Total
$82,026,042 – Grand Total
Of course, there are a few isses we need to discuss. One, the placeholders aren’t all going to be rookie fill-ins. Further, let’s talk about the bullpen. Guys like Brothers, Freeman, and Whitley will almost certainly be non-tendered. That saves about $3M, dropping the payroll back under $80M. Of course, signing pre-arbitration guys like Albies or Acuna to extensions would increase their payroll hit. By the way, the major league minimum is $550K, but for many guys, I went with $600K simply on the idea of the team giving players even slight raises just to reward them.
Now, let’s consider how much money the Braves might have for a second. It’s impossible to forecast future payroll limits with complete accuracy, but we do know that in three of the last five years, the Braves opened the year with a $112M to $123M payroll. Often, the team held out on spending all of their money to give them wiggle room later to add talent. Cot’s Contracts suggests that in the last four years, the Braves have finished the year with at least $107M on their payroll and as much as $133M.
We can assume that the wiggle room for 2019 could actually come from not having an international pool to spend from. Meaning that without having to invest that money, the Braves can simply pocket it for adding talent via in-season trades during 2019. Let’s suggest, then, that the Braves have roughly $130M to spend on talent for the 2019 season. If they are already spending about $80M, that leaves $50M to go out and improve the club. If you were worried adding three arbitration-eligible players and a high-priced reliever to the roster was going to change things and take away the Braves’ ability to sign free agents this offseason, let’s just say – they’ll be fine.
Signing at least one catcher or trading for one becomes a priority. Considering all of the top assets they kept and the big hole behind the plate at the moment, the Braves and J.T. Realmuto will likely be a rumored pair for much of this winter unless another team grabs him. In addition to possible trade targets and the Braves’ current duo of pending free agents Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers, Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos headline the catching market. Grandal is, by far, the safer bet but Ramos, who the Phillies just traded for, can’t be extended a qualifying offer.
Adding an outfielder seems like a likely thing as well. Of course, Nick Markakis will be considered, but the market also includes Bryce Harper and Adam Jones. The former will likely command at least half – and probably more – of the $50M the Braves have available for additions. Meanwhile, Jones is in decline and probably isn’t a good fit. Atlanta could buy time for Cristian Pache and Drew Waters by bringing back Markakis on a two-year deal and using Duvall as a platoon option. They could also look for low-cost/big-reward additions like Lonnie Chisenhall.
On the pitching side, the Braves might pass on the starting pitching market, which is led by Patrick Corbin, Charlie Morton, and Dallas Keuchel. Others like Clayton Kershaw and David Price could enter the market. That seems a bit more likely for Kershaw, who has just two seasons and $65 million left on his contract whereas Price is only three years into a seven-year deal worth $217 million. A sneaky, shrewd pick-up, though, would be to sign Garrett Richards, who had Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago. Low investment, but could bring some value to the end of 2019.
While the Braves have a number of relievers under control for 2019, they could use some help from a market that boasts Cody Allen, Jake Diekman, Sean Doolittle, Kelvin Herrera, Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino, Hector Rondon, Joakim Soria, and some guy named Craig Kimbrel.
$50 million or so. Needs behind the plate, in the outfield, and the bullpen at minimal. It’s certainly possible to add productive players at all of these positions, though it will be interesting to see how the Braves do things this offseason because…
After 2019, things get really interesting. Only two players are signed to current deals that go beyond 2019, though Teheran’s contract does have an option season worth $12,000,000. Freeman will earn about $22.4 million while Inciarte is due $7.7 million. Gausman will be eligible for arbitration for a fourth time while Foltynewicz and Winkler will be eligible for a third time. Adding to the mix will be at least Dansby Swanson, Johan Camargo, and Jesse Biddle.
After 2020, we’re talking Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, A.J. Minter, Sean Newcomb, and maybe even Mike Soroka. Also, Freeman will be hitting free agency after the 2021 season. Guys who are signed this offseason will have a direct result on the money available for long-term extensions for Acuna Jr., Albies, Newcomb, and – down the road – Freeman. So, keep that in mind as you look toward adding free agents this offseason.
I’m going to table this discussion for a while. I just wanted to pop in with the money side of things as the Braves try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They will have a good deal of spending cash, but any long-term deal has to work within the framework of keeping their core together as they begin to earn real paychecks.