There is an old idea with organizations – never leave any unspent allocated money at the end of the year. If you do, your bosses will think you can manage your workload on less money. As a result, they’ll allocate a smaller chunk of change to your organization the following year.
Now, that might not apply to the baseball business all that well, but by adding $5 million to the 2019 payroll yesterday in a trio of buyouts – plus another million to Billy Hamilton previously as a buyout – the Braves tried hard to keep the monies attached to the 2019 end-of-year payroll rather than this upcoming year’s payroll.
It was a slightly confusing process because unlike many teams that try this creative accounting process, the Braves are nowhere near the competitive balance tax threshold. Instead, the goal was to move $6 million of player expenses from the 2020 balance sheet to the 2019 one. That would require just as much money still available for 2019 player expenses, right?
This whole funky process tells us something else. It helps establish a potential payroll cap for the Braves at about $144-145 million. According to Spotrac, one of the best sources of tracking team payroll numbers, the adjusted payroll before the option buyouts were added was $137,947,963. If you add the options to the adjusted payroll, you get a total of roughly $144 million.
Again, using Spotrac, let’s put that into perspective using five years of data. Payroll numbers are rounded to their nearest million.
- 2015 – $111 million
- 2016 – $96 million
- 2017 – $105 million
- 2018 – $131 million
- 2019 – $144 million
This is great news if you’re a Braves fan. The Braves aren’t going to come out and tell us what their payroll cap might be, but we have some data to give us a number to make an estimate. To sum up, the Braves likely have a payroll cap of at least $145 million.
What does all of this mean for 2020?
With the previous knowledge in our brains, we can make an educated guess as to how much the Braves might have available to spend for 2020 as free agency enters its first full day. According to Spotrac, the Braves – with arbitration estimates included – have roughly $87.5 million committed for the 2020 season. We can probably cut that down some because John Ryan Murphy is likely to be non-tendered and my bet is that Grant Dayton follows. That leaves us at $85.5 million.
This total does not include money earmarked for minimum contracts. Last year, these types of contracts ran the Braves a little more than $6 million. Let’s be safe and make it $7 million. We’re now at $92.5 million. If you believe the Braves have a max payroll cap of around $145 million, that leaves $52.5 million and that’s a number that should be exciting for any Braves fan. You’re already thinking of the players the Braves can sign, right?
Hold on a minute, though.
The Braves aren’t going to spend $50 million of 2020 payroll this offseason unless the payroll cap is actually higher. Alex Anthopoulos is going to want some “financial flexibility” to make in-season moves. And his unwillingness to go beyond where he felt comfortable on contracts last winter led to having so much money to add salary during the season (roughly $20 million with Dallas Keuchel representing the biggest chunk). Simply put – if the Braves invest $50 million this offseason, the payroll cap is higher than I estimated.
But let’s keep things relatively simple. If the Braves have $52.5 million available, I’d guess the number they have ear-marked to spend this offseason is closer to $40 million. That gives Anthopoulos flexibility and also gives the Braves available money to reshape the roster ahead of the 2020 season. What does $40 million buy? Well, probably two big splashes. Potentially enough for Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas. The pair of Brewers combined for 8 fWAR in 2019. Or maybe, as MLB Trade Rumors suggested, Moustakas and Cole Hamels. I’m less enthralled with Hamels, personally, but the money is there. It’s also available to bring back Josh Donaldson should the Braves want to.
Potentially, the Braves could go for one of the big dogs and patch the rest of the team – specifically Anthony Rendon. Do I see that as likely? Not so much. But could you imagine an offense in Atlanta centered around Rendon and Ronald Acuña Jr. for the next five years? Live a little and picture it for a few moments before you remember you’re a Braves fan and they don’t sign big-time free agents to huge contracts.
If I’m right – and again, I rarely am – the Braves have more money available to make a big move or two than I originally thought. It gives me hope that we’ll see this team rub elbows with some of the big spenders. It also gives me hope that just because the offseason began with bargain shopping for Tyler Flowers and Nick Markakis, the rest of the offseason doesn’t have to be that boring. This could be a huge winter for the Atlanta Braves. franchise.