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Show Me The Money! Part 2/2

In part one, I showed that I believe the Braves 2018 payroll currently stands at $99M. Considering the 2017 Braves opened the season with a payroll of $126M and finished at $123.3M, one would think the Braves should have a lot of funds available to spend this season, perhaps as much as $30M or more. Which begs the question that I’ve heard time & time again this off-season: “Why haven’t the Braves spent any money?!?! Sign Martinez! Sign Moustakas! Bring in Jake Marietta!!! Spend some money you cheap bastards!!!” There are a multitude of reasons, but I need to start by explaining why my $99M payroll figure doesn’t tell the whole story of the Braves 2018 spending.

I think the Braves have to set aside more funds than just for the active roster payroll. I think their total expenditures for the season also has to include money for in-season acquisitions (like Matt Adams in 2017), bonuses for the amateur draft, and international free agency signings. In my experience, a suitable amount to set aside for in-season acquisitions is about $6M. In 2016, the Braves spent $16M on the amateur draft, but they had 2 extra picks in the first 2 rounds which boosted their pool amount. In 2017, they “only” spent $11.8M on the amateur draft. The pool values for the 2018 amateur draft have not be released yet, and the final draft order won’t be known until the remaining free agents that received qualifying offers are signed (Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Greg Holland, Lance Lynn, & Mike Moustakas). The Braves have the 8th pick in the 2018 draft but they lost their 3rd round pick and the money that goes with it. The Braves max out their draft spending every year, almost always spending up to 99.5% of their pool. Using the pool value of the team with the 8th pick in the 2017 draft, my rough estimate for the Braves amateur draft spending for 2018 is $9.8M. The Braves international bonus pool for 2018-2019 is $4.75M but they’re limited to signing players for no more than $300,000 since they went over their pool during the 2016-2017 signing period. I would guess that they’ll try to trade some of that money to other teams that aren’t restricted but I think they’ll also sign some talent. Let’s be generous and say they use a little over half of their pool for 2018 – $2.5M.

$6M + $9.8M + $2.5M = $18.3M

Add that to the $99M for active roster payroll and the total for player costs comes to $117.3M. Even with a budget of $130M (which I think is a little high), that actually only leaves $12.7M to spend on free agents, which isn’t much. I can only venture to guess at what the Braves’ budget for player costs is, but I think it’s fair to say they might be looking at the total picture, rather than just the active roster payroll. This could explain why they haven’t spent any money this off-season – they actually have less available than we think.

I’ve read lots of opinions on why the Braves haven’t spent any money this off-season – Liberty Media is cheap, they want to recoup the signing bonus money they lost when MLB took away their international prospects, the free agents aren’t a fit, Liberty Media wants to sell the team, the team is gun-shy after the big money failures of Bartolo Colon, BJ Upton, Hector Olivera, etc. All of these might come into play in some form or fashion, but I’m pretty sure it all starts with what happened on October 2, 2017.

That’s the day John Coppolella was forced to resign by the Braves for his infractions in the international free agency market. That forced the Braves to completely reset the way they run the team – they had to bring a new GM (Alex Anthopoulos) and overhaul the entire front office. It would make sense that this new front office might not be the kind of free spenders the fans would expect, especially when they have to get used to a brand new team, learn about the assets they have, and the budget that might be imposed by team ownership. Going into the off-season, prior to the IFA penalties that MLB dropped on the Braves, it was probably fair to say that the Braves could be spenders this off-season in an effort to turn the page on the re-build. But once Coppy was canned and a whole new front office was brought in, I think the Braves organization had to take a big step back and look realistically at where they are and whether it was a good idea to spend a lot of money this off-season. They decided that 2018 was not the season to spend big and that they would make every effort to move any cumbersome contracts that would restrict their future spending *cough* Matt Kemp *cough* and see what the young stash of prospects they have can do at the major-league level.

Let’s take a quick look at what the Braves have on their team right now. They have a known quantity at first base, center field, and one rotation spot. That’s it. 3 players. 3. Right field, catcher, & 2 starting pitchers (Brandon McCarthy & Scott Kazmir) are free agents after the 2018 season. Left field (assuming it’s Ronald Acuña), second base, 2/5 of the rotation, and over half the bullpen are rookies or players with less than a year of experience. Shortstop still has a lot to prove, third base is a black hole and has been since Chipper Jones retired. The Braves aren’t going to be able to answer the questions at those positions by spending a whole bunch of money in 2018. They have to give it another year to really see what they have. If the young starting pitchers click & third base remains a black hole, then they know they need to spend on third base next year. If Austin Riley slugs his way to AAA by the end of the year, Ronald Acuña wins the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year, but the rotation struggles, the Braves know they need to sign an ace to lead the staff next year. If the 2018 Braves bullpen blows lead after lead after lead this year, that’s where some of the future spending might have to go. There are too many unknowns on this team right now to warrant spending much money this season.

I don’t think Liberty Media is being cheap this year. I think the new front office, led by the bright and forward-thinking Alex Anthopoulos, is making a concerted effort to actually see what the Braves already have and where they may need to spend in the future to create a fully competitive team. I can’t image a smart guy like Anthopoulos would have accepted the Braves GM job if he knew that ownership was gonna handcuff his ability to spend.

I read somewhere once that most Unsuccessful rebuilds pay money for something they think they need before they actually know what they need when they are truly ready to compete. That screams of the San Diego Padres of the last few years to me. The just signed Eric Hosmer to a huge deal thinking he’s their answer, but is he? Most don’t think so. To me, if the Braves were to sign Mike Moustakas to a huge deal this season, it would be the exact same thing – sinking a lot of money into something that a lot of fans think is the answer for the team, but in reality, it’s not. Why spend a fortune on a guy who averages 2 WAR per season when you could wait a year and get one who averages 7 (Josh Donaldson)?

Side note: the argument for signing Moose to a cheap 1-2 year deal since he’s stuck out there on the free agent market is also a bad argument b/c he would cost the Braves their 4th round pick in this year’s draft. There would be no way to recoup that pick either because Moustakas can’t be given another qualifying offer when his contract is up – player’s can only receive one in the their career under the new CBA. With the Braves’ restrictions on signing international players from now until 2021, I feel like amateur draft picks should be treated with even more value than before – the Braves are going to need as many of those as they can get to keep the farm system stocked with top tier talent in the coming years.

The Braves rebuild has taken over 3 years now, and it’s destined to take one more before we fans really get to see the upswing and return to legit contention. But the Braves have the pieces in place with a lot of potential to be a great team very soon. I’m sure a lot of fans are tired of being patient with this team and really want them to do something big RIGHT NOW to start winning again RIGHT AWAY. But think about it – would you rather spend it all too early to maybe win once, or would you rather hang on to see if your investments grow into valuable commodities, then spend to fill in the gaps to send the team over the top and win for many many years to come?

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Show Me The Money! Part 1/2

The Braves have long been tight-lipped about their annual budget for the 25-man roster. Rarely has it ever been stated “Hey, we have $100M to spend this season.”, but I suppose that’s pretty normal for most ball clubs to not come right out and tell the public what their roster budget is for the year, except for the Marlins, but that’s a dumpster fire for another day. Apologies to their fans, both of them.

While we never really know what the Braves roster budget is for a season, we can estimate it based on previous years’ payrolls and what the team already has on the books for that season and beyond. The Braves’ 2017 Opening Day payroll was $126M and by the end of the season, they’d shed almost $3M from that total – the final tally for 2017 was $123.3M. Those totals, combined with statements from the team that revenues should pick up from the new stadium and surrounding Battery, led many to think $130M could be the rough roster budget for 2018. Then Coppy resigned & Alex Anthopoulos was hired and the entire front office was re-worked and in short, things changed drastically. I’m not so sure that we can expect the payroll to be that high anymore, or at least, we have to change the way we think about what the Braves are spending their money on.

All that being said, leads us to my breakdown of the Braves 2018 payroll so let’s dig into what that situation is right now. As of today (2/22/18), the Braves have 15 players under guaranteed1 contracts for 2018:

Total Guaranteed Salaries – $77.66M

1 Only the first 8 contracts listed are guaranteed. All the rest are 1-year arbitration contracts or non-guaranteed major-league deals signed during Spring Training. These 7 players can all be released before the end of Spring Training and only be owed a portion of their salary (30 or 45 days’ worth, depending on the day they’re released). Once they’re placed on the 25-man roster, their contract becomes guaranteed.

2 Half of Kazmir’s $16M salary for 2018 is deferred to 2021.

3 Moylan’s contract is non-guaranteed. It becomes guaranteed and escalates to $1.25M if/when he makes the 25-man roster

4 Brothers and Whitley signed non-guaranteed split contracts for 2018. This means they’ll get one base salary if on the major-league roster ($1.1M for Brothers, $0.8M for Whitley), and a different, smaller salary if in the minors. The totals above are the minor-league base salaries for their split contracts so I’m adding that in as the guaranteed amount for those 2 players.

You might be wondering why I didn’t include Chris Stewart and his $0.575M salary for 2018. His deal, like Moylan’s, is non-guaranteed. I think he made a bet on himself to make the OD roster and guarantee the contract. When he said he wouldn’t come to Atlanta unless it was a major-league deal, he was at least guaranteeing himself $92,742 (30 days’ worth of his $0.575M salary, if he’s released before March 13). If he is DFA’d and remains with the Atlanta org, he’d still be entitled to the pro-rated portion of the $0.575M deal if/when he’s added to the 25-man roster during the season. If he’s DFA’d and chooses free agency rather than accepting the outright assignment, he’d forego the entirety of the $0.575M.

To fill out the rest of the roster, we can simply add in 10 players being paid league minimum. It doesn’t matter which players we use – Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, AJ Minter, etc – they’ll all get paid roughly the same amount, league minimum, which is $0.545M for 2018.

10 players X $0.545M = $5.45M

It’s worth going ahead and adding in a league minimum player that will spend the year on the disabled list – there’s always at least one.

Grant Dayton$0.545M

Now for the retained money, aka dead money. These are funds paid to players that are no longer on the team. Either they were released, retired, or have bonus deferrals in their contracts

  • Dan Uggla – $0.25M (His $1M signing bonus was deferred to 4 payments of $0.25M from 2016-2019)

Total Retained Money – $22.25M

Plus that pesky fee for drafting a player in the Rule 5 draft (Anyelo Gomez). This is in addition to said players’ salary, which would be league minimum and is included in the “League minimum” total above.

Rule 5 fee – $0.1M

Add all those figures up and this is what you get:


But wait! There’s more! Believe it or not, the Braves are receiving money from other teams for BOTH of their Matt Kemp trades: $2.5M from the Padres in the trade that brought Kemp to ATL and $4.5M from the Dodgers in the trade that sent him back out west.

From others: $7.0M

Subtract that from the TOTAL EXPENDED amount and the final tally is…drum roll please…$99.005M.

Now, you’re probably thinking “But Boggy, why do other websites like Cot’s Baseball Contracts and Spotrac have the Braves at $116.1M and $109.8M respectively? Your number is WAY lower!” The easiest explanation is this: those sites pro-rate signing bonuses across the life of a player’s contract, which is the same thing MLB does for the purposes of calculating team payrolls in order to determine if a team has to pay the luxury tax. The easiest way to explain “pro-rating signing bonuses” is to use an example. Suppose a player signs a 5 year, $55M contract that includes a $5M signing bonus and salaries of $10M annually. For sites like Cot’s, Spotrac, & MLB, they divide up the signing bonus over the life of the contract ($5M / 5 years = $1M per year) and add that to the base salary for each year. Thus, to them, the player is making $11M per year.

But I have a big problem with that. To me, a player that receives a signing bonus gets that money right away. Otherwise, what’s the enticement to sign for that bonus? This is the real world, not the luxury tax world, and in the real world, that money is spent the year the contract is signed, unless otherwise noted (like Uggla). As an example, Brandon McCarthy’s contract included a $6M signing bonus that was paid in 2 installments the year he signed that contract. For my purposes, I will never pro-rate signing bonuses – I will always apply them to the year a contract is signed, unless otherwise noted.

That’s one difference between my figures & theirs. The other main difference is that those other 2 sites are not deferring half of Scott Kazmir’s salary to 2021. After much research into Kazmir’s deferred payments (and consultation with @jervass of Outfield Fly Rule), I’ve confirmed that the Braves are only responsible for Kazmir’s $16M, but that they will pay it out as noted in the deferral: $8M in 2018 and $8M in 2021. Here’s an AP source that states it clearly. This will inevitably vary by news source over the course of this season and future seasons, but for the sake of doing the most accurate bookkeeping, the $16M should be realized when it’s paid – half in 2018, the other half in 2021.

So, $99M is what I estimate is on the books for the Braves to open the 2018 season. I will go further into what this means for what’s actually available to spend in Part 2 of this post. For now, I’ve spoken enough about salary figures and deferrals and non-guaranteed contracts for one day. Please digest this and wait patiently (ha!) for Part 2.

Cheers knuckleheads.

– Boggy

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It’s all about the BENJAMIN$, baby

Saturday, December 16, 2017 will go down in the annals of Braves history as the day that Alex Anthopoulos pulled off the first major trade of his tenure as the new GM of the Atlanta Braves. You can safely say it is his best trade to date and hopefully an indication of the creativity he promised to bring to the Braves front office when he was hired a little over a month ago.

The basics: The Braves traded Matt Kemp to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Charlie Culberson, and $4.5M cash. There’s a lot to digest here, so as I’m always bound to do, here’s a Boggy Breakdown:

***Note: the salary figures I use don’t match those that are widely reported elsewhere on Twitter and on the interwebs. Most of the figures you read will include the pro-rated amounts of players’ signing bonuses, which is what MLB does for the purpose of calculating luxury taxes on the highest-payroll teams in the league. I choose NOT to do this because I like to treat signing bonuses as real-time money paid up-front. After all, if a team promises a signing bonus of $5M to get a player to sign with them, he’s getting that money right away, not next year or the year after (unless you’re Dan Uggla but that’s a WHOLE ‘nother can of worms that I won’t open right now).

We’ll start with Matt Kemp. He’s probably the one player on the Braves roster that almost every single Braves fan with a pulse wanted to be traded this off-season – to clear his salary, to get his arthritic hips & bad hamstrings out of left field, and to make room for uber-prospect Ronald Acuña.

Kemp was owed $21.5M for the next 2 seasons (2018 & 2019) and the Dodgers took on all of that contract, every dime, $43M total. Here’s where someone might say “Wait a second Boggy, I thought the Padres & Dodgers were off-setting come of the cost of Matt Kemp’s contract from the first 2 times Kemp was traded?”

In my research, which is backed by Associated Press articles such as this one, the Padres are sending the Braves $2.5M annually from 2017-2019 as part of the trade that sent Matt Kemp to the Braves. Let’s not concern ourselves with what the Dodgers are sending the Padres because that’s their problem. In this case, the Braves get to keep the $2.5M per year for 2018 & 2019 from the Padres, because nowhere in this latest Matt Kemp trade does anything indicate that the Braves are sending money to the Dodgers, quite the opposite actually.

Now for the players the Braves received from the Dodgers. Adrian Gonzalez is in the final year of a 7-year, $154M contract he signed in 2012 as a member of the Boston Red Sox. That contract is paying him $21.5M for the 2018 season, which makes his contract a total wash with Kemp’s for the 2018 season. He was DFA’d immediately after the trade and will be released today because the CBA stipulates that players cannot be released on the weekends during the off-season – how nice of MLB to make sure their players don’t lose their jobs over the weekend. He was DFA’d in order to get the 40-man roster down to 40 players, which is where it currently stands.

Scott Kazmir is in the final year of a 3-year, $48M contract he signed with the Dodgers in 2016. That contract paid him a $5M signing bonus (paid the day after the contract was signed), an $11M salary for 2016, and $16M salaries each year for 2017 & 2018. Some of you may have read that some of Kazmir’s contract was deferred, and you are correct (here’s the link). $8M of his salary from each season is deferred to be paid in December of 2019-2021. This effectively lowers the total value of the contract for luxury tax purposes at the time of the signing. You may be wondering why the Braves would have taken on Kazmir’s contract if it meant paying him thru 2021 and here’s my response: they didn’t.

I believe that the Dodgers set-up an annuity of some sort to account for these deferred payments. There’s no way the Braves would have agreed to this trade if it meant they actually owed Kazmir $32M until 2021 and not just $16M for 2018. So, for the purposes of the Braves and their payroll calculations for the 2018 season and beyond, that’s their total obligation to Kazmir – $16M in 2018. (h/t to @jervass of @OFRSports for going through this with me to clear it up, you should follow him and the rest of the guys at Outfield Fly Rule – they do great work)

UPDATE: After more research into Kazmir’s deferred payments (and more consultation with @jervass), I’ve confirmed that the Braves are only responsible for Kazmir’s $16M but that they will pay it out as noted in the deferral: $8M in 2018 and $8M in 2021. Here’s an AP source that states it clearly. This will inevitably vary by news source over the course of this season and future seasons, but for the sake of doing the most accurate bookkeeping, the $16M should be realized when it’s paid – half in 2018, the other half in 2021.

Brandon McCarthy is in the final year of a 4-year, $48M contract he signed with the Dodgers in 2015. He received a $6M signing bonus (paid in 2015) and a salary of $11M per year for 2015 & 2016, and $10M per year for 2017 & 2018. Here’s a little piece of info you might not know: the Dodgers bought themselves some injury insurance as part of this trade – the team holds a conditional team option for the 2019 season for $5M if McCarthy spends more than 180 days on the DL quote: “as a result of an injury to his pitching shoulder related to stress fracture or a reaction injury” (more on that here) from 2015-2018. The option is worth $8M if he spends between 120-179 days on the DL during that time period. Now, I can’t tell you if this injury qualifies him for this option, but I can tell you he spent the entirety of the 2015 season on the DL and half of 2016 on the DL recovering from Tommy John surgery. All totaled, he’s spent 379 days on the disabled list since he signed that contract. I’m no expert or doctor, but my guess is that the Braves now hold a team option for $5M for the 2019 season on Brandon McCarthy.

UPDATE: After consulting with @TrueBlueLA and doing a little more digging into McCarthy’s original contract and injury history, I no longer believe the Braves hold a $5M team option for the 2019 season for McCarthy.

The conditional option was included in his contract because of previous shoulder problems he’d had, not elbow problems. The conditional option only applies for an injury to his pitching shoulder and none of his DL time since he signed his contract can be attributed to his pitching shoulder – it’s all for his pitching elbow (Tommy John surgery ’15-’16), “the yips” when he returned from his surgery and all of a sudden couldn’t find the strike zone again, and blisters on his pitching hand in 2017. Unless he spends most of the 2018 season on the DL with right shoulder problems, McCarthy will be a free agent after 2018 with no cheap team option.

The Braves also get utility infielder and Rome, GA native Charlie Culberson in this deal. Culberson is pre-arbitration eligible for the 2018 season so the Braves have 4 more years of control over an excellent defender at multiple positions including 2B, SS, 3B, & the outfield. He essentially replaces Jace Peterson. I’m obligated by my name alone to tell you the he is out of options. Since he’s pre-arbitration eligible, the amount he’ll make in 2018 is a non-factor in the evaluation of the finances of this trade, since leftover roster spots are filled with pre-arbitration players making league minimum (more on this later).

Lastly, the Dodgers are sending the Braves $4.5M as part of this trade, an amount that will apply to the 2018 season. This amount is simply to make the entirety of the trade a financial wash for both teams. Summary: Braves add Gonzalez $21.5M + Kazmir $16M + McCarthy $10M ($47.5M total) and subtract Kemp $43M and $4.5M ($47.5M total) for a net of $0 added for each team. You may be wondering why 2 teams would make a trade that nets neither team any financial obligation, and one team is taking on $21.5M extra for the 2018 season. This trade works great for both teams because it allows the Braves to clear future payroll in 2019 to spend on the great upcoming free agent class and it allows the Dodgers to get under the luxury tax threshold for 2018, which also allows them to potentially be able to spend on the 2019 free agent class.

Here’s the breakdown of how the Braves 2018 Opening Day payroll looks as of today:

Under contract: $69.8M (10 players, includes Brothers & Whitley’s minor-league guarantee)

Arbitration estimates: $8.4M (4 players, figures from MLB Trade Rumors)

Pre-arb players: $6M (11 players at $545k, league min)

Dead money: $22.3M (Gonzalez, Dickey buyout, Uggla deferred singing bonus, Rule 5 selection fee for Anyelo Gomez)

From others teams: $7M


Assuming a rough budget of $130M for the 2018 season, the Braves still have around $30.5M they can spend to shore up the bullpen, and/or improve at third base, the 2 places it is believed the Braves are still looking to improve this off-season.

Here’s where the Braves really came out looking like ballers & shot-callers in this trade: their financial obligation for the 2019 season is now a mere $37M. That’s it. All of it. Three guaranteed contracts (Freeman, Inciarte, & Teheran). That’s before arbitration raises but I won’t even begin to estimate those right now because so much can happen between now and next winter before determining who on the roster is or will be arbitration eligible. But if someone says to you “The Braves will have $100M to spend on the free agent class of 2019”, don’t correct them – they’re pretty close to right.

To finish this off, I say we raise our glasses to Alex Anthopoulos, who managed to pull off a trade that we all wanted but were afraid was impossible to accomplish, and he managed to add a veteran starting pitcher, and reliable bench bat and utility fielder with a great glove, and a wild card lefty who could be something, or could be nothing at all, depending on his return from injury. I imagine AA is dippin’ in the Benz with the spoilers right now.

– Boggy

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