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:
- Freddie Freeman – $21M
- Nick Markakis – $10.5M
- Brandon McCarthy – $10M
- Scott Kazmir – $8M2
- Julio Teheran – $8M
- Ender Inciarte – $4M
- Tyler Flowers – $4M
- Kurt Suzuki – $3.5M
- Arodys Vizcaino – $3.4M
- Mike Foltynewicz – $2.2M
- Sam Freeman – $1.075M
- Dan Winkler – $0.61M
- Peter Moylan – $0.575M3
- Rex Brothers – $0.45M4
- Chase Whitley – $0.35M4
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)
One more note on Uggla: #Braves owe him $250K per year for four years after next season. Deferred signing bonus. Will pay him through 2019.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 19, 2014
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:
TOTAL EXPENDED: $106.005M
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.