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?