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?

8 thoughts on “Show Me The Money! Part 2/2

  • March 1, 2018 at 8:34 am
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    Too many fans desire instant gratification. Patience is what is needed. I watched the Braves teams in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Most of those teams were terrible, but the 1990’s and beyond made up for it. Baseball, to me, is a beautiful game that I enjoy, win or lose. Yeah, it’s more fun if you win, but that isn’t always going to happen. In baseball, as in life, you have to take the good with the bad. I’ll take bad baseball over no baseball. Just remember what Mother’s taught fifty years ago: “Patience is a virtue! Good things come to those that wait.” I’ll wait.

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    • March 1, 2018 at 9:49 am
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      Thanks for reading, Bob. I agree. Losing stinks but the light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger and brighter by the day. To push the accelerator and force the train out into the light right now would be a mistake. Sometimes in baseball, the moves you DON’T make are the best moves.

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  • March 2, 2018 at 8:33 am
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    A reasonably smart FO can accomplish both. The signings of the three old pitchers to one year contracts last year is such an example. They were short commitments, made the team better, and allowed for development of prospects while also attempting to put some wins on the board. Maybe Moustakas is not the answer but there are answers out there. Signing Neil Walker to a 1-2 year contract provides both improved performance this year and backup for failures next year. And he doesn’t come with the draft pick penalty. They should have signed Carlos Gomez or Corey Dickerson for the same reason – extremely cheap power and good defense. The perfect bridge to Acuna and then a platoon partner for Markakis (or replacement for a traded Markakis). All this logic is terrible, indefensible. A smart FO would improve the team this year without damaging the future. I have seen nothing to tell me that AA is competent. He used old friends to dump the Kemp contract and brought in a bunch of refuse from the Dodgers (Ravin, Whitley, Dayton) and has done nothing else. I am hoping that he will show something before the end of March but I’m losing hope.

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    • March 2, 2018 at 8:52 am
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      How in the hell did Bartolo Colon make the Atlanta Braves better last year?

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    • March 2, 2018 at 10:38 am
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      I have to respectfully disagree that the short-term deals made in 2017 (Colon, Dickey, Rodriguez, Garcia, Phillips, Motte, EOF) made the team better. Those 7 combined for 2.5 bWAR and cost the Braves $34M. Not exactly a good investment.

      Signing Neil Walker wouldn’t be a bad idea. But what’s it gonna cost? He made $17.2M in 2017 so he’s probably looking for 8 figures, and as noted in my articles, the Braves don’t have that. Also, in signing Walker, the Braves cannot find out what they actually have in Johan Camargo and/or Rio Ruiz. Neither of them have enough MLB experience to judge their value to the team. What if Camargo IS Martin Prado 2.0? The Braves wouldn’t know if the sign Walker. And if he’s not, then what’s the harm? 1 or 2 more losses in 2018 and a savings of $10M+.

      Gomez or Dickerson would have been nice additions, but would have required moving Markakis. Look at the outfield market this winter. There’s been little to no movement of outfielders at all, unless you’re the Florida Marlins and that’s a bit of a special situation b/c they’re lunatics and fire-selling everyone. And you’re not gonna platoon Markakis – I’d like to see you head into that clubhouse and tell a 12-yr veteran right-fielder, the silent veteran leader of the team, that he’s now a platoon player. It wouldn’t go over well and could ultimately end up creating problems with convincing future free agents to come to Atlanta.

      The Kemp trade was a good one and will make the Braves significant players in the 2018 free agent market, which has been established is far better than the 2017 market. It sucks to hear it, but 2018 will be year of development, not a year of contention, unless something magical happens and a lot of things go perfectly right.

      I get that it’s frustrating for many fans that AA didn’t come in and just wipe the board with move after move to make the Braves a different team. But I think we fans can rest assured that for 2018, we’ll at least get to see the fruits of the re-build labor with the young players and pitchers that we’ve heard all about over the last few years. I, for one, am excited to watch them develop, to see where the Braves will develop strengths (will it be the rotation? the middle infield? the bullpen?) and then to speculate how they will address the weaknesses throughout the year and next winter.

      Cheers, Roger & thanks for reading.

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      • March 3, 2018 at 2:16 am
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        Guys, you can’t take all of that together. You bring in a reasonable set of short term alternatives and keep what works and jettison what doesn’t. You can reasonably argue that Bonifacio and EOF and relying on JJ to close were all just plain stupid, but Garcia, Dickey, and Phillips all made the team considerably better. When you bring in Colon, Garcia, and Dickey and two of the three succeed then you have done your job well. And they brought in Adams as soon as Freddie was injured – for almost nothing. Those were all moves made in an attempt to put a decent product on the field when it was obvious the future was not ready. And the Braves were .500 a week before the trade deadline even with Freddie injured. Trading Garcia put a stake in the heart of the team. After that the bullpen imploded and the team likely gave up. Even adding Gohara, Minter, and Winkler couldn’t save the pitching staff at that point. Snitker used the relievers all wrong. I don’t care what the statistics say about Brandon. What I saw was that whenever Phillips batted second, the Braves offense was dynamic even before Albies came up. He was not the same player and the Braves were not the same offense when Phillips wasn’t batting second.

        Neil Walker will not cost $17.2M – no one will pay him that. You cannot have too much talent. Camargo’s ideal role is as super UTIL not to mention that he can play LF too. If Markakis cannot produce 2.0 fWAR then he must be either benched, traded, or released. You sacrifice nothing in terms of evaluating Swanson, Albies, or Camargo by bringing in Walker. There’s plenty of ABs to go around. If Walker can fill the hole at 3B maybe Camargo can help in LF. I don’t think Walker will get more than $12.7M. Carlos Gomez signed for 1/4; Dickerson would have costed $6.5M this year and was controllable for another two. You want cheaper performance – there it was and would have filled a particular hole in the Braves offense, namely the lack of power. Look at the Wieters contract. He accepted a QO at $15M and then turned around and accepted 2/20 the next year. Walker would gladly take 2/20 right now. Do you think that we will go all of 2018 without a major injury among the infielders? Last year, we had two (Freeman and Camargo) and we had no one to backfill either (had to trade for Adams and bring Swanson back up instead of letting him develop further at AAA). At least Walker spent time playing 1B last year as well as 3B.

        If last year wasn’t the obvious year to seriously compete then this year is certainly better than that. I would argue that none of the best FAs next year would sign with the Braves unless they put up a good show this year. The Braves went to the WS twice before Maddux signed on. This is the first year that the Braves have not brought in a significant FA to help the team. Not biting on either Gomez or Dickerson was criminal or at least incompetent. They should have brought in a decent reliever to stabilize the bullpen. None of these moves would compromise the ability to develop and evaluate talent or prep for next years situation. Not signing Moustakas or Walker would signal that they don’t care enough about the product on the field to encourage anyone to buy tickets. Didn’t AA just declare that this year is all about the ML team’s performance on the field?

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  • March 2, 2018 at 2:14 pm
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    There have not been any more in-depth reports on the state of the Braves that I have anywhere. I might be accused of I little bias though.

    TBD56

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  • March 2, 2018 at 3:40 pm
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    Here’s an in-depth report on the state of the Braves – According to every MLB prospect site they have at least the top-2 farm system in all of baseball.

    Reply

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