As we kick off the fourth installment of this series, here are links to the previous team payroll projections:
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Angels
If you have questions about financial information made available to the public and the assumptions used in this series, please refer to the Phillies piece linked above.
Today, we’re heading back to the National League East to examine the payroll situation of a burgeoning juggernaut: the Atlanta Braves.
While most baseball franchises are now owned by families or groups of them, the Braves have been owned by corporate entities since 1996. Time Warner purchased the club, along with TBS, from Ted Turner and Turner Broadcasting in 1996, then sold the club in 2007 to Liberty Media Corp., the current owner, as part of a convoluted transaction involving billions of dollars worth of assets. The human face of ownership is that of chairman Terry McGuirk, a lifer at Time Warner.
The baseball operations department is headed by executive vice president and chairman Alex Anthopoulos. After serving as general manager of the Blue Jays from 2010-15, Anthopoulos turned down a five-year extension from the club to remain in his current role, instead spending two years as a vice president with the Dodgers. The arrival of new president Mark Shapiro reportedly played a significant role in his decision to leave Toronto. In the end, Anthopoulos found his way to a superior situation, taking over the Braves front office just over one year ago and inheriting a loaded farm system outside of the rigors of the wildly competitive American League East.
Before hitting the numbers, please recall that we use data from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, we’ll use average annual value (“AAV”) on historical deals but actual cash for 2019 and beyond, and deferrals will be reflected where appropriate. And, of course, the value of examining historical payrolls is twofold: they show us either what type of payroll a team’s market can support or how significantly a given ownership group is willing to spend. In the most useful cases, they show us both. We’ll focus on a 15-year span for the Braves, covering 2005-18 for historical data as a means to understanding year 15: 2019. We’ll also use Opening Day payrolls as those better approximate expected spending by ownership.
Using this time frame for the Braves captures the end of Turner’s ownership period, a spending downfall from the peak of $106.2 million in 2003. Braves spending was remarkably consistent from 2005-16 before a notable jump in 2017. Here is what the Braves have spent in the prior 14 seasons:
After spending like a top-10 club for much of Turner’s ownership, the Braves have spent like a mid-market team throughout Liberty’s ownership, never ranking higher than 13th or lower than 22nd in end-of-season payroll.
Atlanta’s spending hasn’t been limited to Major League talent by any stretch. In fact, their penchant for swimming in the international amateur market got them into deep trouble and helped propel Anthopoulos to the general manager’s job. The Braves infamously split the signing bonuses paid to top amateurs between the the elite prospects and lesser “foreign professionals” for whom bonuses were exempt from international signing restrictions. This enabled the team to funnel additional money to top amateurs without being forced to incur stringent tax liabilities. Unfortunately for the club, when their deceit was uncovered by Major League Baseball, it resulted in the exodus of many top amateurs, including elite target Kevin Maitan, and much of the club’s leadership, including president John Hart and general manager John Coppolella. The Braves will be significantly restricted from signing expensive international amateurs in the next two summers, so they’ll paradoxically have more cash available for spending on Major League talent should they choose to allocate the unspent funds in that way.
The Braves have truly remarkably little on the books in terms of long-term commitments. Organizational stalwart Freddie Freeman has three years remaining on his deal and defensive wizard Ender Inciarte has three years plus an inexpensive club option for a fourth. That’s it for guaranteed money beyond 2019…at least, that’s it for current players. Here is a look at their future guarantees with the peach highlight indicative of 2020 club options for Julio Teheran and Tyler Flowers. Note that the numbers shown on here are cash payments by year, not the salary plus the prorated amount of any bonus. The AAV column captures the player’s luxury tax number.
The top portion of this chart is relatively straightforward: the Braves have long-term commitments for Freeman and Inciarte and one-year commitments for Teheran, O’Day, and Flowers, unless they want more for Teheran or Flowers via the options.
The bottom portion? The bottom portion carries the intrigue. We’ll start with O’Day, the simpler case study. When the Braves acquired starter Kevin Gausman at the trade deadline, they also agreed to absorb the remaining contract for injured reliever Darren O’Day as a means of limiting the talent package they sent to Baltimore (this should make Braves fans happy and Orioles fans sad). O’Day’s contract called for $1 million each year from 2016-19 to be deferred, payable in equal installments from 2020-23. Perhaps as a sign of how desperate the Orioles were to move payroll, the Braves agreed to absorb the deferred obligations owed to O’Day, even those incurred from money deferred in earlier seasons. As a result, the Braves owe O’Day $1 million for each year of O’Day’s contract, including the time he spent in Baltimore in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Sutter is an entirely different matter. The Braves signed Sutter to a six-year, $9.1 million deal prior to the 1985 season when Sutter was coming off of a top-10 finish in Most Valuable Player voting having just completed a return to star status after a couple of rocky seasons. With Atlanta, Sutter produced a whopping 0 WAR while sputtering out after three seasons. However, that’s not the source of intrigue. That comes from the extremely unique structure of Sutter’s contract which called for minimal annual payments and massive deferrals, paying Sutter $1.12 million per year for 30 years after he retired. Mercifully for the Braves, Sutter will collect his final annual payment in 2021. Unmercifully for the Braves, Sutter collects the entire $9.1 million principal that year as well. His $10.22 million payment in 2021 may very well rival Mike Foltynewicz for the second largest payout on the team. If the Braves already have Sutter’s balloon payment tucked away and ready for payment in 2021, this is merely a goofy historical anecdote. If, however, the Braves need to come up with the balloon payment, it may have a meaningful impact on the 2021 roster and the team’s willingness to commit future dollars this offseason.
With Sutter out of the way, let’s move to the arbitration projections. Outfielder Adam Duvall and reliever Sam Freeman both appear to be non-tender candidates, but for now, both are included below (salary projections by MLBTR and Matt Swartz):
Gausman, Foltynewicz, and Vizcaino all figure to occupy significant chunks of payroll, but all three pitchers are important to the 2019 Braves, so they provide nice value to the contending team.
What Does Team Leadership Have to Say?
Anthopoulos was surprisingly forthcoming when discussing Atlanta’s spending plans, telling reporters, “We will have a good amount of money to work with.” This likely doesn’t surprise anyone. The Braves have been a picture of consistency with their spending over the past decade, so it would be stunning to see payroll plummet or explode this offseason.
However, the color that Anthopoulos added to his basic comment provides significantly greater insight: “We’re not going to just walk in the store and buy because we have money in our pockets. If we don’t find the right deal with something we like, there’s still other opportunities to shop. There could be opportunities next season. If you start signing guys to big, long deals, if you feel good about the deal, you do it now. I wouldn’t force a deal right now that would limit you in years from now. I don’t think with our club, with what we have, that the value is going to be there in the free-agent market. It doesn’t mean it won’t. We’ll certainly explore it. But if I could sit here in the middle of October, I’d say it’s more likely we go the trade route. It’s not ideal to give up young assets, but it’s also not ideal to do a deal you don’t believe in — that may look good for a year or two, and then in years three, four and five, it does not.”
Are the Braves a Player for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?
It’s entirely possible that some of the above was merely posturing on the part of Anthopoulos as the Braves prepare a foray into the depths of free agency. But given the club’s hesitance to spend at top-of-the-market rates in the past, I would expect that Atlanta’s free agent targets won’t reach the Harper/Machado tier.
However, that said, Atlanta’s salary flexibility and ludicrous hoard of prospect arms ready to fill the Major League rotation for the next half decade or longer mean that the Braves can afford to take a massive swing and miss without crippling the franchise for years. So few teams have such a luxury. As a result, they should be considered a sneaky contender to spend big dollars, especially for Harper as the Braves would likely love to put him in the outfield with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Inciarte. Machado makes a bit less sense given the presence of Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and well-rounded top prospect Austin Riley, but the money is there. There’s just a chasm of disconnect between the figures on paper and the words of the general manager.
What Will the 2019 Payroll Be?
The standard disclaimer: ownership and management knows the actual budget whereas we’re focusing on historical data and other relevant factors to project future spending in the immediate and more distant years to come.
The Braves’ payroll has been quite consistent over the years, and given their historical trajectory and current revenue streams, I’d expect for them to at least comfortably plod along with methodical increases. That might mean something like $130 million in 2019.
However, last year’s club blew open the competitive window. As a result, I foresee a slightly larger increase this year than expected. As a result, they’re likely going to make a significant expensive addition or two. A reunion with Craig Kimbrel makes an awful lot of sense.
Projected 2019 Payroll: $135 million
Projected 2019 Payroll Space: $50.6 million
So long as we get a couple shut down relievers, I will ultimately be happy. I would love Harper, but we can find others to fill the holes if needed. Shutdown pitching is my biggest desire
See: Will Smith. 2.55 ERA, 71 Ks in 55 innings, 0.98 WHIP, 14 saves. He’s an all around package, tough on both lefties and righties. Giants would love a pitching prospect in return…
I would love Will Smith. I actually played against him often in high school. Hated him cause he was so good then also. Lol
He was also proficient in chillin’ out maxin’ relaxin’ all cool.
I agree, I do think we need a rh power bat to mix in there with Freddie. Possibly Realmuto or maybe Grandal being a SH. I think bringing back Markakis or signing Brantley to a couple year deal will work out also I don’t think we will shell out for Harper on anything past 5 years. Especially when they never did anything like that for someone like Chipper
Different era when it comes to salaries, even just a few years ago the $$ wasn’t this large. Chipper was a lifer, and made it known he wanted to be – he never made it to FA for another team to drive the price up.
Marlins say they won’t trade Realmuto within the division
Yea I think we need a RF and true every day catcher also. But I’m ok with bringing up guys from the minors and seeing how they do if that means we get a couple shutdown arms. Their are just so many on the market and it’s rare to have pickings like this. I wouldn’t mind trying Swanson in the OF or even carmargo, move up Riley, and platoon flowers with say Alex Jackson for this season. Although we all know Jackson isn’t ready for the show, so grabbing grandal would be perfect or even trading a couple of prospects to get a catcher works for me also.
Folty for Kluber would be a good start.
Between the prospect capital and the possibility of an increase in payroll I’m hoping for a good off season for Atlanta as they prepare for 2019.
Dark horses to spend. New stadium, young nucleus, etc
If not now, then when? Future looks bright. Good luck!
They have trouble keeping up interest down there. The Atlanta area is an NFL and College Football hotbed. The demographics of Atlanta have drastically changed over the last 25 years to being a predominantly African American population, and they’ve lost significant interest in the sport.
Exactly why they moved the stadium, made it smaller, and put it around things to draw fans attention before/after the game. It’s a nice park, in a great area for fan retention. So long as they don’t piss off the locals, they’ll do just fine there.
How is that gonna draw the African American interest like he posted, plus there’s none nation wide?
Three stadiums in 25 years. What a waste…
Not sure where you’re getting the 25 years from. They came to Atlanta in 1966 when they were in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium until 1997 and Turner Field. So, actually three stadiums in 53 years? I’d say not a waste.
I assume you don’t live anywhere near Atlanta and have no clue what you’re talking about.
The Braves were 22nd in attendance in 2016 at Turner Field. After moving to Suntrust Park the Braves were 12th in attendance in 2017 and 11th in 2018. From 2017 to 2018 attendance increased by 50k people. If the Braves continue to improve and put a good product on the field, I guarantee they will keep climbing the attendance ranks.
Will Smith to the Braves please… get it done Farhan we need an impact pitching prospect. Allard could work…
Allard straight up for Smith? I would be ok with that trade!
Assuming Atlanta pays for Smith and adds in a couple of depth prospects then I don’t see why it wouldn’t be fair. Giants can develop pitching pretty well and Allard has no. 2 starter potential.
That’s not what “straight up” means.
Quote me saying it was going to be straight up. I’ll wait.
you literally responded to someone saying “Straight up” and suggested that was the case assuming the add-ons, if you assume add-on’s it is no longer straight up.
Yeah, because assuming that there were depth prospects added in I would consider it fair. I wouldn’t do Smith for Allard straight up, and I never stated I agreed with the person I was responding to. Also 1 on 1 trades are extremely rare nowadays, there are almost always depth prospects added in when it comes for trading prospects for players.
I like the argument of a trade not happening because 1 for 1 trades are rare. Like that has any bearing. “Oh no guys we can’t do straight up, that doesn’t happen any more, let’s add pieces.”
You realize they are rare for a reason? Rarely ever is one player equal to another in value, which usually means there are depth pieces added in to equal it. A proven setup man/closer like Smith is not equivalent to an unknown SP like Allard who has declined in prospect ratings, and had a huge spike in walks and showed to lose command. I’m not saying there will be top prospects added, but maybe some guys with “bench player” potential that are stuck up in advanced A and will probably be picked up in rule 5 anyway.
I didn’t mention anything about Allard or Smith, just that it’s ridiculous to say a one for one trade won’t happen because it’s rare.
I know I am dreaming but lets use all this trade capital we hear about to overpay for Mike Trout and sign him to an extension. Dont want Harper or Machado, wanna see Trout in a Braves jersey
Only if the trade is contingent on the extension! Trout would likely want to test free agency so that would be a very bad idea to trade for him and then hope he resigns!
Why? CF is covered for Atlanta. Trout, while great, is not what Atlanta needs. You could make the case that Atlanta needs Harper more than Trout.
Trout is what every team needs
Not for the cost, for Atlanta. Corner power hitter is more needed. I’d love to see Trout in Center, but it doesn’t make business sense.
Trout alone isn’t going to bring a ring, otherwise, the Angles would be better than they have been and won something with him there.
If Trout goes anywhere it will be to the Phillies, I like Brantley, Donaldson, and Kimbrel to the Braves. One thing for sure, they will not win the division unless they continue to upgrade. The Nats, Mets, and Phillies will be better next season and they will upgrade.
Donaldson? No (where’s he gonna play, 3b is Camargo’s)
Kimbrel? Only for a hometown discount
Can we add a trade for Kluber or Syndergaard in there? That would round out things nicely.
Gonna take more than Smith to get Allard But I wouldn’t mind some sort of package maybe Smith & Strickland for Allard & Biddle
I think Allard is on the outside looking in on the depth chart…If the Braves could get a solid RP like Smith for just Allard they should do it. Filling the holes in the bullpen and be able to hold onto Touissaint, Wright, Anderson, and maybe even Soroka would be huge!
Smith isn’t a rental, controllable through 2020 at a fairly reasonable price and he’s coming off 2 great years (2016, 2018) it’s quite remarkable what he did considering he was sidelined for all of 2017.
Actually Smith is a rental..He is a free agent after 2019
Also trust me, you don’t want Strickland. He blew a 3 run save against the marlins and punched a door after being booed by fans off the field and injured himself for 3 months. I think the giants should just move on from him, though he is talented.
ripping and tearing
Please bring Harper, Kluber, & Kimbrel to Atlanta.
ask Santa is your best hope
ripping and tearing
I did, but he told me he was a Dodgers fan.
Sign Harper to 400mill 15 years. Front load the contract so when all these young guys get to there big pay years in 5 or so years still have money to pay them.
ripping and tearing
I like it
Greinke and Bradly from the D-Backs and Hedges and Renfroe from the Padres sounds like a good offseason to me.
What are you giving up for all those pieces? Yeah having those guys sound nice, but what are the Braves giving up? That will determine if it a good offseason or not.
Teheran or Riley and lower prospects to Padres, Allard or Wilson and lower prospects to Arizona. I’d let AA fill in the blanks. I only know what I want back.
Why on earth does everyone want to trade Riley to get a pitcher
Sounds like s good offseason to me
Wait til the trade deadline to assess if a starter is truly necessary
I think I would rather have Reyes then Renfroe personally.
So would i but I think they’re less likely to move Reyes
I would not want either, their both below average mlb player.
The better the player we get, the more/better prospects we give up to get them. Pick your poison.
What are the Braves willing to part with for Renfroe and Stammen?
Padres are looking for ML ready pitchers/ 3rd basemen.
I’d be just fine centering something around Gohara
Would be happy to throw in Teheran as well and it seems like the Padres are looking to add a starter that can come in immediately to fill the back end of the rotation
Teheran can definitely provide that and is better than Mike Leake who the Padres are in talks with at the moment
Outside of that I might include someone like Demeritte but nothing major
Teheran,Demeritte,& Ruiz for Renfroe & Hedges.
I don’t think the Padres would be willing to part with Hedges for that
Sign Brantley, Ramos, Ottavino, trade for Greinke. In 2 years sell the barn to get Trout as a FA.
Greinke & $$$$ for Allard
Domingo Santana for Teheran
Leclerc & Desheilds for Gohara
Sign David Robertson
Sign Adam Warren
Sign Harper and Kimbrel and just let the young pitchers develop or wait tell trade dead line and use couple to get a starter. There’s plenty of good cheep catchers out there to pair with flowers
Cirvelli at catcher
Teheran, Allard and Davidson for Salvador perez?
I would like Perez but from everything I been hearing he will not be made available.
Why not? Royals are trash, should be looking to move the few trade assets they have.
Get Buster Posey, Mitch Haniger, Josh Donaldson, Kelvin Herrera, and either Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler. Three trades and two low commitment free agents. Trade Teheran, O’Day, Allred, Soroka, Gohara, Fried and Vizcaino.
Posey is a legacy guy so I don’t think he gets traded. People in SF would lose it.
Allard, Wilson, & Duvall for Sonny Gray & Clint Frazier.
Pax n gardy for acuna
No way should Soroka be traded.. he will be a solid 2/3 guy that eats innings. Braves should trade for Madbum (then sign him) or Greinke, sign Grandel, McCutchen and Brantley. They could trade for a reliever if needed but they have some guys that could fill out that role.
Sorry McCutchen Or Brantley.. not both
Man, that SUtter contract is incredible….I had no idea at all. Good for him and whatever savvy agent put that together 33 years ago.
exactly. all these year, we’ve been celebrating bobby bonilla day, turns out, we needed to be celebrating bruce sutter day as well
I think I forgot to ask about if this will become viewable to app users! If the charts and graphs could be shown here, that would be great!
AA at one time did not believe in longterm contracts beyond 5-years. If the top guys are looking for 10+ I don’t see the Braves in on them unless ownership pushes for it.
Terry McGuirk in team leadership is not accurately described as a “Time Warner lifer” because he was with Ted Turner long before Turner Broadcasting was acquired by TW.
As a Turner era holdover he loves the Braves and has been a strong, responsible advocate for team building to the Braves’ publicly held corporate owners.
Wonder what it would cost the braves to get Haniger, Diaz and Leake from the Mariners?
Kluber in a deal that includes Folty. Greinke in a deal where the Braves absorb a lot of money to cut down on the price. Donaldson for 3B on a 1 year deal. And some RP on 1 or 2 year deals. Touki and Gohara would also look great in the bullpen.
Kinda odd that even in the recent braves bad years their payroll was up near $100mil, lowest at $86 mil but they lost money in declining attendance and had to put up money for the suntrust park.
More importantly though, the braves obligations to Matt kemp, Adrian Gonzales and the dodgers pitcher whom the braves acquired last year are coming off the books and that’s newly $30 mil, I think.
Idk why everyone thinks Braves need third base man. Camargo did fine plus have Riley waiting. Why not go big get Harper and Kimbrel. Sign McCann or Lucroy to pair with flowers and then just wait tell trade dead line see if we need to add a starter.
Pretty good lineup to me.
Kimbrel Vizcaino minter sobatkathrough gohara in the pin.
Folty gausmen Tehran Newcobm then since you still have all the young arms can pick any one for your fifth starter
That does’nt sound bad to me. Maybe get a Cleveland starter and Gomes to catch or sign Avila to catch.
The ease with which Robb Huff used “putrid” to marginalize the work of Miguel Andujar is typical of writers who never played the game repeating what they heard or think that they know.
Certainly, Andujar’s defence needs improving BUT he is compared beneath a cultural microscope that examines some and gives others deemed “gritty ballers” like Todd Frazier or Chase Headley a pass for similar liabilities. (numbers)
I heard the same bias before with both Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada deemed “flawed” as they were becoming based upon culture rather than merit.
Sadly, it’s what the Yankees feed the media and fans drive-by as if fact.
The Red Sox have a similar “liability” at 3rd. in Rafael Devers and it will be fascinating to see who gets to become and who gets traded for the next “gritty baller”.
Is the $10,220,000 correct for Sutter in 2021?