Atlanta Braves Payroll: Creating Funds by Cutting Money

A lot was made about the payroll at the beginning of the 2019 season, and many fans felt shorted by the lack of big moves outside of Josh Donaldson. While I cannot argue with that train of thought too much as it was promised by the heads that payroll would increase, Anthopoulos wasn’t reactionary and took a good team into the season and, with numerous additions along the way that added to the payroll, built a team that won the division once again.

However, the goal wasn’t to win the division, rather to advance in the playoffs. This didn’t happen, and whether he will fill the numerous needs this offseason or during the season, Anthopoulos has got to be feeling some pressure to right the wrong of a lost opportunity.

Projecting the Payroll

As my good friend, Tommy Poe, discussed in his latest piece on Julio Teheran’s option, the Braves have carried roughly a 120 million dollar payroll into each of the past 2 seasons and have made additions to that number along the way in both years. While 120 million seems discouraging and I hope that the starting line is more than that, that’s where I’m going to lay the foundation to this piece.

120 million for Opening Day. Let’s get started.

Atlanta Braves Players Under Contractual Control

Freddie Freeman– 22.5MM
Mark Melancon– 14MM
Ender Inciarte– 7.7MM
Ozzie Albies– 1MM
Ronald Acuna Jr.– 1MM

Total for 5 Players: 46.2MM

Atlanta Braves Arbitration Eligible Players (Projections via MLBTradeRumors)

Shane Greene – $6.5MM
Mike Foltynewicz – $7.5MM
Charlie Culberson – $1.8MM
Adam Duvall – $3.8MM
Dansby Swanson – $3.3MM
Luke Jackson – $1.9MM
Grant Dayton – $800K
Johan Camargo – $1.6MM


Total: 27.2MM for 8 Players
Cumulative Total: 73.4MM for 13 players


Atlanta Braves Players w/ Options


Nick Markakis– 6MM option, 2MM buyout
Tyler Flowers– 6MM option, 2MM buyout
Julio Teheran– 11MM option, 1MM buyout
*Billy Hamilton– 7.5MM option, 1MM buyout
*It is assumed that Billy Hamilton will be bought out, therefore his 7.5 isn’t in this discussion, but his 1MM will be part of the total.

Total: 24MM for 3 players
Cumulative Total: 97.4MM for 16 players

Atlanta Braves Pre-Arb Players

Roughly 10 players at ~600K/player.

Total: 6MM
Cumulative Total: 103.4MM for 26 players

Breakdown: As you can see, it’s fairly easy to get discouraged when putting the money together as 120 million disappears faster than my children at cleanup time.

Assumed needs for the 2020 Atlanta Braves

  1. Catcher- Brian McCann has retired and Tyler Flowers is getting old. The Braves will need a catcher that can swing the bat and catch at least 100 games/season.
  2. 3rd Base- This is assuming that the Braves aren’t comfortable with letting Austin Riley and/or Johan Camargo take over at the beginning of 2020.
  3. Starting Pitcher: The Braves might not need a frontline starting pitcher, but they’re going to need someone that can slot in somewhere 1-3 and that’s going to cost.
  4. Relief Pitcher(s): There’s always a need for relief pitchers and I cannot fathom that all of Braves 2020 relievers are in-house right now.
  5. Outfielder/Bench player: Depending on the fate of Markakis and Ender, the Braves are either going to need bench help or a starting outfielder and my money is on a starting outfielder.

While I cannot imagine that all of these needs will be filled via free agency, we can assume that there are at least 3-4 players that aren’t currently in the organization will be when Opening Day comes along. That’s a lot of holes to fill with only 17MM assumed space. Let’s get to work.

Creating Funds by Cutting Money

  1. Trading Ender Inciarte– This makes the 3rd season in a row that I’ve traded Ender and I think I’ll finally get it right this year. As Rusty showed us in his piece on Acuna, he has been an above average CF but is likely only a placeholder for Cristian Pache (who will have to be added to the 40-man by 11/20), and that feels good enough to finally deal Ender. I think the problem in this thought is that Ender ended the season injured and if Anthopoulos decides to deal him this offseason, it’ll likely bring back minimal return.
  2. Pass on Julio Teheran– This may not seem wise, but Julio’s 11MM seems to be more valuable pooled together to grab a substantial piece rather than a mere solid, yet unspectacular one.
  3. Let Markakis walk- I get it. People like Markakis. They see him as a clubhouse leader. But let’s not paint over the fact that he’s 35 years old, been worth 7.4 bWAR/6.2 fWAR total in his 5 Braves seasons, and that is unacceptable from an everyday starter.

Total Money Saved: 22.7 MM

Money Available for 2020: 39.3MM

Now…about those holes.

Thanks for reading!

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Author: Ryan Cothran

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22 thoughts on “Atlanta Braves Payroll: Creating Funds by Cutting Money”

  1. With Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Christian Pache, Riley, and Camargo potentially providing either cheap starters or depth, I’m pretty much all in on declining all options, trading Ender, and not re-signing anyone other than Donaldson and shooting for simply elite players to fill our holes.

    That would even mean that I wouldn’t want someone like Michael Brantley was last offseason: a $16M/yr player that was a decent bet for a 3 WAR season. I’d rather consolidate the money into a $22-25M+/yr player for RF or the rotation. And you just don’t have the money to do that if you pick up all of these options and retain Ender.

    At this point, I doubt they’re satisfied with putting an innings eater like Teheran in the rotation. If you’re not willing to put them on the roster, let alone use them, then why pay them anything? I think the tone has definitely shifted to acquiring only players that help us win a World Series, not win a division.

  2. Thanks for putting this together, Ryan. I really hope they bump the payroll up some though. They’ve got to re-sign Donaldson. It’s not that I don’t trust giving Riley a shot at earning a starting spot. I’d just prefer it to be in the OF, and not in the middle of the order. If they’re trying to cobble together 4-6 in the order with Riley, Kakes and Duvall or Flowers… Yikes!

    If they go in at 120, do as you suggest, and have 39 million to play with, it’s going to be tough to do much in FA though. I’d guess hopefully re-up Donaldson, get a catcher, and maybe a RP?

  3. Don’t make the problem look worse than it is. Johan Camargo @ 1.6M is one of those embarrassing steals taking into account the way he played the position the last season he was injury free. Put him back at third and let Donaldson go and put $22 million in the bank. I enjoyed JD’s heroics as much as anyone this year but he was manifestly unable to adapt to post season pitching which as I understand from this article is what we must now set our sights on. Camargo, in his mid twenties, is real value. He has already proved he can play the position.

  4. Given the industry trend away from free agents and towards extending pre-arb players (and overvaluing prospects to a degree) I can see AA taking a wait and see attitude this off-season and then signing some impact talent late or even during/after spring training. Unfortunately, a lot of other astute front offices will share the same strategy.

    While our perpetual whingers will decry Liberty’s cheapness and swear off future posts here (please?!) I will boldly predict 2 things right now:
    1. Next year’s team will be better than this years, and
    2. The team payroll will be over $150 by the end of the season.

    The players I can foresee falling to us for less $/years than they want:
    1. Nick Castellanos — keeps our Nick fetish going. He will be looking for $80+M over 4 years but will likely need to settle for a 1 year prove it deal at about Brantly’s price. We need to keep Ender to cover for him inthe outfield but the bat is special.
    2. Zach Wheeler — another guy who will want a multi-year deal that nobodies medical staff will greenlight. I’m guessing 2 years/$40M gets it done.
    3. Yasmany Grandal — At his age I’m not comfy beyond 3 years but 3/$60 will likely get it done. He will be available because he burned a lot of bridges in last year’s negotiations and none of the other main contenders really need catching help.

    I honestly believe Anderson will take Julio’s spot and that some combination of Wheeler/Wright/Wilson/veteran stopgap will take the #5 rotation spot.

  5. @3

    You have to decide if Donaldson’s post season struggles were just a small sample size blip or if that’s his true value going forward. It’s tough to give up on a player that can slap up a 5+ WAR season at a position of need, unless you feel that he’s about to fall off a cliff.

    Carmago is a nice player, esp. for his salary, but he’s NEVER going to even tangentially mentioned in the MVP race, much less win one, as The Bringer of Rain was this past year and in 2015.

    I doubt the gNats will let Rendon reach free agency, but if they do, he’s the one player I would break the piggy bank for. I mean, a top four of Acuna Jr., Ozzie, FabFiveFreddie, and Rendon would be even better than last season’s version.

  6. I kind of agree on declining all options other than Flowers.

    I COULD think the Kakes option makes sense, but I would be mad about that UNLESS there is an announcement joined in by Snitker and Kakes saying he will not start against lefthanders to allow the platoon advantage and get rest. Without that being on the record, bringing him back is detrimental.

    A Joyce / Duvall platoon in right would exceed Kakes alone.

    Until he shows himself healthy in spring training, you probably can’t move Ender, even for pure salary relief. I do think Pache’s offense and defense combined for a whole season would exceed a fairly healthy Ender. I will concede to the internal scouting system possibly realizing Pache’s hitting is a little more suspect than I would suspect.

    Waters and Riley are good back up plans at mid season if a Duvall / Joyce platoon isn’t getting it done.

    At catcher it looks like Wilwaukee has a pure club option with no buyout at 20 mill. Maybe they trade the option for a lottery ticket? Grandal and Flowers in a fairly strict platoon would work pretty well (Flowers down year against lefties almost has to be an anomaly based on his career numbers).

    We need Opening Day Payroll to go to 140 with authorization to add 10 in season. That leaves enough to get 2 “WAR consolidators” and 2 more “helpers” (like relief pitchers or Matt Joyce or whatever). What you say there, McGuirk?

  7. My crystal ball cracked, and I no longer channel AA. I have my druthers but no insights to offer. Anything I put forth can be shoveled out of any cow lot.

    Go Braves.

  8. I’m not going to bombard this site with trade proposals, but I am going to put one out soon, and look at some guys that I think the Braves will target. I don’t think the Braves, under AA, will ever sign a pitcher to a lengthy contract, rather he’d trade for an expiring contract or look for a cost-controlled pitcher that he could empty out some prospect stock. I think he’ll go the latter route one way or the other this offseason.

  9. @3 Camargo’s a fine utility player, but I’ll never be convinced he’s suited as a FT 3B on anything other than a rebuilding club. They need Donaldson, or else the first round exits won’t be an issue next season, because they’ll be sitting in 3rd or 4th place come the end of 162.

  10. @ 11,

    But if you can’t trade Ender, can you afford to get Castellanos in light of possible DH in NL starting 2021? An interesting thing to ponder.

  11. I keep forgetting to include Flowers as an option-declining exclusion. I think it’s both smart and a foregone conclusion that his option will be picked up. And I continue to think that, especially after Realmuto, we ought not try to land an elite catcher considering Flowers being a perfectly cromulent member of a tandem (better than a backup, worse than a full-timer) and Langeliers and Contreras getting closer.

    Ender, IMO, is very tradeable. So not only can you free up payroll setting up another deal, but he can probably bring you back a piece that’s more in line with what the team needs. I think it’s just a matter of whether or not you want a $6M centerfielder who’s still giving you very good defense in CF, or do you want to put that towards getting another elite player.

    There are just so many options. If not to us, Ender, Camargo, and Riley all have value to other teams. And at first I didn’t believe it, but I agree now with those who have said it that you could always decline Markakis’ option and probably bring him back for 1YR/$2M and save a couple million there.

  12. I told everybody including AA to let Julio go and keep Sanchez, but I will admit that I didn’t want the “Rainmaker” so I guess we evened up on that. Time for Anderson to give it a try and Pache, let Jackson go, Markakis and Greene didn’t impress me to much, bring in Gradel and let Flowers go and keep the Italian catcher, that’s all for now

  13. Ender has very limited trade value coming off an injury-riddled season. The Braves would almost certainly have to eat a sizable portion of his contract to move him. I don’t see that happening.

  14. My team-building philosophy is pretty simple – every non-pitcher on the team has to be able to hit. That eliminates Ender and Markakis automatically. Might eliminate Pache as well – only time will tell there.

    If we don’t sign JD we have 3 offensive holes to fill. That won’t leave much room for TOR starters. Set expectations low and hope for a pleasant surprise – that’s the only way to be an Atlanta sports fan.

  15. I can’t believe people don’t read what was said – perhaps the introduction of a third component is too much for them.

    Camargo plus $20 million saved for Donaldson.

  16. @17 I also can’t believe there are Braves fans who would be content with Riley and Pache as opening day starters, but that’s the world we live in!

    @18 I got you. I might not be in favor of your suggestion, but it could be a better way to go if they signed elite talent at other positions.

    My take on the off-season is that there is some generational talent on the market that this team could really benefit from. It would be the right move to gamble on it. I believe there’s room to retain JD and sign a TOR starter. This team can either plateau as a good to very good team or we can cast our lot at becoming next decade’s dynasty.

  17. 19 – I’d be okay with

    Acuna
    Albies
    Freeman
    Donaldson
    Grandal
    Riley (RF)
    Swanson
    Pache
    Cole

    That’s a nice opening day lineup. Assumes Ender and Julio are gone to make the money work.

    I would also be fine with

    Acuna
    Betts
    Freeman
    Albies
    Grandal
    Riley (3B)
    Swanson
    Pache
    Soroka

  18. Picking up Teheran’s option is a better idea than giving him $2m and walking away. He provides a typical fifth starter line, a 500 pitcher who throws 170-200 innings a year and is relatively inexpensive. None of the young arms will give you those innings.
    Pick him up and shop him if you want to move the money, a lot of teams will take those innings at his salary and give something useful in return.
    Pache and Waters are not ready to start. Suggestions that the Braves revert to Camargo at third and use one of those outfielders on an everyday basis indicate a willingness to accept third place.
    Acuna is better in right field than center. Seeing his nail runners from deep right means no one goes first to third on his arm without thinking twice. That means to trade Ender the return has to be a comparable defender. Such a player is possible of coure, but would probably cost more.

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