The Atlanta Braves are trying to chase down the rival New York Mets for the NL East crown. They’re in a dogfight with the talented San Diego Padres and surging Philadelphia Phillies for playoff positioning, with the Brewers nipping at everyone’s heels. Young talent is cropping up all over the field for the Braves.
So that means there’s only one thing I should be thinking about: Next season.
Yes, it’s a sickness, and I can’t explain it. About this time every year, something happens, and I’m prompted to think about the following season’s payroll and what could be available for additions.
As the Braves have become further removed from the rebuilding years, these numbers become more concrete. In fact, we either know or could easily guess the salaries for 21 or so of the 26 roster spots for next season.
That includes the following known salaries:
- Travis d’Arnaud – $8M
- Matt Olson – $21M
- Ozzie Albies – $7M
- Austin Riley – $15M
- Ronald Acuña Jr. – $17M
- Eddie Rosario – $9M
- Raisel Iglesias – $16M
- Collin McHugh – $5M
- Kirby Yates – $6M
- Orlando Arcia – $1.3M
- Manny Piña – $4.5M
Now, there are also several pre-arb guys – William Contreras, Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright, Dylan Lee and Jackson Stephens – who I assume will have roles on Opening Day next Year. They total about $4.2M, and we can also add in Jake Odorizzi’s $6.5M player option, most likely. Further I’m guessing about $10M for Max Fried in arbitration, $3M for A.J. Minter and $2.5M for Tyler Matzek.
If my math is correct, that has the team at $136M just off those players.
That also assumes a couple pretty big things. The first is that the Braves don’t pick up Charlie Morton’s $20M option. Now, Morton is having his worst ERA and WHIP seasons in six or seven years, so either the Braves not picking up his option or Charlie choosing to retire seem to be likely outcomes. But if he wants to play, I also don’t think we can entirely rule out the Braves picking up that option. Still, I’m not going to include that money for now.
The above total also doesn’t include Marcell Ozuna’s $16M. We’ve heard rumors that the Braves nearly traded Ozuna to the Marlins at this year’s trade deadline, but in return they would’ve received Avisail Garcia, who is owed $12M next year – and two more seasons after that with a $5M buyout on another season. So I think it’s safe to assume that the Braves will either be paying Ozuna or someone of similar monetary value next season.
That brings the total to $152M with five spots left to fill.
For now, I’ve identified those spots at shortstop, designated hitter, starting pitcher, relief pitcher and bench. Now, it’s certainly possible that the recently-debuting Vaughn Grissom could continue his scorching start. If that’s the case, he could slot into that “designated hitter” role by spelling various players around the field and allowing them to DH. He’s logged time at second base, shortstop and third base in the minors, and it’s reasonable to think he could be a serviceable left fielder, especially with an offseason to prepare. He could also be the shortstop of the future and just take that role.
That would certainly save the Braves a lot of money. The top four potential free agent shortstops – Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and current Brave Dansby Swanson – are all among the top eight overall free agents in most rankings. Any of those options would cost $20M or more, easily. To satisfy Braves’ fans dreams, let’s assume they land one of those four and generously slide that $20M into the mix.
That brings our total to $173M with both Grissom and [Insert your chosen shortstop here).
That leaves the Braves with a slot to fill at starting pitcher. If they pick up Morton’s option, that’s another $20M, the payroll is $192M, and the rotation is complete with Fried, Wright, Morton, Strider and Odorizzi (yes, it’s strange not to have Ian Anderson in this mix, but we’re coping). If not, Atlanta could again turn to Anderson or another of the prospects for about $700K. I would expect the Braves to sign another veteran, though, so I’ll again be generous and just put $17M in that spot.
With that wacky and arbitrary bit of math, we’re at $190M, and we only have to really fill a relief spot and a bench spot. If you lost track, my three bench pieces are d’Arnaud/Contreras/Grissom (whichever man of this mix isn’t starting at catcher or DH that day), Piña and Arcia. I think it’s safe to assume since that reliever won’t be a high-leverage guy, those two spots can easily be filled for $5M.
So with that, we’ve filled out the entire 2023 roster for $195M, which doesn’t go way over the $182M that’s currently on the books for 2022 and would get close to the “top 5 payroll” commentary we’ve heard recently. But it also doesn’t allow for the team to go crazy on shortstop spending, and it doesn’t allow the team to land a Jacob deGrom type for the rotation. It also assumes that the Braves don’t agree to some sort of contract with Fried that pays him more than $10M, and it pretty much leaves Mike Soroka out of the picture.
With all that, we can take away a couple of things. The Braves are going to spend well over league average in 2023 because they have to. Just with the money already on the books for 2023, they’ll be over the 2022 league average of $148M, and that’s with several key spots unfilled. But we should also temper expectations. This roster is going to be very expensive just to run it back with Swanson and Morton, so landing the combination of deGrom and Turner is likely a pipe dream.
Hopefully, we’ll be dreaming those pipe dreams with a second consecutive ring, though.