I saw some comments in another thread about the money the Braves will have to spend next offseason after some of our contracts expire at the end of the year. I decided to write up an assessment of what the Braves' situation will be in the coming offseason. My goal is to present the information as clearly as possible. While I do have to speculate a little, I tried to be conservative. I don't want to overstate nor understate the opportunities Frank Wren will have to better our ball club as we move forward.
We all know the Braves are going to have money to spend. But exactly how much will they have? What holes will they need to fill with that money in the coming offseason? And do they have a real chance to make a splash in free agency or by acquiring a high-cost player through a trade?
The contracts of Kenshin Kawakami, Nate McLouth, Alex Gonzalez, Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill will expire after this season. Combined, that is $18.867 million coming off the books. If Chipper retires after this season, and I think most of us expect him to, the Braves will free up $31.867 million with the departure of those players.
The players with guaranteed contracts for next season that receive raises are Dan Uggla and Brian McCann. Uggla's salary increases by $4M and McCann's increases by $2M. Eric Hinske will receive a slight raise if the Braves exercise his option, which they probably will. His salary will increase by $0.15M. That's a total of $6.15M in raises before arbitration.
The Braves have four players that will be arbitration eligible for the 2012 season. Martin Prado, Jair Jurrjens and Eric O'Flaherty will enter their second year of arbitration. Peter Moylan will enter his third year of arbitration.
If the Braves decide that they they're going to hold on to Jurrjens rather than trading him, we could very well see them sign Jurrjens to a three year contract, similar to what the Giants did with Matt Cain. Jurrjens isn't likely to be interested in a longer deal. If this hypothetical contract were to be similar to Matt Cain's deal, Jurrjens would likely receive something like $5.5M in '12, $7.5M in '13 and $15M in '14. If the Braves decide not to extend him and either take him to arbitration or avoid arbitration with a one year deal, I would guess that Jurrjens will make around $6M.
Martin Prado should, in my opinion, be signed to a long term extension after this season. The Braves should buy out his last two years of arbitration and extend him for three or four years after that. Seeing as how Prado is not a top tier third baseman (Zimmerman, Longoria, Bautista, A-Rod), I think he is the perfect player for a mid-market team like the Braves to lock down with a long term contract. He is the best of the second tier, and can probably be signed to a deal like 12: $5M, 13: 7M, 14: 9M, 15: $9M, 16: 9M, 17: $9M. That is a six year deal worth $48M, which I think is a reasonable and fair estimation for what it would take to keep Prado in Atlanta through his age 33 season.
Either way, Prado's salary will probably be in the vicinity of $5-6M in 2012, which is all that really matters as far as this post is concerned. The raises for O'Flaherty and Moylan will be between $2-4M combined.
If neither of Jair Jurrjens or Derek Lowe is traded, the Braves will be left with roughly $18M dollars to spend next offseason. At least one of them will be dealt, however, and I actually think both will be traded after the season (Lowe could possibly be dealt during the season).
With Minor and Teheran, the Braves can replace both of them next year without a detrimental drop-off in production. Jurrjens is fantastic, but the two guys we have waiting in the wings are extremely talented themselves, and they're a lot cheaper. Honestly, I don't under-appreciate Jair Jurrjens. I'm as big a fan of his as anybody. I just think this is the best course of action.
Another advantage we have is that Hudson will still be here in 2012 and could have his option picked up in 2013, which gives us insurance that our prospects (Delgado, Vizcaino, Clemens, Hoover, Oberholtzer) will have time to develop before we have a need for starting pitching.(2012 Rotation = Hudson, Hanson, Teheran, Beachy, Minor)
Jair Jurrjens is making $3.25M, so if we eat $8M of Lowe's salary, trading the two of them will free up a combined $10.25M in our payroll. Our holes will be in left field, center field and at short stop. We could also use a couple of dependable late inning relievers. I expect Schafer to be our centerfielder, so that solves one problem.
-32.867 + 6.15 + 7 - 10.25 = -29.967
In total, that's $30M coming off the books after this season. Wren will have that money, plus a king's ransom in trade pieces (including Jurrjens) to bolster our bullpen and fill our holes at left field and short stop. There are some intriguing options on the potential free agents list, which I know have already been discussed here before. What's really interesting is the potential to trade for a young player, entering or at least approaching his prime, that is still under team control. I don't want to start a rosterbation thread. This is just meant to provide a clear understanding of where the Braves stand in terms of payroll going into next season.
Looking even further into the future, none of these players will reach free agency until after the 2015 season at the earliest: Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. It's likely that Liberty Media will sell the Braves within the next few years, which makes it impossible to look too far into the future. What we do know is that the Braves have a clear opportunity to build another dynasty.
If I screwed something up, forgot to include something that changes the entire outlook for the Braves or did anything that renders this entire post useless....please, be gentle.