It's that unfortunate time of year when we start talking about hot stove baseball. Yes, we wish our Atlanta Braves were still alive in the postseason, but once again it was not to be. And so this week we look ahead, look forward, to next year's team, as we ask (and possibly answer) five off-season questions.
Any good off-season discussion of next year's team should begin with the all-important money question. The Braves, being payroll constrained at just under $100 million, have in recent years let their payroll dictate how they operate in the free agent and trade markets. So we'll go through the positions and add up the dollars committed, and then see what the team has to spend. This will set the stage for the rest of the off-season questions.
The starting rotation actually has no money committed for next year, but Tim Hudson has a $9 million option that will almost certainly be picked up, Paul Maholm has a $6.5 million option that will likely be picked up, and Tommy Hanson should see a nice raise in his first year of arbitration. Jurrjens got $3.25 million in his first arbitration year, so we'll assume that's about what Hanson will earn. Even with Hanson's drop-off this season, at under $4 million he should be worth bringing back and hoping he can return to his pre-2011-injury form.
Speaking of Jair Jurrjens, we can almost certainly remove him from the payroll, as the Braves will likely cut bait and non-tender him (if not out-right release him before the non-tender deadline). Surprise rotation ace Kris Medlen is also in his first arbitration year, and my guess is that he'll get something close to what Hanson gets, so we'll put him down for $3 million. Mike Minor is still under full team control and should only make around the minimum of 500k.
Add all that up and the starting rotation next year should cost the Braves around $22 million, which should represent a significant savings from this year's costs.
The bullpen will command some arbitration raises. Eric O'Flaherty should make around $4 million in arbitration, and that will be affordable enough for the Braves to bring him back. Jonny Venters and Cristhian Martinez are arbitration eligible for the first time and should get around $1 million each, with Venters possibly pushing close to $2 million.
No one else in the bullpen is arbitration eligible, so that will once again be a very cheap part of the team, unless they decide to bring in more veteran help. Currently though, I estimate the bullpen will only cost the Braves about $10 million in 2013.
Going down the list of the starting lineup, the only guaranteed contract the Braves have for 2013 is Dan Uggla's $13 million. They will also likely pick up Brian McCann's $12 million, though if he has surgery this off-season and plans to miss time, I wonder if they'll try and renegotiate that salary. For now though, we'll assume they pick up Mac's contract.
Martin Prado is in the final year of arbitration, and while we can hope the Braves finally sign him to a long-term contract, if they just choose to let arbitration take its course, he should make around $7 million next year. Believe it or not Jason Heyward is also arbitration eligible for the first time. He should command around $3 million. No one else in the starting lineup or on the bench has a contract for next year, so the total allocation for the lineup is currently just $35 million. Obviously that will increase as more players are added, so let's go ahead and say $38 just to cover some of the minimum salaried players.
Add all those areas of the team together and you get approximately $70 million. And this is before the team fills out its lineup with a third baseman and center fielder. The good news is that those two spots are really the only two spots the team needs to fill. And if one considers Prado the starting third baseman, then the team only has two outfield spots to fill, several bench spots, and approximately $25 to $30 million to spend.
Once again the Braves are in an enviable position of having their entire starting rotation set, plus two really good young starters waiting in the wings. As usual they probably won't spend much more on the bullpen. So that leaves the full $30 mil to spend on hitting.
We won't get into the who or how the Braves will fill out their roster -- that discussion will be forthcoming in the next few days as we ask a different question about the Braves off-season each day this week. Today's exercise was about money, and it certainly looks like the team is in a good position to reload this off-season.