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2016 Atlanta Braves Payroll Outlook

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The Braves have a lot of room in their budget, but it remains to be seen how they'll use it.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

As of right now, a 2015 World Series champion has yet to be crowned, and the offseason hot stove activity has yet to kick off in earnest. Given that, it makes some sense to see where the team's payroll obligations currently stand, and the available budget room for John Copollela and his front office staff to maneuver as the Braves head into 2016.

Guaranteed Money

The bulk of a team's payroll obligations tends to be laid into players with guaranteed contracts. Amusingly, the two most highly-compensated players currently on the roster, in terms of their 2016 salaries, are two castoffs from Cleveland:

  • Nick Swisher - $15M
  • Michael Bourn - $14M
However, when Chris Johnson was sent to Cleveland in exchange for Swisher, Bourn, and their contracts, the Indians sent $10M over to cover some of the difference. So while Swisher and Bourn will make $29M collectively next year, the Braves are responsible for just $19M of that.

There are only a few other players on the roster with guaranteed contracts for 2016:
  • Freddie Freeman - $12.4M
  • Nick Markakis - $11M
  • Hector Olivera - $4M
  • Cameron Maybin - $8.1M
  • Andrelton Simmons - $6.1M
  • Jason Grilli - $3.5M
  • Julio Teheran - $3.5M
  • Dian Toscano - $1.3M
Overall, including Swisher and Bourn, that's about $69M committed to 10 players, who will cover nine or ten roster spots, depending on whether Toscano is actually a mass hallucination or not.

Team Control - Arbitration

The Braves don't have many players eligible for salary arbitration on the current roster, and what's more, the biggest potential arbitration earner is no guarantee to earn a contract. MLB Trade Rumors posted projections of salaries for arbitration-eligible players a few weeks ago - I use these below just to have a decent central estimate that we can agree on.

  • Mike Minor - $5.6M. It remains to be seen whether Minor will be tendered a contract, but given the way the organization has talked about him in recent weeks, I don't think it's that unlikely, either, if he shows he's making the correct kind of physical progress. $5.6M is steep in some respects, but if he can deliver even a win above replacement at that rate, it'll be hard to complain. In any case, his salary (he's in Arb3, his third year of arbitration, but has another team control year left as he was a Super Two player) represents a bit of wiggle room for the organization; they could always non-tender Minor and use the savings to pursue a different player. (Minor note: MLB contract rules prevent arbitration-eligible players from receiving less than a 20 percent pay cut from what they made last season, which means that the Braves can't give Minor a $2M show-me deal and expect him to take it, as he will be guaranteed to get at least $4.5M in arbitration.)
  • Pedro Ciriaco - $0.8M. Ciriaco is entering his first year of arbitration, and I don't think the Braves will necessarily balk at a sub-$1M figure to have him on the bench again. I don't see him getting $1M or more, though.
  • Shelby Miller - $4.9M. Miller is an interesting arbitration case, and the Braves have a lot of options with regard to his contract status going forward, as 2016 will be his first arbitration-eligible year. I could honestly see Miller getting something like $7M in arbitration, so there might be some upward wiggle room in the arbitration-eligible player salaries.
  • Arodys Vizcaino - $1.1M. Vizcaino is also entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, and around $1M seems like a reasonable estimate for the firethrowing reliever.
  • Chris Withrow - $0.6M. Withrow was picked up in the deal that brought Juan Uribe to Atlanta, and might be a strong piece in Atlanta's bullpen going forward if he can come back from (what else?) Tommy John surgery. Given his injury and contract status, it's hard to see him getting more than a bit above league minimum even though he's arbitration eligible for the first time this year.
If the Braves tender contracts to each of their five arbitration-eligible players, they can be expected to spend about $13M covering salaries for these players. There might be some give around those numbers, and I'd say that estimating something like $12M-$15M for these players if they all get tendered contracts could be a bit of a safer range. These players will take up five roster spots.

In total, this means that the Braves have about $82M, give or take a few million, allocated to 14 or 15 roster spots. That means the remaining 10 or 11 spots will be taken up by league minimum players, who will make about $0.5M each.

Players at League Minimum

These 10-11 players might include some combination of:

  • Peter Moylan (signed a two-year minor league deal covering 2015 and 2016)
  • Paco Rodriguez (recovering from TJS)
  • Shae Simmons (recovering from TJS, but will hopefully rejoin the bullpen in 2016)
  • Christian Bethancourt
  • Andrew McKirahan (unless he doesn't make the team)
  • Jace Peterson
  • Manny Banuelos
  • Daniel Castro
  • Mike Foltynewicz
  • Adonis Garcia
  • Eury Perez
  • Daniel Winkler
And so on. In any case, the Braves will spend at least $5M or $6M filling the remainder of their roster with league minimum players, unless they spend some dough on higher-priced free agents or obtain more expensive players in trades. Overall, this means that at a minimum, assuming no salaries dumped in the offseason, the Braves will enter 2016 with a payroll of about $88M, which will of course increase if roster spots are taken up by fewer guys making the league minimum.

if the Braves intend to meet the 2015 budget of about $107M, this gives them about $25M to play with ($107M less the $82M in guaranteed-ish money). If the budget permits a payroll of $110M to $120M in 2016, then this amount increases to $28M-$38M instead, but it remains to be seen whether the team will choose to use its 2016 resources in this manner.

A Small Bit of Roster Uncertainty

Overall, if the Braves don't make any large changes to their 2016 roster, there are some 2015 departures whose spots will either need to be filled externally or from within (or by re-signing the same players). The biggest one of these is probably AJ Pierzynski. Ryan Lavarnway was recently outrighted to Gwinnett but can likely be recalled if Pierzynski does not re-sign with the Braves. The Braves may also try to shore up the major league catching position elsewhere. Ross Detwiler and Edwin Jackson will also depart in free agency, but are unlikely to be missed.

Given this, it doesn't mean that everyone on the 25-man and 40-man rosters as of this point in time is guaranteed to make the club next season. Some players that may be jettisoned from the organization (for example, the Braves waived Todd Cunningham and he was picked up by the Angels in earlier in October, adieu Mr. Sly Pig) include:

  • Danny Burawa
  • Brandon Cunniff
  • Matt Marksberry
  • Mauricio Cabrera
  • Joey Terdoslavich
  • Ryan Kelly
  • Sugar Ray Marimon
Of course, there may be other surprises too - a lot of this will depend on internal organizational evaluations, the additions that are made in the offseason, Spring Training performance, and so on.

In any case, the Braves aren't straight-up losing a lot of players this offseason. Still, the prospective 25-man and 40-man rosters aren't overflowing with talent/production given where they stand right now, and it's not unreasonable to expect the Braves to make upgrades at the margins, even if they don't go whole hog and use their approximately $30 million in budget room to try and field a contender in 2016.