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.
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
- 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
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.
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
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
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.