Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk expects team to continue trend of increasing payroll

Braves players are seen during a workout Friday, October 7, 2023 at Truist Park ahead of their NLDS series against the Phillies. (Daniel Varnado/ For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Braves players are seen during a workout Friday, October 7, 2023 at Truist Park ahead of their NLDS series against the Phillies. (Daniel Varnado/ For the AJC)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In 2023, the Braves’ payroll exceeded the luxury-tax threshold for the first time in franchise history. The tax rate for first-time offenders is lower than for those teams who surpass the mark in consecutive years.

It does not seem like this will stop the Braves from trying to build the best roster possible to win a World Series in 2024.

Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk often uses the term “glideslope” to describe the organization’s ascension. In terms of payroll, he said the glideslope – payroll going up every season – should continue. The team won’t cut payroll to get under the luxury tax.

“You could assume that that ‘glideslope’ that we’re on, we will stay on,” McGuirk told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the phone Wednesday. “You recognize, this is our time. We have an unbelievable collection of young position players and great young pitchers – just the entire organization, from the stadium to the fan base to everything. We want to do nothing but add and win a World Series.”

The Braves entered the 2023 season with the eighth-largest cash payroll in baseball, according to FanGraphs. The tricky part for fans is this: That is not the same as the competitive-balance-tax figure, which is much higher because it is based on the average annual value of all the contracts instead of the money the Braves are actually spending that year.

FanGraphs estimated the Braves’ CBT figure for 2023 to be around $246 million, which was above the $233 million luxury-tax threshold for the year. (McGuirk said FanGraphs’ number is a good estimate.) The luxury-tax threshold for 2024 is $237 million, and FanGraphs projects the Braves’ CBT figure to be, at this moment, around $236 million – which doesn’t include additions made this offseason.

Based on McGuirk’s comments, it seems the Braves could carry a higher payroll into the 2024 season. Of course, nothing is for certain until it occurs, but it seems like a positive sign that the Braves have the ability to add payroll when many teams are cutting back.

This year, the Mets began the season with a MLB-record payroll around $353 million. The Yankees were behind them, at almost $277 million. Asked if he could see the Braves ever spending at these levels, McGuirk first noted that the Mets and Yankees are different.

“The Mets are a one-off in our industry, and I would say their experiment has been largely unsuccessful so far in correlating money and performance,” McGuirk said. “I don’t think it’s good for our game to continue to widen the levels between the highest and lowest payrolls. I think that’s bad for the players, bad for the teams, bad for the game. But that’s for the commissioner (Rob Manfred) to fix, and there’ll be days ahead where that’ll get addressed.

“Spending inordinate amounts of money and losing a lot of money and not having the team perform don’t seem to be a very good formula. I don’t use the Mets as a paragon of any sort to follow. Back on us, we’re now performing like a major-market team on our economics. It’s something we thought we could do when we moved into The Battery (Atlanta), and it has proven to be successful, and we’re trying to express that money back into the team as fast as we can so that we’re on this glideslope of success for many years. That’s really what we’re trying to build here is sustainability. It’s really hard to do.”

It is difficult, but the Braves have a nice setup. They have built a terrific roster, which means fan interest is at an all-time high. But they are also making money from The Battery, which is another revenue stream. Braves Holdings revenue from Jan. 1 through July 18 – before the split-off – was $350 million.

Times are good.

“I couldn’t be prouder of this organization,” McGuirk said. “We’re really hitting on all cylinders across the business. It takes all of it to work together to make it work. The fans’ participation, the energized nature of it. You listen to (Braves manager Brian Snitker) talk about what it did to the dugout each night when we had our 54 sellouts. It just (energizes them). It definitely spurs on a better product.

“The players say the same thing. I’ll tell you: When we’re talking to free agents, they see what’s going on here and they want to be part of it. That’s sort of a given that most teams don’t have, that sort of home-field advantage of who we are, what a game day is like here. We get that out of the way in the first two minutes when we talk to prospective people. They (say), ‘Oh my God. We’ve played here, we’ve seen it, we’ve experienced the other side of it. I want in on that part.’ That’s an advantage that Alex has when he sits down with people.”

As the offseason begins, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has been here at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia with his lieutenants. They are charging forward with their offseason work. Back home, Anthopoulos’ boss, McGuirk, couldn’t be more confident about the man tasked with continuing to build a sustainable winner.

The Braves face an important winter. They have a championship-caliber roster, but have suffered two first-round eliminations since winning the World Series.

McGuirk knows becoming a sustainable winner is difficult. He pointed to the Red Sox, Giants, Royals and Cubs. They were all really good – for a period of time, or at times in a decade.

The Braves are aiming to set themselves apart.

“Nobody has been able to be consistently and sustainably successful in the last 20 years,” McGuirk said. “You have your little runs, but we’re trying to build something that is long-term sustainable. There’s nothing that says right now we can’t be successful at it, but we gotta try really, really hard every year to get there.”

Which area might be a focus?

“In consultation, obviously, with Alex, who is the prime designer of all things player personnel, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that every team in baseball is looking for pitching,” McGuirk said. “You can’t get enough pitching. In fact, it’s been sort of, I think, startling how if you enumerated all the numbers that every single team has said – Cardinals are looking for three pitchers, (another) team is looking for two – the available supply is a fraction of what the demand is. It’s gonna be a crazy market, like you expect, I expect.”

As Anthopoulos continues working out here, his boss, who is back home, couldn’t be more confident about the man tasked with making the decisions.

“Alex is our leader of player personnel,” McGuirk said. “Tell me that you had any idea how we could’ve charted getting (catcher Sean) Murphy last year. The winding road to acquiring player personnel is never a straight one, and you just can’t figure it out. You just take what comes as an opportunity, and I don’t think there’s a better guy in baseball than Alex when it comes to creative thought and how to reward the fan.”