Braves’ payroll is more than $100 million below Dodgers’

One of the Braves' major moves during the offseason was to re-sign outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a four-year contract. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

One of the Braves' major moves during the offseason was to re-sign outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a four-year contract. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

If the Braves are going to reach their goal of the World Series this year, they’ll have to overcome some teams with dramatically higher payrolls.

The Braves opened the season with a major-league player payroll of $130.1 million, according to calculations by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, more than $100 million below the Los Angeles Dodgers’ payroll and tens of millions of dollars below three teams in the National League East.

The Braves’ payroll, based on the 26 players on the opening-day roster and the two players on the injured list, is down $21.9 million – or 14.4% -- from what would have been a franchise-record $152 million payroll last year if a full season had been played.

The Dodgers, the reigning World Series champions, started this season with by far MLB’s highest payroll, about $235 million.

In the Braves’ division, the NL East, the Mets had the highest opening-day payroll, about $190 million, followed by the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals, both at about $170 million.

Overall, the Braves’ payroll ranks 14th among the 30 MLB teams and ninth among the 15 NL teams.

The good news for Braves fans is that the team should be able to again outperform its payroll because some of its best players have relatively low salaries, thanks to an MLB economic system that depresses salaries early in players’ careers.

The Braves have won three consecutive NL East titles despite not having the highest payroll in the division in any of those years. And by extending the Dodgers to seven games before losing last year’s National League Championship Series, the Braves demonstrated that the disparity between the teams on the field wasn’t nearly as large as the disparity in spending.

Still, the Braves obviously could have made more moves in the offseason to strengthen their roster and bolster their chances of reaching the World Series if the payroll budget had been higher.

The Braves’ highest paid player is first baseman Freddie Freeman, who will make $22 million in the final season of an eight-year contract signed in February 2014. Twenty-eight major-league players will make more than Freeman this year.

The Braves’ next highest paid players are starting pitcher Charlie Morton ($15 million), relief pitcher Will Smith ($13 million), left fielder Marcell Ozuna ($12 million) and starting pitcher Drew Smyly ($11 million).

The team’s five highest-paid players account for about 56% of the payroll. Of the total payroll, 26.2% goes to infielders, 25.3% to starting pitchers, 22.3% to relief pitchers, 19.7% to outfielders and 6.6% to catchers.

Despite this year’s payroll cut, the Braves were able during the offseason to re-sign Ozuna to a four-year contract and sign free agents Morton and Smyly to one-year deals.

Ozuna’s contract was backloaded in such a way that it will pay him $6 million less this season than he would have made for a full season last year. The addition of Morton and Smyly for a combined $26 million largely was offset salary-wise by the departures of pitchers Cole Hamels and Mike Foltynewicz. And the Braves are spending a lot less on the bullpen this year.

The Braves reduced their payroll from what it would have been for a full 2020 season after they, like all other MLB teams, suffered a massive drop in revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Braves’ revenue declined by almost $300 million, from a franchise-record $476 million in 2019 to $178 million in 2020, amid a shortened season without fans in the stands.

The Braves’ expenses also were reduced sharply last year, with players being paid a prorated portion of their salaries for the games that were played and with the organization laying off about 15% of its staff. Even so, the Braves had an operating loss before depreciation and amortization of $49 million, compared with a profit of $54 million in 2019.

EXAMINING BRAVES’ OPENING-DAY PAYROLL

STARTING PITCHERS

Charlie Morton, $15 million

Drew Smyly, $11 million

Max Fried, $3.5 million

Mike Soroka*, $2.8 million

Ian Anderson, $575,500

Starting rotation total: $32,875,500

RELIEF PITCHERS

Will Smith, $13 million

Chris Martin, $7 million

Luke Jackson, $1.9 million

Nate Jones, $1.5 million

A.J. Minter, $1.3 million

Josh Tomlin, $1 million

Grant Dayton, $900,000

Tyler Matzek, $600,500

Sean Newcomb, $600,500

Touki Toussaint*, $590,500

Huascar Ynoa, $580,500

Bullpen total: $28,972,000

CATCHERS

Travis d’Arnaud, $8 million

Alex Jackson, $580,500

Catchers total: $8,580,500

INFIELDERS

Freddie Freeman, $22 million

Dansby Swanson, $6 million

Ozzie Albies, $3 million

Ehire Adrianza, $1.5 million

Pablo Sandoval, $1 million

Austin Riley, $590,500

Infield total: $34,090,500

OUTFIELDERS

Marcell Ozuna, $12 million

Ender Inciarte, $8 million

Ronald Acuna, $5 million

Cristian Pache, $580,500

Outfield total: $25,580,500

TEAM TOTAL: $130,099,000 (for players on the opening-day roster and injured list)

Note: Signing bonuses, buyouts and benefits costs are not included. Players who opened the season in the minor leagues are not included.

* - on injured list.