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
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
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
Travis d’Arnaud, $8 million
Alex Jackson, $580,500
Catchers total: $8,580,500
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
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.