Liberty Media CEO on increasing payroll: ‘We can afford it’

During the baseball offseason, fans often search for that one quote or nugget to which they can cling – the one that gives them hope for the next season and beyond. It can come from anyone associated with their favorite team, and it usually is something that helps the diehards continue trudging through a long winter without baseball.

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On Thursday, Liberty Media President and CEO Greg Maffei provided that quote for Braves fans, who have been spoiled with lots of winning over the past handful of seasons.

“Given the World Series win and our strong 2022 season, we are investing in the payroll to fuel the flywheel here,” Maffei said. “Financial success, driving on-field success, driving financial success. With this enormous financial success that we have, we believe we have more to come.”

Wait for it …

Maffei then added this: “We were eighth in payroll this season, up from the mid-teens the last couple of years, and I fully expect in the next few years we are going to be in the top five. We can afford it.”

The news came on a day when Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, announced the Braves now will be a separate publicly traded company. Liberty Media said its board of directors has authorized management to pursue a split-off of the Atlanta Braves and The Battery Atlanta into a new trading stock, which will be known as Atlanta Braves Holdings. The move is pending approval from the current Braves Group holding and MLB.

Maffei’s quote about payroll is good news for Braves fans. It’s also consistent with the current trend of the organization.

In an interview conducted in October, Braves chairman Terry McGuirk called his organization’s cycle a “virtuous circle.” The Braves are making more money nowadays, which allows them to have higher payrolls, which usually translate to better teams, which then means people are buying more tickets.

“My goal now is to get to be a top-five (payroll team),” McGuirk said at the time.

ExploreLiberty Media to split off Braves, create new stock

The key phrase in Maffei’s quote might be this: He said the expects the Braves to be in the top five in payroll “in the next few years.” That could mean at any point in the next few years. For Braves fans, it’s encouraging that he followed that by saying, “we can afford it.”

Over the past few years, the Braves’ payroll has increased steadily – other than for the 2021 season, though that reduction was because of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. The Braves ranked eighth with a payroll around $188 million in 2022. FanGraphs, which takes into account arbitration salaries, estimates the Braves’ payroll will rise again for 2023.

President of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos, the man tasked with making the most of the resources he’s given, has praised McGuirk for the chairman’s willingness to do what’s best for the organization.

“From my standpoint, it’s a huge part of why I chose to be here,” Anthopoulos said when asked about McGuirk at the General Managers Meetings in Las Vegas. “Don’t get me wrong: We’re looking at the city and the ballpark. I’m a huge believer in this: I believe any job is who you work for and with, above everything else first. You could have the best city, best ballpark, best roster – if you don’t connect with who you’re working with, it’s not worth it.

“For me, (McGuirk is) an ideal partner, boss – amazing on all levels. He supports everything that we’ve done. I mean, I have not gotten a ‘no’ from him literally in the five years I’ve been here. I know how good a setup I have. I don’t think I’ve ever taken for granted and I don’t think I will. But now he’s been phenomenal.”

Shortstop Dansby Swanson is the Braves’ highest-profile free agent this winter. The Braves re-signing him seems to make the most sense for both sides, if the deal benefits both.

Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts are viewed as the top three shortstops on the market, but it’s logical to ask this question: Theoretically, if the Braves don’t meet Swanson’s price, would they be in play for a shortstop who likely would cost more?

Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander are the top two starting pitchers on the market. Carlos Rodón is another.

Will the Braves make a huge splash? It remains to be seen.

But Thursday provided the latest indication of the Braves’ financial health, which should make fans encouraged about the potential for continued success in the future.