The Braves’ signing of Marcell Ozuna lifted their player payroll for this year to about $128.5 million, still comfortably below the $152 million it would have been if a full season had been played last year, according to calculations by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
That leaves room for the Braves to make additional moves before spring training or opening day — perhaps to bolster the bullpen and/or bench — while still reducing the payroll, as long expected, from pre-pandemic levels.
Ozuna’s four-year $65 million contract was backloaded so that he will make $12 million this year, $6 million less than the $18 million he would have made for a full season last year. Even the average annual guaranteed value of Ozuna’s new contract, $16.25 million, is less than his pre-proration salary last year. While a pay cut may be surprising after Ozuna’s stellar 2020 season with the Braves, his performance earned him the security of a four-year deal despite a generally down market.
“We backloaded the Ozuna contract to give ourselves a little bit of room, whether that’s now, whether that’s during the season,” Alex Anthopoulos, the Braves’ president of baseball operations and general manager, said Sunday on MLB Network Radio. “Our payroll will be lower than what it was last year. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be every bit as good and competitive.
“We definitely spent a good amount of our offseason money right now between (Charlie) Morton, (Drew) Smyly and Ozuna. .... There’s still some really good players out there, so we’re going to explore those things. We just have to weigh what the way to go about it is. Can you add a reliever? Sure, I think every team always wants to fortify bullpen if they can, so we’d be open to that. Certainly (we) can hope to try to improve our bench and our depth.”
Anthopoulos also mentioned a desire to be prepared to adapt if the National League were to adopt the designated hitter at the last minute, which he doesn’t currently expect.
The Ozuna signing and two earlier deals mean the Braves have found a way to address their biggest offseason needs -- heart-of-the-order power hitter and starting pitching – while still trimming payroll after last season’s dramatic drop in revenue.
The Braves strengthened their starting rotation by signing two free agents to one-year contracts early in the offseason, Morton for $15 million and Smyly for $11 million. Those expenditures are largely offset by the departures of starting pitchers Cole Hamels and Mike Foltynewicz. Hamels would have made $18 million and Foltynewicz $6.425 million if a full 2020 season had been played, a total of $24.425 million compared with the $26 million Morton and Smyly will make in 2021.
Braves players from 2020 who currently are free agents — and at least for now off the payroll — include relief pitchers Mark Melancon (who would have made $14 million for a full season last year) and Shane Greene ($6.25 million), outfielders Nick Markakis ($4 million) and Adam Duvall ($3.25 million) and catcher Tyler Flowers ($4 million). The Braves could still sign one or more of those players if the price fits their budget.
HOW BRAVES’ 2021 PAYROLL LOOKS NOW
- Freddie Freeman, 1B: $22 million
- Charlie Morton, SP: $15 million
- Will Smith, RP: $13 million
- Marcell Ozuna, LF: $12 million
- Drew Smyly, SP: $11 million
- Ender Inciarte, OF: $8 million
- Travis d’Arnaud, C: $8 million
- Chris Martin, RP: $7 million
- Dansby Swanson, SS: $6 million or $6.7 million (depending on arbitration)
- Ronald Acuna, OF: $5 million
- Max Fried, SP: $3.5 million
- Ozzie Albies, 2B: $3 million
- Mike Soroka, SP: $2.1 million or $2.8 million (depending on arbitration)
- Luke Jackson, RP: $1.9 million
- Johan Camargo, IF-OF: $1.36 million
- A.J. Minter, RP: $1.3 million
- Josh Tomlin, RP: $1 million
- Abraham Almonte, OF: $990,000
- Grant Dayton, RP: $900,000
- Pre-arbitration players: Estimated total of $4.5 million for those who make the big-league team*
- Total: Approximately $128.5 million, based on players currently with the organization and likely to be on the opening-day roster.
*-Players not yet eligible for salary arbitration will receive contracts at or slightly above the MLB minimum salary of $570,500. This group includes some players expected to be on the opening-day roster (SP Ian Anderson, RP Tyler Matzek, CF Cristian Pache and 3B Austin Riley) and others who could compete for roster spots in spring training (P Victor Arano, C William Contreras, IF Jack Mayfield, P Sean Newcomb, P Touki Toussaint, P Jacob Webb, P Bryse Wilson, P Kyle Wright, P Huascar Ynoa and others). Some players with minor-league contracts and spring-training invitations, such as IF Pablo Sandoval, IF Ehire Adrianza and RP Carl Edwards, also will compete for roster spots.
(Note: signing bonuses or buyouts paid in previous years and benefits costs are not included).