Crunching the numbers on the Braves’ 2020 payroll after Thursday’s signing of free-agent relief pitcher Will Smith to a three-year contract:
Players under contract: The Braves currently have nine players signed to contracts for a total of $68.25 million in 2020. That group includes Freddie Freeman ($22 million), Mark Melancon ($14 million), Smith ($13 million), Ender Inciarte ($7 million), Tyler Flowers ($4 million), Nick Markakis ($4 million), Darren O’Day ($2.25 million), Ronald Acuna ($1 million) and Ozzie Albies ($1 million).
Two things jump out from the preceding paragraph. First thing, the Braves have a combined $27 million committed next season to relievers Melancon and Smith, a departure from past practice by a franchise that hasn’t tended to spend big on the bullpen. And second, the Braves are again getting Acuna and Albies next season for the bargain price of $2 million combined!
Players eligible for salary arbitration: The Braves have nine arbitration-eligible players and must decide by Dec. 2 which of them to offer 2020 contracts. Those offered contracts, as most of the nine will be, can choose to have their salaries set in arbitration; those not offered contracts become free agents. Here are the Braves’ arbitration-eligible players and the projections by MLBTradeRumors.com’s salary arbitration model of how much they would get through the process: starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz ($7.5 million); relief pitchers Shane Greene ($6.5 million), Luke Jackson ($1.9 million) and Grant Dayton ($800,000); shortstop Dansby Swanson ($3.3 million); outfielder Adam Duvall ($3.8 million); utilitymen Johan Camargo ($1.6 million) and Charlie Culberson ($1.8 million); and catcher John Ryan Murphy ($1.2 million).
That’s a total of $28.4 million in projected salaries if the Braves tendered contracts to all nine. Add that to the $68.25 committed to players already under contract, and the Braves’ payroll would be up to $96.65 million.
The most interesting tender/non-tender decision will be on Greene. If the Braves retain him, they will have about $33.5 million of their 2020 payroll tied up in three relievers.
Other players, including potential acquisitions in free agency and trades: Add a few million dollars for pre-arbitration players (notably Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Austin Riley) to the two categories covered above, and the Braves’ payroll would be around $100 million before other moves on the free-agency and trade markets. The Braves ended the 2019 season with a $144 million payroll, including $6 million in buyouts of 2020 options, so there’s still considerable spending room for next season. Exactly how much isn’t clear because (a) the Braves don’t disclose their budget in advance and haven’t said if the payroll will increase significantly from the 2019 level, which ranked 14th among MLB teams; (b) the Braves typically set aside some of their budget for in-season additions; and (c) trades and non-tenders could free up additional money by shedding salaries.
What is clear, however, is that the Braves have several pressing needs to address with their remaining funds. They must acquire a catcher. They need to re-sign free agent Josh Donaldson or acquire another big bat to replace his. They need to add an accomplished starting pitcher.
Whatever follows, the signing of Smith to a contract worth a guaranteed $40 million over three years and potentially $52 million over four years seems to signal the start of an intriguing offseason.
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