Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves general manager, left, and John Schuerholz, Braves president, talk with Mike Plant, right, executive vice president of business operations before the start of a Cobb County commission hearing on a proposed plan to build the team a new baseball stadium in the county, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, in Marietta, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman).

Braves Take Payroll Hits on Friday

Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves general manager, left, and John Schuerholz, Braves president, talk with Mike Plant, right, executive vice president of business operations before the start of a Cobb County commission hearing on a proposed plan to build the team a new baseball stadium in the county, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, in Marietta, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman).

Okay, contracts, budgets, and the numbers involved are boring subjects:  generally we wanna skip over all this stuff and get to the business of playing baseball.  I get that… but Friday’s events will impact just how well the Braves can do that this year – but we’ve yet to see just how significant an impact that will be.

On Thursday, I gave you my pre-arbitration estimate on the Braves’ payroll situation.  This is the promised update to that, based on all events from Friday’s filing deadlines.

First of all, here is a chart to explain the details on what happened (click on it to bask in the largess of these numbers):



I’ll summarize with a few bullet points:

  • Frank Wren said (as Julien quoted him yesterday) “we went well above the recommended salary arbitration numbers for all of our players.”  By and large, that seems to have been true.  You could argue otherwise for Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman, though… at least based on the MLBTR Estimates.
  • Nonetheless, the signed players (Mike Minor, Chris Johnson, Kris Medlen, Jordan Schafer) all pushed the payroll estimate upwards by $890,000.
  • At this point, arbitration ceases to be a negotiation and becomes an “either/or” proposition.  Each side will have to defend “their” number as filed yesterday, and the arbitrator will select oneeither the team’s number or the player’s number.  So Kimbrel, for instance, will either end up with $6.55 million or $9 million.  Nothing else.
  • So the minimum that Atlanta will end up with in payroll now is $92,213,000The maximum (if they lose all three cases) is exactly $4 million higher.
  • They aren’t likely to win or lose all three cases, but that $4 million gap is significant.  Especially at the trade deadline in July.

There is no issue here with “affordability”:  total team payroll for the year was reported to be right at $100 million. The team can “afford” all of these contracts – no matter how the arbitrators rule.

Of the three arbitration cases, I have these opinions:

  • Heyward’s case is meh “only” $300,000 difference.  Given the prior estimate, I think he probably loses, but it’s not a big deal either way.
  • Freeman’s case is more interesting, and I do think he wins due to his RBI production and clutch hitting.
  • Kimbrel’s case is truly precedent settingNobody has ever had the numbers he’s posted; and it while it will be difficult to argue against him, it is also difficult to argue for a dollar figure that is so far above the previous record for a closer.  If the Braves had chosen something around $7-7.5 million to defend, then I would think they’d win easily.  But the $6.55 million figure may allow Kimbrel’s agent to have a chance.  It could simply come down to something stupid like presentation style and the personalities involved, but I will guess that he loses in a close one.

This math shows that after arbitration, the committed dollars will be allow somewhere between $7.8 million and $3.8 million in remaining payroll spaceThat money will then be used for….

  • Contract incentives (if Gavin Floyd actually pitches a lot this year)
  • Obtaining replacements for injured players
  • Possible trade deadline acquisitions

It’s that last bullet point that is the wild card.  If Atlanta were to win all arbitration cases, then they’d have up to $4 million “extra” dollars to use for “buying” a better player at the trade deadline.  If they lose all three?  Well, it’s the difference between perhaps a Justin Morneau and Elliot Johnson – when you’re only paying for 40% of a player’s season, dollars buy more.  More dollars can buy a lot.

We’ll see how it goes:  arbitration trials are scheduled between February 1st and 21st.




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Tags: Arbitration Atlanta Braves Payroll

  • Lee Trocinski

    Kimbrel will likely win his case. I saw a tweet from Tim Dierkes saying that the original MLBTR estimate for him was $10.2M.

    • fireboss

      Yep the original post said “It is our suspicion that he will land
      much closer to the $7.25MM we have projected for him than the high number the
      model produced, which I might as well confess was actually $10.2MM. However,
      Kimbrel is not just the namesake of the rule; he is also the first test of the
      Kimbrel Rule”

      • carpengui

        …and I agreed with their take on the analysis, which is why I went with their $7.25m figure. To go into that $10m+ stratosphere would be to equate the closer role with that of the starter, which _should_ be a self-defeating argument.

        Tim Lincecum is the current standard-bearer among starters: he got $9m in 2010 for his first arbitration year. It makes sense (IMHO) to bring Kimbrel in below that, and given the figures exchanged, there’s only one of those below $9m… the team figure.

        But as I say, it should be both a close and interesting call by the arbitrator.

        • Chris Headrick

          Just for something interesting, and some additional discussion, compare what Kimbrel is asking for, with a mid-market team, to what Mariano was getting in his long and storied career with a LARGE market team.

          • fireboss

            Apples and oranges. In the last three years salaries have increased faster than ever. The idea that 1 win (WAR) is worth $6M-$7M to a team was not lost on the agents and those with deep pockets -Arte Moreno, The Guttenburgs – have made money no object. The question is whether Kimbrel is worth as much as Papelbon (12m+ a year) because the market for a player like Kimbrel is not what his peers make – he has no peers until (if) Chapman gets there. Of course you don;t have to pay them that way but going before an arbiter and flipping those numbers out there makes it hard for an arbiter to ignore

          • Chris Headrick

            Apples and oranges for a changing market yes, but it shouldn’t be for agents and players who should have a realization about the financial capabilities of an organization.

          • fireboss

            Well they sort of have to in order to know whether their player is a viable option. In the end it is the ownership that decides where money goes. Arte Moreno made arguably the three worst long term (ar as it turned out short term) deals of the decade in Wells, Pujols and Hamilton. That wasn’t the agents (or the other team in the case of Wells) , all they did was place the product in front of a greedy, short sighted owner and watch him overpay. It happened on a lesser scale with Mike Illich when he told Avila to sign Fielder. Owners and certain GMs lose their perspective when they want something too badly – A-Rod is the best example of owner stupidity but there are others. After a season or two the new has worn off and buyer’s remorse sets in. Avila was able to move Fielder but Moreno is stuck with Hamilton and Pujols unless he gives them away like he did Wells.
            The players have some responsibility in this as well. Kershaw exercised his when he took seven years instead of ten because he wasn’t comfortable that he could perform at that high a level towards the end of his contract. Most players don’t see it that way and the union encourages them not to. When Weaver took his team friendly contract in Anaheim the union was less than supportive. I bet Weaver wishes he hadn’t done it now which sort of makes the point that both sides are equally responsible for the malaise that is MLB payroll.
            The Braves, Rays and smaller market teams with more frugal owners have mostly locked out of this game of spin the bottle signings but the new money will change that for some. It forces teams to grow their own and try to hang on to them through the first 10 years after which time the stars will go to bigger money. It also requires drafting a wider range of talent and being willing to pay for it. But that’s another topic

  • Chris Headrick

    Kimbrel may or may not win his case, but you can already smell the “panic” among fans, which is ridiculous. Olney and others (including some of us at TT) have argued for why the Braves’ should trade Kimbrel, and all those arguments typically meet with anger and bitterness. The Braves won’t succeed or fail w/ Kimbrel.

    • fireboss

      And if he wins he’s gone before next spring. They can’t afford a $15M closer they have to save that to pay for fourth outfielders

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