Atlanta Braves budget implications for Josh Donaldson at $100 million-plus

For those who have been waiting on the Atlanta Braves to ‘spend the money’… this is your year, for it appears that multiple financial franchise records could be set this month.

$100 million?  $104 million? $110 million?  The Atlanta Braves could be going where no Braves club has gone before in the pursuit of Josh Donaldson this Winter.

The current record for Opening Day roster payroll – based on the numbers provided by Baseball Prospectus’ “Cots” sub-site is $122.6 million – set in 2017.  The numbers since have been a bit lower:  $118.3 million in 2018; $115 million last season.

For the full year, the record total amount is estimated by that site to be a whopping $160 million for 2019 after expensive in-season additions of Dallas Keuchel, Mark Melancon, and others… a fairly remarkable jump that certainly indicates how well the Executives of the Braves thought this team was positioned to win.

Now… they are doubling down for 2020.

The Records

The current franchise record for a player contract is still held by Freddie Freeman:  his 8-year $135 million agreement in 2014 sets marks for duration (8 years) and total value.

That duration record is almost certainly to be challenged by Ronald Acuña’s 8 year $100 million deal inked last April, as it contains a pair of team option years for 2027 and 2028… the first of which has a hefty $10 million buyout provision included at part of that $100 million guarantee.

Overall, the two $17 million option years could pay the youngster a total of $124 million – still under the total value of Freeman’s pact.  Thus they will probably each continue to hold those individual records for duration (Acuna) and value (Freeman) for a while.

In terms of free agent contracts… B.J. Upton’s record 5 year/$75.25 million contract from 2012 may be about to fall… or at least we kinda hope so.

Josh Donaldson is probably looking at something between $104 and $110 million over 4 years – well over pre-Winter estimates, yet barring serious injury, it appears this might be quite reasonable, given his production estimates.

While such a deal would not break the Upton record for the duration of a free agent contract, it would easily surpass his contract value record… and (until Acuna’s 2nd option) would snag 2nd place for total value for a Braves player.

But what about the overall Atlanta Braves payroll?


The Whole Roster Payroll

Using COTS numbers as a leaping off point, we have constructed a hypothetical 26-man roster with financial info included that points toward Opening Day.  You can view the spreadsheet here.

Other than the players already under contract or tendered contracts via arbitration (arbitration salary estimate are derived from MLB Trade Rumors), don’t focus on the names so much.  There are always a handful of minimum/near-minimum salaried players included to ‘fill out’ the roster –  they are included now to assist in making a better estimate of the full payroll.

Josh Donaldson, however, is included (right now) for the purposes of this exercise.  His ‘contract’ is shown to be $108 million for the next 4 seasons at $27 million annually… more-or-less split between the numbers we’re seeing in the rumor mill right now.

At that rate, his presence would brings the full roster estimate to an Opening Day record high of $157 million and change.

  • If it’s $104 million… then the payroll is $156 million
  • If it’s $110 million… then the payroll is $157.5 million

Any of these figures would probably bring the Atlanta Braves into the top 10 overall.  Not by a lot… but in the club.

Even if Donaldson doesn’t ultimately sign with the Braves, the currently estimated OD payroll drops to a still-record-level of $130 million… and that would be before Atlanta would have a chance to fill that roster hole.

Feel free to speculate wildly about what that might look like – assuming it comes to pass at all.

Next: The $100 million question

Clearly:  the Braves are ‘pot committed’ in 2020 – reaching spending heights they haven’t explored previously.