Don’t you forget about me

In December, perhaps lost among the holiday shuffle, the Associated Press released the final payroll numbers for 2009. These amounts differ from Opening Day payrolls in that they account for player moves during the season, along with the entire expense of the 40-man roster, including prorated signing bonuses, incentive bonuses and buyouts.

Overall, teams spent a combined $2.9 billion in payroll in 2009, an increase of 1.2 percent from the previous year.

The final list isn’t Earth-shattering. We know the Yankees outspend everyone by a gazillion dollars. We know the Marlins snag as many free refills as possible at the McDonald’s. And we know that if your team has serious playoff aspirations, it had better live in the top third of this list—in 2009, six of the eight playoff teams came from the top 11 spenders. A seventh, the Detroit Tigers, barely missed.

Naturally, because the best teams have the higher payrolls, the best players and the lion’s share of media coverage seem to follow. We know the Red Sox signed John Lackey, the Phillies traded for Roy Halladay and the Mets signed Jason Bay. It’s impossible to follow the game and not know the details of all these moves. The rich stay rich.

What about the bottom half of the payroll spectrum? Is anything going on this winter with these guys? What happens when a team isn’t in the hunt for any of the top 10 free agents? How do these teams approach the offseason?

If your team is listed here, you are already familiar with the moves made. That’s not the point of this article. The point is to look at the financial second division clubs as a group, to see how they are approaching the winter differently from the teams with more money. This is a big picture look at the lower end of baseball’s current financial structure—the middle to lower class, if you will. You’re not going to find names like Holliday, Lackey, Bay or Halladay here. Instead, we’ll be talking about Capps, Cust, Gomes and Atkins.

Colorado Rockies
Final 2009 payroll: $84,450,797

The Rockies are one of only two teams below the median that reached the postseason—or, as they fondly refer to it in Colorado, “Rocktober.”

With nearly $50 million tied up among Todd Helton, Aaron Cook, Brad Hawpe, Jeff Francis, Troy Tulowitzki and the arbitration-eligible Huston Street, the Rockies’ big move this winter has been to stand pat. They non-tendered Garrett Atkins (.226/.308/.342, -0.4 WAR) which allowed him to walk to Baltimore as a free agent, but that’s fine since they have a younger, cheaper and better option in place with Ian Stewart. Stewart finished with 47 extra base hits in 491 plate appearances while posting a slash line of .228/.322/.464 and a 1.2 WAR.

They were looking for a capable catching backup should Chris Iannetta (.228/.344/.460, 2.0 WAR) falter, and with the current rate for crummy catchers is two years at $6 million, found a one-year, $2 million bargain in Miguel Olivo, who hit .249/.292/.490 with 23 home runs last summer.

The Helton renaissance (.325/.416/.489, 3.6 WAR) won’t continue—CHONE projects him at .286/.387/.432 and a 3.0 WAR—but the Rockies entered this winter in good shape with a strong young nucleus. Despite the Helton contract, they seem to be in a good position.

Toronto Blue Jays
Final 2009 payroll: $84,130,513

Well, about $10 million of that obligation went away when the Jays shipped starter Roy Halladay to the Phillies for a bushel of prospects. Unfortunately, they owe $6 million to the Phils to complete the trade and they are on the hook to B.J. Ryan for $10 million, although he was released last July after posting a gaudy 7.60 FIP. Add the staggering $21 million ($12.5 million in salary and $8.5 million in a signing bonus) they owe Vernon Wells (.260/.311/.400, -0.1 WAR) and the Blue Jays are shelling out $37 million to dead weight. That’s unacceptable for any team. In the AL East, that’s a death wish.

As you would expect, the Jays are repositioning and going for youth. They added starting pitcher Kyle Drabek and infielder Brett Wallace in the Halladay deal along with catcher Travis d’Arnaud. Of the three, Wallace is the closest to the majors after hitting .297/.354/.460 in 106 games in Triple-A last summer. The Jays say Drabek will open in Double-A, but I don’t believe that for a second.

Then, after the Halladay blockbuster, the Jays acquired pitcher Brandon Morrow from Seattle. Morrow has a career 4.56 FIP, mostly as a reliever, but he’ll get a crack at a Toronto rotation thin on starting pitching depth. The latest rumors have them making a charge for Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman.

Purging the sins of the Riccardi administration will take some time, but the new regime seems headed down the correct path.

Kansas City Royals
Final 2009 payroll: $81,917,563

Some of you—okay, make that all of you—are undoubtedly surprised the lowly Royals outspent 12 teams last summer. All that got them was 65 wins and another last-place finish.

What does that mean for 2010? For starters, there is a lack of payroll flexibility; the Royals have already committed more than $62 million to contracts for next year. This has led to a winter in which Jason Kendall and Brian Anderson are the big free agent signings and the big trade was Mark Teahen, who was eligible for arbitration, being dealt for Josh Fields and Chris Getz, who are both a couple of years away from arbitration. Despite some questionable major league moves that have left their hands tied, the Royals are stepping up on the international front by signing Cuban defector Noel Argulles for a reported $7 million.

The big contracts belong to Gil Meche ($12 million) and Jose Guillen ($12 million). Meche has two years left on his contract and could be trade fodder if he proves himself healthy. However, Kansas City will likely have to suffer through another season of Guillen before he comes off the books next winter. The Royals project to hold steady on their Opening Day payroll, with projections keeping them around $70 million.

Keep an eye on the Royals. They could be setting records for offensive futility in 2010.

Baltimore Orioles
Final 2009 payroll: $79,308,066

Remember when the Orioles were big spenders and competing against the Yankees every year for supremacy in the AL East? Ahhh, nostalgia for the ‘90s.

Things are different in Baltimore these days. Gone are two of their three highest-paid players entering the 2009 season. Aubrey Huff, who hit .253/.321/.405 with a -0.4 WAR for Baltimore was shipped to Detroit for the final month and a half of the season where he promptly tanked with a slash line of .189/.265/.302 and a -0.7 WAR. Long-time Oriole Melvin Mora was allowed to walk after posting a .260/.321/.356 line with 0.9 WAR, by far his worst season of his Baltimore career.

Brian Roberts remains, but shedding $16 million of unproductive veterans allowed the Orioles to take on Kevin Millwood. He’ll cost the Orioles $9 million, with the Rangers kicking in the balance of his contract. The O’s took the balance of the savings— and then some—by welcoming free agents Garrett Atkins and Mike Gonzalez into the fold at a total 2010 cost of $10 million. It’s possible there’s still some cash floating around, as the Orioles were reportedly in the Holliday Sweepstakes, but it’s difficult to believe they were serious players.

Some may look at the three newcomers and say they only need to earn a combined positive WAR to better the two high-priced veterans they’re essentially replacing on the payroll. But that’s just an excuse to spend money just because you have money to spend. Teams that operate in this fashion are rarely successful. Of course, we can debate the merits of throwing multi-million dollar contracts at relievers until the snow melts. Gonzalez was certainly productive as Atlanta’s closer last year with a 3.51 FIP while posting a strikeout rate of 10.9 K/9, but he’s coming off a year in which he set career highs for appearances (80) and innings pitched (74.1) and will be tasked with transitioning to a new league. Millwood’s strikeout rate and health have been in precipitous decline since 2004. And Atkins is a career .327/.385/.507 hitter at Coors Field and a .252/.324/.411 hitter everywhere else, and is below average defensively.

The good thing is, these are all short-term deals. That way, they can make the same mistakes next year.

Texas Rangers
Final 2009 payroll: $77,208,810

The Rangers allowed Millwood to trigger the clause on his 2010 contract by throwing in more than 180 innings (he pitched 198) and then were able to shift him to Baltimore for Chris Ray. With the savings they realized, they were able to sign Rich Harden to a deal that will pay him $6.5 million this year. If Harden can stay healthy (that’s such a huge “if,” I should have put it in all caps and bold. IF Harden can stay healthy…) he could benefit from the Rangers’ solid infield defense and pile up his usual strikeout numbers, making him a tremendous bargain.

As it stands, Harden is one of just four Rangers currently signed, along with Michael Young ($16 million), Ian Kinsler ($4.2 million) and Darren Oliver ($3 million) bringing their total current commitment to 2010 to $36 million. (The numbers don’t add up because of the amount they sent to Baltimore in the Millwood deal, along with some other cash owed to former players.) They have a few key players eligible for arbitration, including Frank Francisco—who will get closer money— and Josh Hamilton.

Currently, the Rangers are targeting a designated hitter, with free agents Vladimir Guerrero along with usual suspects Jim Thome and Gary Sheffield mentioned as possible candidates.

The Rangers have been a paragon of fiscal stability when it comes to payroll matters. From 2006 to 2009, their Opening Day payroll ranged from $68.3 million to $67.7 million. That’s some consistency. GM Jon Daniels maintains that the impending sale won’t have an impact on the planning for the upcoming season. We’ll see.

Cleveland Indians
Final 2009 payroll: $77,192,253

With nearly $50 million in commitments to 2010 already in place, the Indians don’t have a great deal of flexibility.

They’ve handled their potential arbitration cases by trading Kelly Shoppach to Tampa and non-tendering Anthony Reyes and Jose Veras. Reyes was resigned to a minor league deal and won’t pitch until at least the middle of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery while Veras became a free agent. Only Rafael Perez remains and he posted a 7.31 ERA and 4.81 FIP in 48 relief innings. He’s had some success in the past, but he’s not going to break the bank.

Otherwise, they’ve been mining the bottom of the free agent barrel, signing Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan to minor league contracts.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Final 2009 payroll: $73,800,852

The Diamondbacks sneaked into the gated community of baseball’s fiscal elite when they were the third team in the three-team deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. Their portion of the deal—they sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit and picked up Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy in return—was universally panned.

From a fiscal standpoint, Arizona loses a cost-controlled Scherzer, gains a cost-controlled Kennedy but takes on Scott Boras client Jackson in his second year of arbitration eligibility. In his third year as a starter, Jackson topped 200 innings for the first time while posting a career-best 4.28 FIP.

On the free agent front, they’ve committed less than $5 million combined for Kelly Johnson and Bobby Howry. At $2.25 million for Howry with a $3 million club option for 2011, the Diamondbacks have avoided the pitfall of overpaying for relievers. That’s a good thing given his falling strikeout rate, but he’s still been rather effective over the last several years with a FIP hovering around 3.50.

The Diamondbacks currently have roughly $45 million spoken for with a current projected payroll around $75 million. That leaves them little room to add another contract, unless the market drops out as we get closer to spring training.

Minnesota Twins
Final 2009 payroll: $73,068,407

Three teams in the AL Central fall into the fiscal range of this article, with the Twins bringing up the rear. Yet, they’re the defending Central champs.

The Twins seem to have found the correct blend of high-priced talent with low-cost youth. Three of their top five players ranked by WAR are also three of the top four earners on the club: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer. The fourth is closer Joe Nathan. This gives the Twins the comfort of knowing they’re spending the most on their best players.

Not many teams at this end of the fiscal spectrum can make a similar boast. Take the team just above them in this article, the Arizona Diamondbacks, for example. Their top earner next year will be Eric Byrnes at $11 million. He posted a 0.5 WAR last summer, making him the 10th best offensive player on his team. CHONE projects him at .251/.308/.411 for 2010 with a 1.2 WAR.

There’s a right way and a wrong way. The Twins do things the right way.

So far this winter the Twins made one trade, sending Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy. That fills their shortstop hole with a player who should bounce back from a subpar .229/.302/.357 season with just a 1.4 WAR. CHONE projects him at .253/.307/.404 and a WAR of 2.5, which is among the most pessimistic of projections I’ve seen for Hardy.

With a few players eligible for arbitration, indications are the Twins will bump their payroll to around $90 million for 2010 as they move into their new digs at Target Field. This could be very bad news for the rest of the AL Central.

Cincinnati Reds
Final 2009 payroll: $72,693,206

The Reds already have a whopping $64 million committed for 2010. More than $36 million of that will go to three pitchers: Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo and Francisco Cordero. While all can be solid pitchers, teams at this end of the spectrum normally can carry just one of these types of contracts with minimal damage to the budget. Three of these really hurt. Then add the $7.66 million to Scott Rolen and the $4 million to Willy Taveras, and you can see how this budget is a mess.

To avoid adding to that amount, the Reds non-tendered Jonny Gomes, who at .267/.338/.541 was Cincinnati’s second best hitter last summer (but was brutal in the field with a -23.7 UZR/150) and did the same with Laynce Nix. Nix was re-signed to a minor league deal.

Until some of these contracts are off the books—Harang and Arroyo have club options and will almost certainly be bought out at $2 million each next winter—it will be slow going in Cincinnati. The Reds are currently looking at adding players through minor league deals and recently signed Josh Anderson to such a contract.

Tampa Bay Rays
Final 2009 payroll: $71,222,532

The Rays found that winning comes with a cost. Their Opening Day payroll jumped from $47 million in 2008 to $67 million last year with their final outlay listed above. Their final payroll in 2009 represented the largest increase among all teams—39.6 percent—from the previous season.

And there’s still some fiscal flexibility to be found in Tampa. They shipped Akinori Iwamura to the Pirates for Jesse Chavez to free up salary and to open a regular spot for the Zorilla—Ben Zobrist. They then turned Chavez and all that money around (and then some) on Rafael Soriano. At $7.25 million, Soriano figures to get a shot at the Rays closing job. As long as his elbow holds together, this could be a nifty pickup for Tampa. As David Golebiewski points out, Soriano had the second lowest strike zone contact percentage among all relief pitchers.

They are already on the hook for $57 million in 2010, and that amount figures to climb with deals for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, B.J. Upton and J.P. Howell yet to be settled. Tampa looks to head into the 2010 season with a payroll of around $70 million”>payroll of around $70 million, which would be the highest in team history.

Washington Nationals
Final 2009 payroll: $69,321,137

With the contracts of Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson and Dimitri Young totaling $18.5 million off the books, the Nats have been fairly active this winter, signing free agents Jason Marquis, Matt Capps and Ivan Rodriguez at a combined $14 million for 2010. Given that Kearns, Johnson and Young all logged more time in the trainer’s room than the dugout in ’09, it’s a fairly safe assumption that the new group will provide more value than the old.

Besides, Marquis has that playoff streak going. I’d be more impressed if he made playoff appearances in all of those years.

The Nationals will likely open the year with around $60 million in commitments, which was where they were at the beginning of last year. Mike Rizzo promises the Nats aren’t finished adding players—they could use some help in the rotation and improving their defense— but it’s difficult to see what they could add outside of a few minor league deals with invites to spring training.

Oakland Athletics
Final 2009 payroll: $61,688,124

The A’s have allocated only $30 million for 2010 and $12.5 million of that goes to Eric Chavez, who has appeared in only 31 games over the last two years. Mercifully, this is the final year of his contract.

So far this winter, the A’s have parted with Adam Kennedy and Bobby Crosby, dealt for Jake Fox and Aaron Miles, signed free agent Coco Crisp and re-signed Jack Cust to a $2.5 million deal. That represents a pay cut for the slugger whom CHONE projects to bash .240/.370/.445 next summer with 28 home runs. They also re-signed Justin Duchscherer, who hasn’t pitched since 2008 because of injuries, to a $2 million deal. Business as usual on the east side of the bay. They will look to fill a hole at shortstop; it probably will be closer to the beginning of camp before they make a move.

Looking even further down the road, the A’s have virtually no commitments in 2011 outside of a few club option buyouts and the usual arbitration decisions. This makes Oakland worth watching as the A’s position themselves for the future.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Final 2009 payroll: $47,991,132

The Pirates are trying to manage costs and build through youth so it was kind of strange they would trade for Iwamura, who will be the second highest earner on the team next year and is projected by CHONE to hit .284/.365/.393 with a 2.2 WAR. However, it’s not a bad contract and it’s not like he’s blocking anyone at second. I guess they had to do something. Otherwise, the Pirates are rummaging through the injured pitcher discount bin, picking up the likes of Brian Burres and Neal Cotts while bringing back Tyler Yates to minor league deals. To date, the Pirates have extended 13 pitchers non-roster invites to spring training.

The Pirates are currently committed to $20.5 million for 2010, but after settling with Ronny Cedeno, they have only Zach Duke eligible for arbitration. If the Pirates’ budget is similar to last year’s, there is still some room—around $15 million—to add a contract or three.

Currently, Paul Mahom is the highest paid Pirate, earning $5 million next year. That gives him the dubious distinction of having the lowest team-best salary in baseball.

San Diego Padres
Final 2009 payroll: $43,210,258

After trading Jake Peavy last summer and letting Brian Giles walk via free agency, the Padres are in position to have their lowest club payroll since 2001 when they shelled out just under $40 million. Their final payroll number was down 39.3 percent from 2008, the largest decline among all teams.

The fiscal belt-tightening remains in place. New GM Jed Hoyer is shopping for bargains and is willing to wait. Indeed, no team has been as silent as the Padres this winter. When your top acquisition is Dusty Ryan, who hit .154/.267/.192 in 30 plate appearances last year, that should be the first sign that it’s going to be a slow winter. (I chose Ryan as the top acquisition over Radhames Liz, who was a waiver claim from Baltimore after pitching 1.1 innings and giving up 10 earned runs last summer.)

Florida Marlins
Final 2009 payroll: $37,532,482

The Marlins will occupy the payroll basement until at least 2012, when they move into their new Miami stadium. Until then, look for Florida to make more moves to avoid arbitration eligible players, like the trade of Jeremy Hermida to Boston or Matt Lindstrom to Houston. Still, they won’t be able to completely dodge the arbitration bullet. This month they’ll have to deal with Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, Cody Ross, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Leo Nunez and Renyel Pinto. Don’t be surprised if some or all of these names are the subject of rumors over the next few weeks.

At least Hanley Ramirez is locked up until 2014.

References & Resources
The Biz of Baseball was the jumping off point for this article, publishing the list of final payrolls. Its arbitration info was also invaluable. The contract numbers come from the indispensable Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Major League Trade Rumors was a source of many of the links. And the CHONE projections can be found at BaseballProjections.com.

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Comments

  1. Bob Rittner said...

    I think you might add a few points to your review of the Rays’ off-season moves. They also acquired Kelly Shoppach (and extended him to avoid arbitration) for Mitch Talbot. They re-signed Kapler and non-tendered Gabe Gross. They also brought back a number of relievers on minor league deals.

    I do have one disagreement with a statement you made. You say:

    “but he’ll get a crack at a Toronto rotation thin on starting pitching depth”

    Morrow may get a crack at the rotation, but while Toronto no longer has its ace, one of its strengths is its remarkable starting pitching depth. Whether their rotation will thrive is debatable, but there are a great many pitchers from whom to choose, most of whom have experienced some success at the major league level or have some promise of doing so.

    For starters, there are Romero, Tallet, Richmond, Cecil, Rzeczynski, Purcey. There are the hoped for returns from injury of Litsch, Marcum and McGowan and prospects ready to contribute (they hope) in Mills and Stewart. Even Drabek could move quickly. That is at least 11 possible starters for Morrow to compete against. You might or might not think highly of their quality, but it certainly represents depth.

  2. Dylan said...

    I think it depends on what is meant by the word “depth”. While there are alot of canidates for a rotation spot (who would all be 3-5 starters on most, if not all teams), there isn’t really anyone who jumps out as a solid 1 or even 2 right now. Aside from Tallet and Richmond, the other all have atleast 2 of the following 3 attributes; High Draft Pedigree, Minor League success, or Major League success, and some have all 3. I’d say there is a good bet that 2-3 of that group of 11 have a real breakout season(or return to top form for the injured guys).

    BTW, I wouldn’t be surprised if Drabek or even Morrow(I think he needs some more time to develope his secondary pitches after being mishandles by Seattle) are in AA to start the year, mainly becuase of the AAA team being in the high run environment of Las Vegas.

  3. Whateverfor said...

    The Orioles also saved 7 million from the end of the Baez contract, 4 million from Jamie Walker, 7 million from Ramon Hernandez (the Hernandez-Freel and Freel-Gathright trades were cash neutral, with the Orioles chipping in money both times) and 4 million from Jay Gibbons. That’s an extra 22 million of the books, so they’ve still cut payroll pretty significantly.

  4. Jonathan Sher said...

    I have to agree with Bob Rittner—the Blue Jays are not thin on starting pitching depth – there are few teams in the majors that have the number of starting pitchers who have shown the ability to fill out the bottom half of the rotation.

    As or the meaning of “depth” I don’t think there is much ambiguity—in any sport it means having players of talent behind your top tier. It makes no sense to say they Blue Jays lack starting pitching depth because they lack a top of the rotation starter because the meaning of the word depth is precisely the opposite. Your explanation is a bit Clintonesque.

    I’d agree they have no one who is a solid 1 or 2 for the start of the season; they do have some guys with that upside but it remains to be seen if or when that upside is realized – McGowan was thought to have an ace arm before his injury, Marcum pitched like a 1 before his injury (and was hugely under-rated),  and Romero,  Cecil and Rzeczynski have ceilings of a 2.

    It would be far more accurate to say the Jays have added Morrow to the mix of pitchers whose ceiling is a 1 or 2, and given how top pitching prospects succeed at that level, that’s a prudent move for a team re-building.

  5. Ron said...

    Good article. I personally think that the Helton rennaissance will continue because he has an incredible work ethic and he didn’t get enough rest last year. He also was limited in spring training as he wasn’t fully ready to go all out after his back surgery.  As a Rockies fan I also think that the Orioles will get more production out of Atkins.  It could be wishful thinking but his stroke at the end of the season looked much better.

    It would be interesting to see an article on the worst teams that money has bought—-looking at the top end of the payroll that has failed.

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