January 16, 2013 at 5:17 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
One of the questions you seemed to ask a lot in the comments have been about the Braves’ payroll for this season and whether or not a Justin Upton contract would affect the team’s ability to sign players like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, and/or Kris Medlen. Because I can read your minds and anticipate your needs, I was already working on salary projections (okay, sure, wondering about salary is a logical progression step). Below is a chart that outlines the Braves’ roster and payroll outlook for the next five years.
Once you figure out the organized chaos of the chart, you should note a few things:
- The Braves currently have around $80-85M tied up (adding some money for call-ups) for 2013. If the Braves use a payroll around $95M like they did for 2012, they have roughly $10M left. That’s enough to get Justin Upton (owed $9.75M in 2013), probably not enough for Michael Bourn, and enough for a smaller acquisition in order to leave payroll flexibility for a mid-season acquisition.
- With Brian McCann and Martin Prado looming as free-agents, it’s time to start wondering about potential replacements. As far as catchers go, John Buck, Jesus Flores, and AJ Pierzynski represent the best catchers available through free-agency, so that’s not exactly a lot. Regarding third basemen, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, Michael Young, and Placido Polanco are potential free-agents, so while there are a few more options, there still aren’t many. Christian Bethancourt (and maybe Evan Gattis, but please don’t expect that) is the most realistic internal option, but I’m not sure how realistic it really is. I suppose a Gerald Laird/LH platoon could work. Juan Francisco is the internal candidate for 3B, and we’d have another year of production to work off of.
- Depending on how the Braves choose to fill LF, the possible free-agent options next off-season would be Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Corey Hart, and Hunter Pence. So there’s quite a bit of talent there. Should the Braves hold onto prospects, they could sign 2 of McCann/Prado/FA LF and fill the other spot with a trade or Francisco.
- Looking at the rotation, Hudson and Maholm are free-agents at the end of the season, but at the moment, Randall Delgado, Sean Gilmartin, and Zeke Spruill are all legitimate options to be ready by the start of 2014. Those guys would be back-of-the-rotation options, but that’s fine with Medlen, Beachy, Minor, and Teheran to head up the rest of the rotation. Trading one or two of those guys will obviously deplete the depth, but JR Graham and Aaron Northcraft are other back-of-the-rotation possibilities come sometime in 2014/beginning of 2015. Free-agent possibilities are Scott Baker, AJ Burnett, Chris Carpenter, Jorge De La Rosa, Gavin Floyd, Matt Garza, Dan Haren, Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum, Adam Wainwright, and Edinson Volquez, so there are some options there.
- The bullpen is set through 2015 except for Eric O’Flaherty, and Luis Avilan could be an easy internal replacement. There are plenty of possible bullpen guys in the organization, so this is not an area of concern at the moment.
- The overall roster, especially the starters and starting rotation, is really young and talented. Yippee!
Now, will Justin Upton affect the Braves’ ability to sign players long-term? I put Justin Upton in the projection and used comparables to fill out key players’ arbitration salaries for the next few seasons.
Because you’ll want to ask about what comparables I used: (note: I aimed high to make sure I hit upper limits of possible scenarios in order to see if there really is room)
- Freddie Freeman -> Adam LaRoche
- Andrelton Simmons -> left out because his arbitration years come after Upton
- Jason Heyward -> Justin Upton
- Kris Medlen -> Guess because who knows
- Brandon Beachy -> Matt Cain
- Mike Minor -> Jon Niese
- Julio Teheran -> Ditto Simmons
- Craig Kimbrel -> Jonathan Papelbon
- Jonny Venters -> Matt Thornton with a little EOF at the end
- Jordan Walden -> Mike Adams
These are the “salary projections” with Upton and the arbitration figures. As you can see, everyone fits. This year’s budget hits around $92M, not including possible call-ups. 2014’s budget loses ~$40M from McCann, Prado, Hudson, Maholm, and O’Flaherty, but after arbitration raises and such, only about $20-25M remains to refill those 5 spots. But that money is only there for 2014. Arbitration raises and such (again) begin eating into that and only about $5M remains for 2015.
This is where the new TV deals with ESPN and FOX come in. While the regional Braves deal won’t be much help, the new league-wide deals should add $20-25M (over the past deals) in each team revenues starting in 2014, but how much can or will go into the team payroll is unknown.
Should the payroll stay the same, bringing back Prado and/or McCann becomes very difficult. Prado might be able to be squeezed into that budget if the Braves could get an extension/FA contract under $10M a year, but that would really restrict what else the Braves could do. McCann would likely be gone in this scenario, but we’d probably rather have the mid-20s Upton that an entering-his-30s McCann.
Should the payroll increase, the Braves would have a choice between Prado and McCann, but they probably won’t be able to keep both. Either way, however, the Braves would have some room to make an addition or two to support what was there. It’s nicer to have a bit more money to work with.
Not trading for Upton would obviously help the Braves retain much more financial flexibility for the next few seasons as well as the prospects/players needed to acquire him, but it would weaken the 2013 team. As for 2014, it depends on the payroll. Without a payroll increase, the outlook looks similar with a re-signed Prado or Upton, but with an increased payroll, Prado and Justin Upton look better than Prado and McCann.
So to answer your original question, trading Upton doesn’t really affect the ability to sign any of the younger players to extensions because the free-agent seasons won’t kick in until after Upton’s contract is up. Their arbitration seasons are already penciled in. But trading for Upton does affect the futures of Prado and McCann, whose contracts are not already penciled in for the next few seasons and would need substantial amounts of money to retain.
In essence your question amounts to, Justin Upton for 3 years and Prado/McCann (maybe) or Prado and/or McCann and the players traded with no assurances Prado or McCann would be here post-2013?