Spring training is in full gear. Opening Day — Australia style — is 26 days away. Several free agents still hoping for major-league deals remain unsigned, most notably Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana. They each received a qualifying offer from their last team, turned it down, and now sit waiting for a new team to pay them and agree to give up a draft pick. For the most part, though, teams have done the hard work to construct their Opening Day rosters, save for the usual spring training competitions for bench positions and the back end of the bullpen.
Combined, teams have committed more than $3 billion in salary for the 2014 season. The top spender is the Los Angeles Dodgers, at more than $220 million. The most frugal is the Miami Marlins, with approximately $42.5 million in salary obligations.
Every team, no matter the payroll, has to make decisions about how to spend the money allocated for player salaries. We wanted to know about those decisions. What percentage of a team’s payroll is spent on the highest-paid player? The starting rotations? The starting position players? The bullpen? The bench? How many pre-arbitration eligible players likely will be on each team’s Opening Day roster? Do big spending teams allocate their payroll in a different way than smaller spending team? If so, how? And so on.
We will answer those questions in a series of posts.
Today we will look at projected Opening Day payrolls for each team; the highest paid player on each team and the percentage his salary represents of the team payroll; and how many pre-arbitration players are expected to be on each team’s Opening Day roster.
Tomorrow we will examine how much each team will spend on its starting rotation, starting position players, bullpen and bench, and how those salaries are distributed within the overall team payroll.
Projected Opening Day payroll for each team.
I started with each team’s 2014 – 2019 payroll obligations page on Cot’s Contracts. I then examined depth charts and did my best to pin point the number of pre-arbitration eligible players each team was likely to have on its Opening Day roster. For each such pre-arb player, I added $500,000 in salary. That’s the minimum salary for a major-league player this season. Players with one or two years of service time will make more than $500,000, but those players — and the rookies — may spend some time in Triple-A, thus reducing their time earning the minimum. Allotting $500,000 for each such player is a close approximation. After adding up each team’s salaries for 2014, I rounded to the nearest $500,000.
As of February 22, the projected Opening Day payrolls look like this:
|Rank||Team||Projected 2014 Opening Day Payroll|
There will be some re-ranking to do after the last few free agents are signed. But the gap between the top-tier spending teams and the bottom-tier teams won’t narrow much, if at all.
The percentage of each team’s payroll spent on the highest-paid player.
This is a fun exercise, if not always an insightful one. Often a team’s highest paid player is in the back end of his contract, and no longer the most valuable or most productive player on the team (we’re looking at you Aramis Ramirez). Or the best player on the planet is in only his third full season and will make less than $1 million (hello Mike Trout).
Still, every general manager must construct a roster around the salary commitments he’s already made. So it’s worth looking at how much the highest-paid player ate at the salary buffet. The below chart ranks the teams by percentage of payroll spent on the highest-paid player. The Twins are ranked first, with Joe Mauer eating up 27.9% of the Twins projected Opening Day payroll. The Red Sox are last — which is partly a function of having a sizable payroll, but not entirely. Boston’s highest-paid player — Mike Napoli — will make $16 million this season. Among the highest-paid players on each team, that’s tied for 14th highest.
|Rank||Team||Highest Paid Player||Highest Salary||2014 Payroll||Percentage of Payroll|
|10||White Sox||John Danks/SP||$15,750,000||$89,000,000||17.70%|
|20||Phillies||Ryan Howard/1B, Cliff Lee/SP||$25,000,000||$175,500,000||14.25%|
|22||Blue Jays||Mark Beuhrle/SP||$19,000,000||$136,000,000||13.95%|
|29||Red Sox||Mike Napoli||$16,000,000||$155,000,000||10.30%|
Only three of these highest-paid players changed teams over the winter. Robinson Cano left the New York Yankees to sign with the Seattle Mariners. Scott Feldman joined the Houston Astros as a free agent after playing last season with the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles. And the Detroit Tigers traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers. The Tigers will send cash to the Rangers to soften the pain of Fielder’s contract, but those payments do not start until 2015.
We see several of the smallest market teams at the top of this list. That’s not surprising, as one big contract will eat up a big percentage of the team’s payroll. It’s also a stark reminder how hard it is for lower-budget teams to keep their home-grown stars in the post-arbitration years and still field a competitive team.
[Note: As several comments noted, the Astros are paying $5.5 million of Wandy Rodriguez’s salary, so suggesting, as I did, that the Pirates are in for $13 million on Rodriguez is misleading. I agree. Russell Martin should be noted as the highest paid Pirate at $9.5 million, or 13.4% of the team’s payroll.]
Here’s another way of looking at the numbers:
What about those pre-arbitration players? How many are likely to be on the field when Opening Day rosters are announced, just before very loud jets fly over the ballpark to usher in the new season?
Our best guess? The Astros will be the team with the highest number of pre-arb players:
|Rank||Team||Projected 2014 Opening Day Payroll||No. Pre-Arb Players on Opening Day Roster|
This is the most interesting chart so far. Look at the St. Louis Cardinals, with 13 pre-arbitration players and an Opening Day payroll at $108 million. That’s what a roster of home-grown talent plus targeted free-agent acquisitions looks like.
The most surprising ranking? The Chicago Cubs, a team undergoing a substantial rebuilding process, may field only four pre-arbitration players to start the season. Even if you add in Anthony Rizzo — whom the Cubs inked to a long-term deal covering his pre-arb and arb years — that still only brings them up to a total of five; quite a difference compared to the rebuilding Astros and fewer than the free-spending Yankees.
Munch on these numbers, charts and graphs today. Tomorrow, we’ll break the payrolls down even further.