Show Me the $! End-of-Year Payrolls

On some level, it’s simple to say that each of the Big-4 sports in Northern America are different. Baseball doesn’t have a clock; the NHL uses a puck; the NBA uses a hoop; the NFL has downs.

Yes, I’m being over simplistic here, but on the salary side, the distance between MLB and its other Big-4 brethren diverge further still.

Baseball has a soft salary cap, but only in the loosest of terms. Baseball is also the only sport where there is a tracking of salary at the beginning on through the end of the season.

In reality, it’s really the former that gets the most attention. Opening Day salaries, be it through the advent of USA Today’s salary database, or the fact that OD salary is latched onto as :”intent of spending” for an upcoming season, end-of-year salary doesn’t get the focus it’s bookended brother gets.

Which, to me, is wrong.

The final salaries in MLB show totals that include the 40 man roster, and shows how clubs ramp up, or shed payroll as the season progresses. It’s the final snapshot of a club’s season, the final salary picture for those “Season Recap” reports.

When coupled with one or more years in the data set, it’s a good trending tool to see how clubs might be making a push for the playoffs when their development window is seen as open, or the shedding of payroll when clubs are reloading. If you watch the Yankees and Red Sox (or rather, the AL East), it can be a sign of widening payroll disparity between the Yankees and Red Sox and the rest of the Division. If you look at the AL West, it’s a whiplashed roller-coaster ride that sees Tom Hicks going after Alex Rodriguez and Bill Bavasi’s <ahem> “handiwork” with the Mariners and Jack Zduriencik trying to correct the former GM’s bad contracts.

There isn’t space here on FanGraphs to display all the data I’ve collected over the last 12 year. You can see it here in a special report. But, here is the end-of-year payrolls for the 2010 season, the 2009 counterpart for each club, and the increase or decrease by percentage from the year prior. I’m going to leave it open for discussion except for a couple comments:

  • Total end-of-year salaries totaled $2,911575,488 – nearly $3 billion dollars. MLB has said that gross revenues totaled $7 billion in 2010, meaning player salaries accounted for 43 percent of the total. And remember, that’s just Major League salary. It does not include minor league payroll costs. That said, 2010 player salaries were down, albeit less than 1 percent (-0.88%) from 2009;
  • The Phillies ranked third in player payroll last season, and with the signing of Cliff Lee, expect them to hold that position in 2011. Since 2006, the Phillies player payroll has ballooned 56 percent;
  • The Red Sox broke the Luxury Tax ceiling for the first time since 2007 (the threshold was $170 million, and the Red Sox’ had a Competitive Balance Tax payroll (see here how it is calculated a bit differently than end-of-year salary) came to $176,609,550. With the off-season flurry of signings that the Red Sox went through, expect them to break the $178 million threshold this coming season. Good thing they’re going to leverage a Luxury Tax loophole (again) with the Adrian Gonzalez extension.
Team 2010

% (+/-)






Red Sox
























White Sox








































Blue Jays




















































NOTE: Final 2010 payrolls for the 30 major league teams, according to information received by clubs from the commissioner’s office. Figures are for 40-man rosters and include salaries and pro-rated shares of signing bonuses, earned incentive bonuses, non-cash compensation, buyouts of unexercised options and cash transactions. In some cases, parts of salaries that are deferred are discounted to reflect present-day values.

Follow Maury Brown on Twitter @BizballMaury

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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for freelance and looks forward to your comments.

27 Responses to “Show Me the $! End-of-Year Payrolls”

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  1. Barkey Walker says:

    How does the accounting work? i.e. is 1/2 of Lee in the Marlins’ line, or is 0 of Lee on the Marlins line because he was being paid by Texas then.

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  2. Nick says:

    The NHL tracks salaries through the season. Salary calculation is done on a day by day basis.

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  3. puffy says:

    Marlins and Indians sitting pretty. Pitching depth and elite bats locked up for a while. 2 of the best run orgs out there.

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    • Scout Finch says:

      Are the Royals also on your list of “best run orgs” ?

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      • puffy says:

        Other than the Marlins’ 2 recent rings and Cleveland finishing above KC for like 20 years, and each still currently outperforming KC, yes, I suppose they are similar.

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  4. MikeS says:

    Interesting list.

    A lot of White Sox fans are under the illusion that the White Sox are cheap and at the same time feel that the Twins manage to get by spending far less. I think if you asked the average meatball Sox fan they would guess that the White Sox were middle of the pack and the Twins were much lower. Both were in the top third although the Twins had a huge increase in payroll to get there.

    Personally, I would have thought the Rays were a lot further down.

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    • puffy says:

      A lot of fans are under the illusion that the As were cheap the past decade as well. They were middle of the pack for a while. Fans (people) believe what they want about baseball (life).

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  5. GTStD says:

    Something I find funny, looking at the whole 12-year plot. The Braves have been, for the whole period of time, in between ~80 and ~100 million the whole time. Over the years, as salaries have boomed, they have stayed pretty much at the same payroll… in 1999 and 2000, this was good for 3rd highest in the league, only 10 million or so behind the Yanks. Now they are right in the middle of the pack, 140 million behind the Yanks.

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    • Scott says:

      While I would love for the Braves to spend more on payroll, I applaud the Braves for having the restraint not to blow it on players that aren’t worth it. They could have yielded to the fan pressure and signed Javy Lopez, J.D. Drew, Russ Ortiz, Gary Sheffield, Jaret Wright, John Burkett during their career years with the Braves, but held back and made a good baseball decision.

      Most bigger market teams can’t resist the urge to double down on a player that just had a career year, like Kyle Lohse with the Cards, Bret Boone with the Mariners Bobby Higginson with Detroit, or Brady Anderson with the O’s.

      When a player they like comes around, they usually keep them for awhile (Tim Hudson, Greg Maddux, Chipper, Glavine, McCann etc.). So maybe the Braves are just waiting for the right players to come along before they raise their payroll…like that guy Heyward.

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      • GTStD says:

        Yeah… the thing with the Braves seems to be that they don’t deal with their own players in the market. If they let a Braves star get to free agency, they’re pretty likely to let him go. If they think they’ll want the guy around long term, they generally do it via contract extensions, which gives them a little more leverage than letting the players get to free agency and testing the market. This comes from having a farm system that they know they can go to for replacements or trade capital.

        The biggest payroll increases seem to come when they bring in a bigger contract in a trade or sign a free agent to fill a hole they can’t with their own guys. Since these are lessened by their pipeline of talent, they don’t have the need to compete for the top notch guys most of the time, and they can manage their payroll. Which is good because the ownership has been hesitant to allow large increases anyways.

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  6. Sox27 says:

    I think the perception of the Sox being cheap is largely due to the fact that since Albert Belle, there wasn’t the major financial commitment to star caliber top tier players. We’ve seen that change in the last 2-3 years with the additions of Dunn, Peavy, Rios. I also think part of the thinking stems from their lack of willingness to negotiate with Scott Boras clients (who usually represent those top tier free agents).

    I also believe the days of the Twins being perceiced as the “small budget little engine that could” are over. Big financial commitments to Mauer, Morneau should end that notion.

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  7. mowill says:

    As a Mariner fan I have to question if they will ever be a top ten payroll again with the rediculously cheap tv contract they signed in 2007 that lasts until 2020. Washington state, especially Seattle, and also Portland are two of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. Add to that Idaho, Montana and even Alaska have higher than average growth and that many Mariners games are broadcast in Vancouver B.C. and you start to see that 35 million dollars a year is far too little for broadcasts of Mariners games. Which despite the product on the field are still very popular in every market they broadcast in. That contract is crippling in comparison to the Angels and Rangers television deals.

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    • Scott says:

      Even with the horrible media deal the M’s have the dough to spend in free agency. They have the best geographic territory in baseball.

      The problem is that money hasn’t solved their problems. The farm hasn’t produced much in years besides Felix. They tried blowing cash and prospects on Sexson, Beltre, Bedard, Silva, Cliff Lee and ended up losing a hundred games.

      The M’s just need to be patient and develop the “right way” and go into free agency when their farm grown talent is on the cusp.

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  8. Patrick says:

    White Sox fans perception that ownership is cheap has more to do with the ’97 White flag trade, Jerry Reinsdorf’s role in the ’94 strike (while his team was in 1st), and his threats to move the team to Tampa prior to that.

    Since the ’04 offseason when they traded Carlos Lee and let Maggs walk without even offering him arbitration- I haven’t heard a single Sox fan call them cheap.

    as for the Twins yeah, I agree that they’re perceived as small market spenders. The fact that they’re hardly a decade removed from Contraction talks, as well as the fact that our manager referred to them as “Piranhas” has a lot to do with this.

    But I think the Mauer contract (and obviously the new ballpark) has woken everyone up about their spending behavior.
    But having said that- I can’t say that that their reputation wasn’t entirely undeserved. They did give away Yohan Santana and thus the 2008 Division title because they didn’t want to give the best pitcher in baseball a long-term contract extension.

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  9. Mason says:

    The Brewers are definitely not small market anymore, having the 13th highest payroll in 2010. Unfortunately that was a lot of “dead” money last year, paid to Bill Hall and Jeff Suppan to play for other teams.

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  10. david says:

    As always, Maury, great stuff! Thanks!

    Quick clarification question… are the option buyouts you include the ones paid after the completion of the 2010 season to get out of 2011 commitments, or is the clock the day after the 2009 World Series until the end of the 2010 series?

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    • david says:

      One other process question actually. How do you account cash included in player trades. For example, how is the $10.5M the Dodgers sent to Kenny Williams accounted for in both team’s totals?

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  11. JK says:

    Nice to see the Mets, open a new staduim, raise ticket prices, and then drop total dollars spent by 10%.

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  12. tarheelcoach says:

    The Mets’ number is misleading. The drop in payroll is mainly due to their poor play and Omar Minaya’s desperation to save his job. Jason Bay’s contract cost only $8mm in 2010, and $16mm after that. I think this was done on purpose to give the Mets some flexibility to make a deal during the season to fill a hole. But when they played poorly, there was no reason to expend the resources. Omar knew there was nothing he could do to save the season (or his job!).

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    • Bob says:

      That is nice spin. It doesn’t change the facts that: the mets total payroll dropped 10%, they moved into a new stadium, and they raised prices.

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  13. Jeff Wise says:

    Must we talk about Bill Bavasi and his terrible job with the M’s? Jack Z doesn’t have an easy job. Not only does he need to bring the payroll down, he has to rebuild and stay competitive at the same time.

    Good luck!

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  14. leon says:

    I was surprised to see the Twins spending figures. I thought they would be down since losing Crain, Guererr, Thome, Hudson, Punto, and a few more.

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