We entered the offseason expecting to see a slow-moving free agent market, as teams around the league found themselves with constrained revenues due to a 60-game regular season played without fans. At this point, everyone seems to be hoping that 2021 brings a more normal-looking regular season, but the outlook for that is still uncertain. MLB hopes to have fans back in attendance next season, but what future attendance looks like remains to be seen. Additionally, the 2020 season was played with the universal designated hitter and it remains uncertain if that will be sticking around for 2021 as well.
There was a natural assumption that we may some payrolls around the league remain static or decrease. Atlanta’s payroll (without benefits and salaries for 40-man roster players) nudged just past $158 million in 2020 per Cot’s Contracts before it was prorated down due to the shortened season. That was by far the team’s highest payroll mark ever, and a 30 percent increase over its previous Opening Day payroll high of $122 million (2017), yet still put the Braves in the middle tranche of teams by spending, 13th overall and far closer to moderate spenders like the Rangers and the Rockies than teams like the Giants or Padres, to say nothing of the extreme payrolls of the Yankees and Dodgers.
Looking at where things stand currently, the Braves have nine players with guaranteed salaries for next season. Freddie Freeman tops the list and will make just over $22.3 million in the final season of his eight-year, $135 million deal that he signed back in 2014.
New additions Charlie Morton ($15 million) and Drew Smyly ($11 million) join Will Smith ($13 million) in Atlanta’s top four player salaries.
Ender Inciarte is slated to make $8.7 million in 2021 which is the fifth-highest salary for anyone currently on the roster. Inciarte’s situation deserves a deeper dive and we will take a look at that later.
Travis d’Arnaud and Chris Martin are entering the final year of the two-year deals that they agreed to before last season while Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies round out the list which you can see below.
|Ronald Acuña Jr
Another piece of the salary puzzle is arbitration-eligible players. The non-tender deadline is coming up this week and I previously highlighted some decisions the Braves will need to make on several players.
As you can see below, several players including Dansby Swanson, Max Fried and Mike Soroka will be looking at significant raises which will bump up that overall salary total. I included two different salary projections for each of these players. The first is from MLB Trade Rumors and is modeled on actual stats for the 2020 season. The second is from Cot’s Contracts.
Braves 2020-21 arbitration
|MLBTR (Model with 2020 stats)
|MLBTR (Model with 2020 stats)
That is a total of 17 players so far and does not include outfielder Abraham Almonte whom the team signed to a non-guaranteed deal earlier this offseason. Counting Almonte gives the Braves 18 rostered players plus eight more non-arbitration guys at the league minimum. That brings the working salary total for a 26-man Opening Day roster to just under $123 million according to Cot’s Contracts. The Braves can, of course, trim this figure by non-tendering an arbitration-eligible player; they can also save some money by tendering a player and releasing him at a certain point before the season begins.
The biggest remaining question mark for the Braves this offseason is Marcell Ozuna, who is currently a free agent. Ozuna’s market is likely to move slowly until there is a resolution on the universal DH. Reports have suggested that the Braves are interested in making a multi-year offer to Ozuna but potentially only if the DH is going to stick around in the NL. If Ozuna does not return, then they will be looking for another offensive presence to plug into the lineup.
There is also the sense that Atlanta could have interest in bringing back a reliever like Mark Melancon or Shane Greene who performed well in 2020. The team could also benefit from an addition or two to the bench and there should be plenty of possibilities once an expectedly large number of players are non-tendered by Wednesday’s deadline.