Come December, Braves fans, players, and executives will find themselves in a very unfamiliar situation. Thats because when front office officials from all over baseball head to Las Vegas for their annual winter meetings, Frank Wren will have a lot of money to spend and no problem spending it. This years off-season may very well be the first time that this organization has made a big splash in the free agent pool since signing Brian Jordan before the 1999 season (Its been a while). So, how much money will the Braves actually have?
Atlantas 2008 opening day payroll was about $96 million after taking into account the way that Hamptons salary has been paid out. Based on past comments by team executives, that figure could stay the same or move up a little. That is one of the many things that us fans are not privy to, but the point is that we arent going to see any of the payroll cuts that were so common in the years leading up to Liberty Medias acquisition of the team.
Mark Teixeira was the first big contract from that $96 million number to exit the picture. Along with Tex, there are five other players (John Smoltz, Mike Hampton, Tom Glavine, Will Ohman, and Mark Kotsay) being paid $2 million or more, whose contracts will expire. Those six players represent over one third of the teams opening day payroll. The other big money player wholl contribute to Atlantas financial flexibility this off-season is Tim Hudson. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, a significant portion of the right-handers $13 million salary should be covered by insurance. For this breakdown, I assumed that $9 million of that contract would be covered, which is a conservative estimate.
The next step is to look at the projected 2009 roster. Outside of the free agents I mentioned, there are three players who were not included. Greg Norton is a free agent and very unlikely to be re-signed, while both Ruben Gotay and Matt Diaz are arbitration eligible and candidates to be non-tendered. Added to the roster was Jordan Schafer, Brent Lillibridge, Royce Ring, and Atlantas injured relievers (Manny Acosta, Rafael Soriano, and Peter Moylan). The interchangeable pieces are making near the league minimum so it really doesnt matter whether Im spot on with my roster projection. There are three open spots on the projected roster with room for two starting pitchers and one outfielder
With those 22 players as well as the portion of Hudsons contract I expect the team to pick up, the total comes out to about $43.5 million. Add in money for some of the minor leaguers who are on major league deals and were probably looking at about $46 million tied up as of now. In other words, Frank Wren will have around $50 million to work with. The bottom line is that the Braves absolutely have enough money to target any of this years top free agents and almost certainly wont have to worry about losing their top pick in next years draft. Braves fans, this is going to be a fun off-season.