Can the Braves fit Dansby Swanson (and more) into the budget?

One of the biggest questions on the minds of Braves fans right now is whether the star shortstop Dansby Swanson will be retained, and whether long-circulating speculation about a potential race to Jacob of Grom, who will retire from his contract with the Mets in a few weeks, will materialize during the impending offseason. Either effort would likely require a nine-figure outlay, and while Atlanta has spent a lot of money over the past half year, it’s worth taking a closer look at just how much these scenarios are plausible – and any other major splashes on free-agents or trading markets – maybe.

First, with respect to this commentary on the Braves’ spending, any look at their payroll should begin with a recap of President of Baseball Operations Alex Anthopoulos’ historic streak of contract extensions. Dating from March, each of Matt Olson (eight years, $168 million), austin riley (ten years, $212 million), Michael Harris II (eight years, $72 million) and Spencer Strider (six-year, $75 million) put pen to paper on long-term deals, effectively carving them in stone alongside Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies as a foundation of the Braves for the foreseeable future. The Braves also exercised preventively by Charlie Morton $20 million club option for 2023 and added another $20 million club option for the 2024 season.

It might not have been as shocking as seeing the Rangers spend half a billion dollars on a pair of free agents in the space of about 72 hours last winter, but the Braves still put their own half-billion-dollar investment into keeping the bulk of that 2022 core intact for the long haul. That doesn’t even include adding a closer reveal delay Raisel Iglesias, which the Braves acquired at a relatively low scouting cost because they agreed to absorb his entire remaining contract from the Angels. He will be paid $48 million from 2023-25.

What does that do to their payroll? Predictably, even though the majority of extensions have trading potential and are inherently loaded, the 2023 books have ballooned in a hurry. The Braves owe a total of $153.8 million to the 15 players who have guaranteed contracts on the books next year. Add a potential salary of $12.5 million for Jake Odorizziwhich has a player option, and the number jumps to $166.3 million.

Further factoring in the $20 million in refereeing salaries forecast by Matt Swartz for Max fried, A. J. Minter and Mike Soroka (assuming there is no tender for Guillaume Heredia, Silvino Bracho and Tyler Matz, who recently underwent Tommy John surgery) – the number jumps to $188.3 million for 19 players. Supplement that with pre-offer players earning at or near the league minimum, and the Braves will have just over $193 million on next year’s Opening Day roster, even before make an addition.

That figure checks north of what was this season’s franchise-record payroll of about $178 million, making the Braves one of three MLB teams whose current 2023 payroll projection would be a record before even making a single move. (The Rockies and Blue Jays are also in this boat, by my calculations.)

Does that mean hope is lost for a major off-season expense? Not necessarily. Braves president Terry McGuirk told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month that his goal is to allow his front office to field one of the five biggest payrolls in sports. That doesn’t mean the Braves will spend for the sole purpose of moving up the payroll ladder, but it’s nonetheless a bold statement from a team’s manager and the type of candor we rarely see from. of this staff.

For context, the top five Opening Day payrolls for the sport in 2022, according to Cot’s Contracts numbers, were the Dodgers ($281 million), Mets ($264.5 million), Yankees ( $246 million), Phillies ($229 million) and Padres ($211 million). mm). The Braves already ranked ninth in opening day payrolls last season, and the projected increase to $193-194 million could well lift them a spot or two.

Of course, when looking at large-scale spending and the top five salaries, the notion of luxury tax must be taken into account. The Braves have never paid that tax before, but if McGuirk is serious about lining up a top-five payroll, incurring a luxury penalty becomes practically a given.

It’s also worth noting that while the Braves’ payroll for the 2023 season is expected to be around $193 million (as it stands), the luxury bill is a bit higher. This is the only “downside” to locking up so many stars so soon; these expansions come with inherent luxury hits that wouldn’t have existed if the team had moved from year to year. Luxury taxation is based on the average annual value of a contract, so keeping Strider and Harris on one-year, pre-arbitration contracts for the 2023 season would have meant they would have accounted for around $1.5 million. combined with respect to the tax threshold. Instead, they’ll now come with a combined hit of $21.5 million. Jason Martinez of Roster Resource has already pitched the Braves for just over $217 million in luxury bonds — only about $16 million shy of next year’s $233 million first-tier threshold.

Maybe the Braves can find takers for some of the less desirable contracts on the books. It’s hard to imagine a team wanting to do much with the remaining two years and $36 million on Marcell Ozuna ill-fated four-year contract, but find a taker for Odorizzi’s final season or year and $4.5 million owed to reserve receiver Manny Pina is more feasible.

Still, there’s no viable scenario where the Braves could lose enough payroll to be able to re-sign Swanson. and Play for one of the other top free agents out there without rocketing into luxury territory. If McGuirk and Liberty Media (the company that owns the Braves) are truly willing to push for a top-five payroll, then the Braves can’t be ruled out of making plenty of free agent splashes this winter.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the team could still hope to extend top starter Max Fried. If so, the idea of ​​re-signing Swanson and extending Fried alone would push the Braves into luxury territory. In other words, just keeping the current squad together will make the Braves a luxury taxpayer. Adding a big-name free agent/trade acquisition (in addition to a potential deal with Swanson and/or Fried) could send them rushing to the second tier of luxury penalty.

If the Braves are going to have a particularly active offseason — or even if they’re just going to just maintain the status quo — they’re going to have to follow a Padres-style trajectory and set themselves up as potentially annual luxury tax payers. in the foreseeable future.

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