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February 9, 2011

Contractual Matters

NL West Payroll Projections

by Jeff Euston

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The National League West is a mixed bag. Each team in the division has won 90 games in a season at least once since 2007. In fact, the wild West has boasted two 90-win teams in three of the last four years. The one team to win 90 twice in that time, Colorado, has never won a division title.

The projected 2011 payrolls for the NL West are a mix, as well. A sizable increase is coming for the defending champion Giants, and the Padres and Dodgers will raise their payrolls slightly. Spending remains relatively flat for the Rockies, while the Diamondbacks are cutting back.

With a few free agents still looking for jobs and the mandatory reporting date of February 26th still two weeks away, Opening Day payrolls remain fluid. There’s a possibility that Michael Young could find himself on his way to the NL West at any moment. So with the understanding that we’re dealing with just a financial snapshot and the numbers are subject to change, let’s take a closer look at the projected 2011 payrolls for the NL West.

San Francisco Giants 
Projected 2011 payroll: $116,933,333 (8th)
2010 payroll: $96,277,833 Opening Day (11th), $101,417,943 year-end (11th)
Future commitments: $66.9 million for 2012, $22 million for 2013, $7 million for 2014

Like many previous World Series champions, the Giants have bumped payroll for the following season. The club also picked up its 2012 options for both manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean, who spent much of the offseason working to keep the band together for 2011.

Aubrey Huff proved to be one of the bargains of the 2010 free-agent class, providing the Giants with a 6.1 WARP season at a cost of just $3 million. Huff, 34, did not come as cheaply this winter, re-signing for two years and $22 million. Another postseason hero, Cody Ross, returns with a 41 percent raise to $6.3 million, while Pat Burrell enjoyed his brief San Francisco experience so much he took an $8 million pay cut to return on a one-year, $1 million deal.

Sabean has supplemented his championship cast with one notable addition, giving free agent Miguel Tejada $6.5 million to reprise his 1998-2003 role as a Bay Area shortstop.

Those moves, combined with raises for a number of core players, will lift the Giants’ 2011 Opening Day payroll past the $100 million mark for the first time in franchise history. The 2012 budget is tight, with $65 million committed to just five players. But Aaron Rowand’s $60 million contract expires with the end of the ’12 season, and Barry Zito’s $126 million deal comes to a merciful end a year later.

With only $29 million committed for 2013 and beyond, Sabean is not without payroll flexibility for the future—and he’ll need it to keep his pitching staff intact. Jonathan Sanchez earned a $4.8 million deal this winter, his second trip through the arbitration process. Joining him as a potential free agent for 2013 is Matt Cain, whose salary jumps to $15 million in 2012, the last year of his deal. Then there is the ace of the staff, Tim Lincecum, who will earn $14 million in 2011, the final season of a two-year extension signed a year ago. The Freak will be eligible for arbitration in 2012 and 2013 before hitting the open market for his age-30 season in 2014. The odds of Sabean retaining all three of his top starting pitchers long-term might be long, but the Giants have the payroll flexibility to have a chance.

San Diego Padres
Projected 2011 payroll: $43,460,000 (27th)
2010 payroll: $37,799,300 Opening Day (30th), $43,654,177 year-end (30th)
Future commitments: $13.55 million for 2012, $3.5 million for 2013

The Padres surprised almost everyone with their run at the division title in 2010. The surprise for 2011 is that payroll should increase, despite the trade of Adrian Gonzalez.

GM Jed Hoyer doled out raises to closer Heath Bell ($7.5 million) and left fielder Ryan Ludwick ($6.775 million), two arbitration-eligible players with just one year left before free agency. San Diego also made affordable improvements up the middle with the acquisition of free-agent second baseman Orlando Hudson and a trade for shortstop Jason Bartlett, who signed two-year contracts worth $11.5 million and $11 million, respectively.

Hoyer lured free-agent right-hander Aaron Harang from Cincinnati with a $4 million deal, and reliever Chad Qualls joins San Diego’s already nasty bullpen at a cost of just $2.55 million. But beyond that, Hoyer and the Padres have payroll flexibility to spare, with just $17 million committed for 2012 and beyond.

Colorado Rockies
Projected 2011 payroll: $82,211,071 (18th)
2010 payroll: $84,268,333 Opening Day (16th), $87,974,390 year-end (17th)
Future commitments: $61 million for 2012, $26.6 million for 2013, $28.2 million for 2014, $36.4 million for 2015, $37.4 million for 2016

GM Dan O’Dowd made the division’s biggest splash of the offseason by adding seven years and $134 million to the three years remaining on shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's contract. The 10-year, $157.5 million commitment eclipses the $141.5 million deal signed by Todd Helton in 2001 and cements Tulo as the face of the Colorado franchise for the next decade.

But O’Dowd was just getting started. In January he signed outfielder Carlos Gonzalez to a seven-year, $80 million extension. Gonzalez, a Scott Boras client, came at a steep price. The deal is the most lucrative ever for a player with two-plus years of service, topping the previous record ($70 million for Florida’s Hanley Ramirez) by $10 million.

The Rockies also signed two-year deals with free agents Jorge de la Rosa ($21.5 million) and Ty Wigginton ($8 million) and added Matt Lindstrom ($6.6 million for two years) and Jose Lopez ($3.6 million) in trades.

Though O’Dowd managed to keep his 2011 payroll near its 2010 range of $84 million, the Rockies have $189 million in commitments for 2012 and beyond, easily outpacing their NL West competitors. (At nearly $96 million, San Francisco ranks second.) But the limited payroll flexibility should not present much of an issue in the short term. Gonzalez and Tulowitzki are locked in as Rockies through 2017 and 2020, respectively, and ace Ubaldo Jimenez is signed to an almost comically club-friendly contract that could keep him in Colorado through 2014. That provides the Rockies with a solid foundation for an affordable, contending club for at least the next five years.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected 2011 payroll: $111,375,000 (10th)
2010 payroll: $102,090,283 Opening Day (9th), $109,753,719 year-end (8th)
Future commitments: $32.2 million for 2012, $36.45 million for 2013, $4.2 million for 2014

The continuing divorce and ownership saga of McCourt v. McCourthas been picked up for another season. Despite the uncertainty, GM Ned Colletti marches on, assembling a roster earning at least $100 million for the fifth consecutive year.

Colletti got a jump on his offseason before the new year, spending $66 million on three-year contracts for lefty starter Ted Lilly ($33 million), infielder Juan Uribe ($21 million), and reliever Matt Guerrier ($12 million). He also fortified the pitching staff with one-year deals for Hiroki Kuroda ($12 million), Jon Garland ($5 million), and Vicente Padilla ($2 million).

The Dodgers chose not to offer a contract to catcher Russell Martin, who earned $5.05 million in 2010. Replacing him are free agents Rod Barajas ($3.25 million) and Dioner Navarro ($1 million).

With obligations of just $32 million in 2012 and $36 million in 2013, the Dodgers should not be hamstrung financially in the country’s second-largest market. But several important financial decisions loom. Kuroda, shortstop Rafael Furcal, and closer Jonathan Broxton will be free agents in eight short months. Five more key players hit the open market in 2013: right fielder Andre Ethier, center fielder Matt Kemp, first baseman James Loney, starter Chad Billingsley and reliever Hong-Chih Kuo. Ace Clayton Kershaw reaches arbitration for the first time next winter.

Colletti’s decision not to be a serious bidder for this winter’s top free agents spoke volumes about the Dodgers’ uncertain ownership situation. The club’s handling of its stable of homegrown core players in the next two years will be just as telling. Those decisions will have long-term implications for the team’s on-field success, regardless of how and when the McCourt divorce is resolved.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Projected 2011 payroll: $55,008,333 (25th)
2010 payroll: $75,484,833 Opening Day (20th), $70,531,163 year-end (25th)
Future commitments: $28.908 million for 2012, $21.508 million for 2013, $15.75 million for 2014, $14.708 million in 2015

With new general manager Kevin Towers turning over the Arizona roster, the Diamondbacks payroll projects to come in roughly $20 million shy of their Opening Day mark for 2010, barring any late returns from Maricopa County. Gone are the club’s top six earners from 2010: Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Chris Snyder, Edwin Jackson, Adam LaRoche, and Chad Qualls.

As a result, Arizona now has just two players, Justin Upton and Chris Young, locked up beyond 2012. Upton will earn $49.5 million through 2015, while Young is due $20.5 million through 2013. That’s a marked contrast from Arizona’s financial outlook last spring, when no team in the division had committed more money for 2011-14 than the D-Backs at more than $120 million.

But Arizona now has some semblance of payroll flexibility, allowing Towers to give his bullpen a much-needed makeover this offseason while filling in the roster with a group of affordable free agents on one- or two-year deals. At a cost of slightly more than $27 million, Towers brought in closer J.J. Putz; starters Aaron Heilman, Zach Duke, and Armando Galarraga; and veterans Melvin Mora, Xavier Nady, Geoff Blum, Henry Blanco, and Willie Bloomquist.

Going forward, the Diamondbacks face the possible loss of second baseman Kelly Johnson, who is a free agent at the end of the 2011 season. Arizona has shortstop Stephen Drew locked up in an affordable deal through 2012, with a $10 million club option for 2013. Catcher Miguel Montero and rotation anchor Joe Saunders are under control for one more year of arbitration in 2012 before hitting the open market for 2013.

NL West Summary

For teams like the Diamondbacks and Padres, whose payrolls are likely to lag behind the competition in the NL West for the near future, their fortunes rest largely on their ability of their minor-league systems to produce premium players. Colorado's success is likely to hinge on its ability to put together a supporting cast for the young stars the farm system already has produced—a challenge similar to the one Sabean mastered with the 2010 Giants. He'll try to repeat that achievement in 2011, while the rest of the division watches to see just how the Dodgers' ownership situation and roster shake out in the next 12 to 24 months.

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

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