2015 National League Payroll Breakdown

Yesterday, we broke down the payrolls in the American League. This post repeats that exercise for the National League. The average Major League Baseball payroll in 2015 is roughly $122 million. With top-heavy payrolls, the median comes in lower at around $112 million. In 2014, the average payroll in the AL East on Opening Day was $135.1 million, narrowly edging the NL West’s $135 million. With sizable increases for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, the NL West is now the highest-salaried division in the majors.

NL Payroll by DIvision
Figures from Cots with minimum salaries added to create a 25-man roster.

The NL West has a healthy monetary advantage over the NL East and the NL Central due principally to the Dodgers and Giants. Eleven of 15 NL teams have payrolls below the MLB average. Only the Dodgers, Giants, Washington Nationals, and Philadelphia Phillies have payrolls above $120 million.

National League West

In addition to having the highest average payroll, the NL West is also the least competitive financially. The Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day payroll triples that of NL West foe Arizona Diamondbacks.

NL West Payroll

The Dodgers and San Francisco Giants tower over the rest of the division as none of the three remaining teams have payrolls above $100 million. The Giants have the fourth highest payroll in all of baseball and they have to look way up to see the Dodgers. The San Diego Padres made major moves this offseason, but with the Dodgers paying $18 million of Matt Kemp’s salary this year, they kept the payroll well below average.

Team Most Expensive Player (Amount) 2015 Payroll ($M) Money Committed to 2016 ($M) Money Committed to 2017 ($M)
Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw 268.8 166.3 166.3
San Francisco Giants Matt Cain 171.0 116.3 73.6
San Diego Padres Justin Upton 96.7 56.2 46.3
Colorado Rockies Troy Tulowitzki 94.0 63.2 40.4
Arizona Diamondbacks Trevor Cahill 88.0 32.2 18.4

Future payroll numbers do not include arbitration estimates or minimum salaries necessary to reach a 25-man roster. Only guaranteed future salaries are included.

The Dodgers guaranteed money for 2017 would rank sixth in Opening Day payroll for this season. The Giants have a lot of money coming off the books in the next few years leaving Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence. Outside of those four, it is not clear where the Giants future production will come from. The highest salaried player on the Padres is technically Matt Kemp, but the Padres are paying the most money to Justin Upton as a result of the Dodgers paying most of Kemp’s salary in 2015. Colorado remains tied to Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. The team is rebuilding regardless of whether they hold on to those two, but the process could be hastened by trading away its two cornerstones.

National League East

The NL East has one major power, one team that will not be able to compete with a bloated payroll and three teams spending well below their means.

NL East Payroll

The Mets averaged over $125 million annually in payroll from 2002-11, but have not topped $100 million since. The Washington Nationals flexed their financial muscle and are big favorites heading into 2015. Miami could compete with greater resources, but this could be Washington’s division to lose for the next few years.

Team Most Expensive Player (Amount) 2015 Payroll ($M) Money Committed to 2016 ($M) Money Committed to 2017 ($M)
Washington Nationals Jayson Werth 158.5 84.1 59.2
Philadelphia Phillies Ryan Howard/Cliff Lee 137.5 76.2 34.0
New York Mets David Wright 96.3 57.6 35.5
Atlanta Braves Melvin Upton, Jr. 97.1 72.6 87.6
Miami Marlins Mat Latos 65.5 37.0 14.5

The Nationals could lose Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, and Ian Desmond at the end of the year and still be favored to win the NL East in 2016. They will also have to deal with another raise for Stephen Strasburg, but they appear to have the money to take advantage of the frugality shown by the rest of the division. Martin Prado and Dan Haren will actually make more money than Mat Latos, but the Marlins are not paying full freight for Prado and Haren, making Latos’ $9.4 million the Marlins highest outlay this season. The Mets have very little money guaranteed in future years so if ownership wanted to shift its spending philosophy, they could move up the pecking order quickly. The Braves are in the rare position of having guaranteed money go up in future years as Freddie Freeman earns a hefty raise in 2016. The Phillies should have the opportunity to start over quickly with more money coming off the books after this season and half of the remaining guarantees owed to sought-after pitchers Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

National League Central

The NL Central has the biggest cluster of similar payrolls with every team under the MLB average. The Cubs loom as a potential big spender, but they have not reached those heights yet, despite the signing of Jon Lester.

NL Central Payroll

The Pittsburgh Pirates pose the biggest threat to the St. Louis Cardinals’ defense of the division, but they lag behind their rivals monetarily. The resumption of spending by the Chicago Cubs along with fairly static payrolls from the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Cincinnati Reds has pushed the division together.

Team Most Expensive Player (Amount) 2015 Payroll ($M) Money Committed to 2016 ($M) Money Committed to 2017 ($M)
St. Louis Cardinals Adam Wainwright 119.4 90.7 65.0
Chicago Cubs Jon Lester 116.5 82.0 61.8
Cincinnati Reds Joey Votto 111.0 82.0 66.5
Milwaukee Brewers Aramis Ramirez 103.1 49.5 32.8
Pittsburgh Pirates Francisco Liriano 87.4 45.4 37.2

The Cardinals still have quite a bit of money guaranteed to players in 2016 as they hold on to the core players that have made them so successful. Keeping Jason Heyward and the development of young pitchers could be the keys to keeping their run alive. The Cubs are in a similar position to the Cardinals monetarily in terms of guarantees, but with a ton of young, cost-controlled hitters and the ability to outspend the division, their rivals should be concerned. The Reds owe Joey Votto $203 million before his contract runs in 2023. They also have Homer Bailey and Devin Mesoraco for multiple years, but without a significant youth infusion the Reds will need a lot of things to go right for them to keep in contention the next few years, especially as Johnny Cueto departs after the season. The Brewers are in excellent shape financially as Aramis Ramirez, Kyle Lohse, and Jonathan Broxton become free agents. Unfortunately, they also need to replace the production of the former two and hope that Ryan Braun can continue to hit like he has in the past. The Pirates are in a great position financially and have a lot of young talent on the roster. They should be able to compete for the division despite a lower payroll behind Andrew McCutchen and company.

The projected standings in the National League are not as tight as in the AL. The team with the highest payroll in each division is projected to win the division with the Nationals and Dodgers with a nine and eight game advantage over second place, respectively. The NL Central is very bunched up with the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs all within two games of each other. The National League appears to be a very top-heavy league with the contenders known before the season even begins.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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vslykemember
7 years ago

The Braves have more money committed to 2017 than any NL team than the Dodgers?! That new stadium better bring in a lot of revenue.

jdbolick
7 years ago
Reply to  vslyke

Credit Frank Wren.

TKDC
7 years ago
Reply to  jdbolick

Well, only half of it is bad money, and part of that was Hart’s ridiculous Markakis signing. Unless things change, the Braves will be happy paying Freeman, Simmons, Teheren and Kimbrel in 2017.

jdbolick
7 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

It’s too early to say definitively what is and isn’t “bad money,” yet I would argue that significantly more than half of it looks bad right now. The Wren deals were so far above other recent extensions for players of comparable production and service time that Dave used them as a basis for articles suggesting that a new market had been established. Simmons took a large step backwards instead of the breakout some projected for him, while Freeman declined very slightly instead of continuing to improve as those who favored the extension argued that he would. Teheran and Kimbrel are the two that look good, yet Julio’s 2014 is perceived to be “lucky” with regression on the horizon (Steamer projects a 1.4 WAR) while a dominant closer is largely wasted on a team that won’t compete in the immediate future. Granted, all of those look better than the Chris Johnson or Dan Uggla extensions along with the B.J. Upton signing, but the point of locking up young players with years left of team control is to secure them at lower costs.

TKDC
7 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

Every team in baseball would take any of those four contracts and give the Braves something for it.

Also, honestly the B.J. Upton signing wasn’t that bad if you look at the years it covered and the player he was at the time. A lot of people thought it was an overpay, but people think almost every free agent is an overpay. Nobody thought he’d immediately become perhaps the worst player in baseball. The Johnson deal was awful at the time and worse now. The Uggla deal was pretty bad, but at least it was made when the Braves were competing.

But my main point is whether or not the Braves paid more than other teams for extensions has nothing to do with a binary look at the money owed. Kimbrel’s 2017 salary is a bit dicey, but barring injury I can’t imagine any of the other three won’t be a positive trade asset in 2017. And those 4 are more than half. Melvin is 17 million, Johnson is 9 million, and Markakis is 11 million. That is 37 million that’s bad. The other 50 million is either good (those 4) or neutral (the 2 million owed the Cuban import)

TKDC
7 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

Also, Zips has Teheren at 4.3 WAR. There was a good article written I forgot by whom that said the middle was the best bet (2.5-3.0 WAR)

jdbolick
7 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

Every team in baseball would take any of those four contracts and give the Braves something for it.

That’s certainly not true, but beside the point even if it was. If I have a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth, then draw a smiley face on the other side, many people being willing to offer something for it doesn’t change the fact that I diminished its value from what I previously had.

Lanidrac
7 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

I’d argue that a good closer is one thing that a rebuilding team does want to keep, as it helps to keep up the team and fan morale to close out and win the games where they do have a late lead. Besides, they’ll probably still have him as their lockdown closer in 2017 when they do plan to contend.

TKDC
7 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

Dude, three of the four were in the fangraphs top 50 trade assets. Then you have Kimbrel. Really? Are you stupid?

Maybe they overpaid on the extensions. Maybe they didn’t. Your point does not contradict mine. You’re talking in circles.

Free_AEC
7 years ago
Reply to  vslyke

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