Breaking Down the Team Payrolls

Teams have long devoted a majority of Major League Baseball payrolls to starting position players and the starting rotation. Last week’s post reinforced that notion with first baseman and aces receiving more money than any other position. Shifting back to team analysis, we can take a look at how individual teams spend their resources, separating payroll by rotation, starting position players (including designated hitters), bullpen, and bench. Team spending can vary greatly. The New York Yankees’ position players would rank in the top half of MLB salaries while the Los Angeles Dodgers spend almost as much on their bench and bullpens as the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins spend on their entire teams.

One aspect of spending critical to payroll is the number of cost-controlled players a team employs. Last week, looking solely at starters, the overall breakdown was as follows.

Service Time Starters %
Minimum 79 25.1
Arbitration-Eligible 102 32.4
Free Agent 134 42.5

Adding the rest of the players on the expected 25-man roster changes the percentages somewhat.

Service Time Players %
Minimum 232 30.1
Arbitration-Eligible 266 35.5
Free Agent 252 33.6

When it comes to filling out the rest of the roster for primarily bench and bullpen spots, the number of free agents used diminishes. Teams prefer cheaper cost-controlled alternatives when creating the rest of the roster. Breaking down the team 25-man rosters, some franchises rely much more heavily on free agency, while others, generally smaller markets, use more cost-controlled players. The below chart breaks up 25-man rosters into three groups: free agent veterans with more than six years of service time, arbitration-eligible players and players who have signed extensions but do not have six years of service time, and those players making the MLB minimum. The graph is organized from the teams with the most free agent veterans (Yankees, Dodgers) to the team with the fewest free agent veterans (New York Mets)

service_class_distribution_by_team (1)

The top six teams in the chart would likely be the first six choices if forced to guess which teams employ the most veterans. Seeing the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros, and Pittsburgh Pirates at the other end of the graph is equally unsurprising. The Astros lead the way with minimum salaries players. The teams with the most blue in the chart are a few of the most volatile teams in baseball. Having a team with a lot of arbitration-eligible players can be a very good thing. Costs stay down, but those players are also the closest to leaving. Teams like the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, A’s, and Pirates could see significant roster turnover in the next few years.

It should come as no surprise that the teams with the most free agents also spend the most on salaries. When it comes to paying starting position players as well as a designated hitter, the Yankees top the MLB.

2015_starting_position_player_payroll_by_team (1)

Despite all of their moves, the Padres pay its position players less than any other team. For the calculations used, the amount paid by the Dodgers to the Padres is not included in the Padres figures. For the above graph as well as the rest below, only the amount paid by the team the player is on is included. Dead money is not included either. For example, the Matt Kemp payment by the Dodgers is not included in the Dodgers’ figures so adding the individual components will not result in total payroll, just the expected 25-man roster payroll plus a few injured starters. For total payroll, see this post.

While the Yankees top the position player portion for payroll, nobody beats the Dodgers when it comes to staffing a rotation.

2015_rotation_payroll_by_team (1)

With Clayton Kershaw’s salary exceeding $30 million and Zack Greinke, Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy all receiving eight-figure salaries, the Dodgers easily exceed the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants. Had the Tigers held onto Max Scherzer and not made a corresponding trade, they would likely have the lead. The rotation Cleveland has put together on less than $10 million is amazing. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer combined make around $5 million, or just a little more than what Cleveland will be paying Gavin Floyd.

Bullpens do not usually cost a great deal of money to put together, and generally speaking, relievers tend to be thought of as overpaid. The top teams on the list both add and detract to that train of thought.

2015_bullpen_payroll_by_team (1)

Opponents in the World Series, the San Francisco Giants and Royals both pay their bullpens highly compared to the rest of MLB. Meanwhile, the Dodgers and Tigers continue to throw money at the problem without much success as both ranked near the bottom of baseball last season. A majority of teams come in the $10 million to $20 million range. Given the volatility of relievers year to year, spending too much of a team’s payroll on the bullpen seems unnecessary. With so many young players, the Astros have chosen to buck that trend with investments in Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson. The $18 million the Astros spend on the bullpen will comprise more than one quarter of the payroll.

Benches contain fewer players than bullpens so even less money is devoted there, especially with the designated hitter’s inclusion in the starting lineups above.


2015_bench_payroll_by_team (1)

The teams with extra outfielders find themselves at the far left of the bench payrolls. Andre Ethier’s $18 million salary exceeds the benches of all the other teams except for the San Diego Padres. Even without Ethier’s salary, the Dodgers’ bench would still be just behind the Padres’ for second place. The Padres have a few extra outfielders in Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, and Will Venable, but no position for them as of yet.

Below is a chart that shows all the components combined. As noted earlier, adding the components together will not equal total salary as these figures do not include money paid to other teams.

2015_opening_day_25-man_roster_payroll (1)

The Dodgers have the highest payroll thanks to their rotation, bullpen, and bench all ranking first in MLB. The Astros and Marlins continue to hold the bottom positions in terms of payroll. The lineup constitutes the bulk of payroll at around $1.7 billion with the rotation coming in a distant second at $1.1 billion. Combined, the bullpen and bench receive roughly three-quarters of a billion dollars. The bullpen and the bench matter, but money continues to flow to those who play the most.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Patrick G
7 years ago

NY Mets at the bottom of that first graph is an absolute embarrassment. No NY sports team should be running that kind of payroll breakdown.

MLB needs to do something about the Wilpons complete unwillingness to spend money.

Eric F
7 years ago
Reply to  Patrick G

MLB doesn’t need to do anything about it, it’s the Wilpon’s team and their money. MLB can’t specify on an individual team level how much percent of revenue is spent on salary, and they certainly can’t tell an owner to spend more of his money.

7 years ago
Reply to  Eric F

Of course they can. The purpose of the existence of the MLB is to look out for the interest of the sport and each individual franchise. An owner running a team into the ground, or pocketing the majority of the money, is bad for the sport.

It’s the Wilpon’s money, but it’s MLB’s league and everyone’s sport. The free market is not sacred.

7 years ago
Reply to  Bip

Baseball has nothing at all to do with free markets.

7 years ago
Reply to  Bip

How is this different from a Free_AEC/Philllies113 post?

Neil S
7 years ago
Reply to  Eric F

And how long have you been following baseball, exactly? Because this is exactly the conversation that was happening just a few years back, when the Marlins were trying to avoid spending *any* money to sign or re-sign veteran players.

7 years ago
Reply to  Neil S

The Mets are building things the right way. Harvey, deGrom, Wheeler, Syndergaard, Montero. That’s what the rotation of the future looks like. They’ll all be cheap and team controlled. When that happens and guys are healthy they’ll spend on the position players to support them. And Wright, Lagares, d’Arnaud, and Duda will be there to help (all nice and cheap with the exception of Wright). So stop complaining.

7 years ago
Reply to  Neil S

If you’ve followed the reporting on the Wilpons’ financial woes, you’d know there’s no particularly good reason to think that they’re just biding their time to spend when the core rotation is ready.

7 years ago
Reply to  Neil S

I’ve been following baseball for 30 years or so — first game I ever went to in person was Game 5 of the 1986 NLCS, Nolan Ryan against Doc Gooden at Shea Stadium — and, yes, I agree that MLB should do more to discourage huge-market teams from being cheap. It is absolutely a disgrace that a team playing in a t.v. market of 25 million people should be in the bottom half of team payrolls. And payroll as a percentage of revenue is absolutely something that should be covered in the next CBA.

7 years ago
Reply to  Eric F

For all we know, the Mets could still be paying off what they lost in the Madoff scam

7 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

No. The Wilpons *gained* a huge amount of money from the Madoff scam. That’s why they got sued by the Madoff trustees for $1 billion. The Wilpons settled the case for $162 million. In order to pay for this, the Wilpons then sold off 12 shares of 4% apiece (48% of the team) for $240 million cash.

Sounds to me like the Wilpons are richer than they started out.

Also, instead of certifying I’m not a robot, why can’t Fangraphs implement an algorithm that automatically bans users for using the phrase “John Middleton Felony Fraud” ?

7 years ago
Reply to  Patrick G

What “younger players”?

The minors are loaded with thousands of young players, almost all of them stink.

30 teams
25 players
750 players in MLB

Over seven billion people on this planet.


This is why YOAN MONCADA is going to get paid.

7 years ago
Reply to  philllies113

Almost reminiscent of a Free_AEC post…

7 years ago
Reply to  Patrick G

I’m so tired of this line of thinking. The Mets should be evaluated on the team they’re putting together, not how much the total salary is. When the Mets were in the top 5 in MLB of salary and losing was that better for some reason? They’ve built up the farm system and now they’re giving those guys a chance to play, because that’s the best team they can put on the field. Is it because of financial constraints that they’ve committed to the development angle? Partly, yes, but partly because signing overpriced, over-the-hill FA’s doesn’t work. If you go on Mets fan boards, the players fans are least happy about having on the team are Grandy, Colon and Cuddyer. No one’s pissed about having a homegrown core of underpaid, hard throwing starters and relievers.

Now, if the time comes in the next 3-5 years that these players develop into MLB stars and the Wilpons refuse to open the wallet at that point, you may have a point (I’m far from a Wilpon apologist), but until that time I’m in the camp that this is the best team the Mets have put out on the field in a long time and it’s due to investing in the farm system.

Jason B
7 years ago
Reply to  Trotter76

Totally agree. Sure they could go and lard up on questionable contracts to aging veterans, but why? Isn’t the current tack they’re on *MUCH* more exciting than anything they have trotted out in the past 5-10 years?