How Teams Are Allocating Their 2014 Payrolls

Spring training is in full gear. Opening Day — Australia style — is 26 days away. Several free agents still hoping for major-league deals remain unsigned, most notably Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana. They each received a qualifying offer from their last team, turned it down, and now sit waiting for a new team to pay them and agree to give up a draft pick. For the most part, though, teams have done the hard work to construct their Opening Day rosters, save for the usual spring training competitions for bench positions and the back end of the bullpen.

Combined, teams have committed more than $3 billion in salary for the 2014 season. The top spender is the Los Angeles Dodgers, at more than $220 million. The most frugal is the Miami Marlins, with approximately $42.5 million in salary obligations.

Every team, no matter the payroll, has to make decisions about how to spend the money allocated for player salaries. We wanted to know about those decisions. What percentage of a team’s payroll is spent on the highest-paid player? The starting rotations? The starting position players? The bullpen? The bench? How many pre-arbitration eligible players likely will be on each team’s Opening Day roster? Do big spending teams allocate their payroll in a different way than smaller spending team? If so, how? And so on.

We will answer those questions in a series of posts.

Today we will look at projected Opening Day payrolls for each team; the highest paid player on each team and the percentage his salary represents of the team payroll;  and how many pre-arbitration players are expected to be on each team’s Opening Day roster.

Tomorrow we will examine how much each team will spend on its starting rotation, starting position players, bullpen and bench, and how those salaries are distributed within the overall team payroll.

Projected Opening Day payroll for each team.

I started with each team’s 2014 – 2019 payroll obligations page on Cot’s Contracts. I then examined depth charts and did my best to pin point the number of pre-arbitration eligible players each team was likely to have on its Opening Day roster. For each such pre-arb player, I added $500,000 in salary. That’s the minimum salary for a major-league player this season. Players with one or two years of service time will make more than $500,000, but those players — and the rookies — may spend some time in Triple-A, thus reducing their time earning the minimum. Allotting $500,000 for each such player is a close approximation. After adding up each team’s salaries for 2014, I rounded to the nearest $500,000.

As of February 22, the projected Opening Day payrolls look like this:

Rank Team Projected 2014 Opening Day Payroll
1 Dodgers $223,000,000
2 Yankees $197,500,000
3 Phillies $175,500,000
4 Tigers $161,000,000
5 Red Sox $155,000,000
6 Angels $151,000,000
7 Giants $147,000,000
8 Blue Jays $136,000,000
9 Rangers $131,000,000
10 Nationals $130,500,000
11 Cardinals $108,500,000
12 Diamondbacks $108,000,000
13 Reds $106,000,000
14 Orioles $105,000,000
15 Brewers $100,500,000
16 Braves $96,000,000
17 Rockies $91,000,000
18 Royals $91,000,000
19 White Sox $89,000,000
20 Cubs $89,000,000
21 Mariners $87,500,000
22 Padres $86,000,000
23 Twins $82,500,000
24 Mets $82,000,000
25 Indians $80,000,000
26 Athletics $79,000,000
27 Rays $75,500,000
28 Pirates $71,500,000
29 Astros $49,000,000
30 Marlins $42,500,000

There will be some re-ranking to do after the last few free agents are signed. But the gap between the top-tier spending teams and the bottom-tier teams won’t narrow much, if at all.

The percentage of each team’s payroll spent on the highest-paid player.

This is a fun exercise, if not always an insightful one. Often a team’s highest paid player is in the back end of his contract, and no longer the most valuable or most productive player on the team (we’re looking at you Aramis Ramirez). Or the best player on the planet is in only his third full season and will make less than $1 million (hello Mike Trout).

Still, every general manager must construct a roster around the salary commitments he’s already made. So it’s worth looking at how much the highest-paid player ate at the salary buffet. The below chart ranks the teams by percentage of payroll spent on the highest-paid player. The Twins are ranked first, with Joe Mauer eating up 27.9% of the Twins projected Opening Day payroll. The Red Sox are last — which is partly a function of having a sizable payroll, but not entirely. Boston’s highest-paid player — Mike Napoli — will make $16 million this season. Among the highest-paid players on each team, that’s tied for 14th highest.

Rank Team Highest Paid Player Highest Salary 2014 Payroll Percentage of Payroll
1 Twins Joe Mauer/1B $23,000,000 $82,500,000 27.90%
2 Mariners Robinson Cano/2B $24,000,000 $87,500,000 27.45%
3 Astros Scott Feldman/SP $12,000,000 $49,000,000 24.50%
4 Mets David Wright/3B $20,000,000 $82,000,000 24.40%
5 Indians Nick Swisher/1B $15,000,000 $80,000,000 18.75%
6 Rays David Price/SP $14,000,000 $75,500,000 18.55%
7 Rangers Prince Fielder/1B $24,000,000 $131,000,000 18.30%
8 Pirates Wandy Rodriguez/SP $13,000,000 $71,500,000 18.20%
9 Cardinals Adam Wainwright/SP $19,500,000 $108,500,000 18.00%
10 White Sox John Danks/SP $15,750,000 $89,000,000 17.70%
11 Rockies Troy Tulowitzki/SS $16,000,000 $91,000,000 17.60%
12 Brewers Aramis Ramirez/3B $16,000,000 $100,500,000 15.90%
13 Nationals Jayson Werth/RF $20,571,429 $130,500,000 15.75%
14 Marlins Giancarlo Stanton/RF $6,500,000 $42,500,000 15.30%
15 Angels Albert Pujols/1B $23,000,000 $151,000,000 15.25%
16 Braves Justin Upton/LF $14,458,333 $96,000,000 15.00%
17 Royals James Shields/SP $13,500,000 $91,000,000 14.85%
18 Orioles Nick Markakis/RF $15,530,000 $105,000,000 14.80%
19 Cubs Edwin Jackson/SP $13,000,000 $89,000,000 14.60%
20 Phillies Ryan Howard/1B, Cliff Lee/SP $25,000,000 $175,500,000 14.25%
21 Giants Matt Cain/SP $20,833,333 $147,000,000 14.17%
22 Blue Jays Mark Beuhrle/SP $19,000,000 $136,000,000 13.95%
23 Tigers Miguel Cabrera/3B $22,000,000 $161,000,000 13.70%
24 Athletics Yoenis Cespedes/LF $10,500,000 $79,000,000 13.30%
25 Padres Chase Headley/3B $10,525,000 $86,000,000 12.25%
26 Dodgers Zack Greinke/SP $26,000,000 $223,000,000 11.70%
27 Yankees Mark Teixeira/1B $23,125,000 $197,500,000 11.70%
28 Reds Joey Votto/1B $12,000,000 $106,000,000 11.30%
29 Red Sox Mike Napoli $16,000,000 $155,000,000 10.30%
30 Diamondbacks Aaron Hill/2B $11,000,000 $108,000,000 10.20%

Only three of these highest-paid players changed teams over the winter. Robinson Cano left the New York Yankees to sign with the Seattle Mariners. Scott Feldman joined the Houston Astros as a free agent after playing last season with the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles. And the Detroit Tigers traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers. The Tigers will send cash to the Rangers to soften the pain of Fielder’s contract, but those payments do not start until 2015.

We see several of the smallest market teams at the top of this list. That’s not surprising, as one big contract will eat up a big percentage of the team’s payroll. It’s also a stark reminder how hard it is for lower-budget teams to keep their home-grown stars in the post-arbitration years and still field a competitive team.

[Note: As several comments noted, the Astros are paying $5.5 million of Wandy Rodriguez’s salary, so suggesting, as I did, that the Pirates are in for $13 million on Rodriguez is misleading. I agree. Russell Martin should be noted as the highest paid Pirate at $9.5 million, or 13.4% of the team’s payroll.]

Here’s another way of looking at the numbers:


What about those pre-arbitration players? How many are likely to be on the field when Opening Day rosters are announced, just before very loud jets fly over the ballpark to usher in the new season?

Our best guess? The Astros will be the team with the highest number of pre-arb players:

Rank Team Projected 2014 Opening Day Payroll No. Pre-Arb Players on Opening Day Roster
1 Astros $49,000,000 16
2 Cardinals $108,500,000 13
3 Brewers $100,500,000 13
4 Twins $82,500,000 13
5 Mets $82,000,000 13
6 Marlins $42,500,000 13
7 Mariners $87,500,000 12
8 Rockies $91,000,000 11
9 Angels $151,000,000 10
10 White Sox $89,000,000 9
11 Athletics $79,000,000 9
12 Pirates $71,500,000 9
13 Braves $96,000,000 8
14 Indians $80,000,000 8
15 Phillies $175,500,000 7
16 Tigers $161,000,000 7
17 Blue Jays $136,000,000 7
18 Diamondbacks $108,000,000 7
19 Royals $91,000,000 7
20 Padres $86,000,000 7
21 Rays $75,500,000 7
22 Orioles $105,000,000 6
23 Yankees $197,500,000 6
24 Reds $106,000,000 6
25 Red Sox $155,000,000 5
26 Giants $147,000,000 5
27 Rangers $131,000,000 5
28 Cubs $89,000,000 4
29 Dodgers $223,000,000 2
30 Nationals $130,500,000 2

This is the most interesting chart so far. Look at the St. Louis Cardinals, with 13 pre-arbitration players and an Opening Day payroll at $108 million. That’s what a roster of home-grown talent plus targeted free-agent acquisitions looks like.

The most surprising ranking?  The Chicago Cubs, a team undergoing a substantial rebuilding process, may field only four pre-arbitration players to start the season. Even if you add in Anthony Rizzo — whom the Cubs inked to a long-term deal covering his pre-arb and arb years — that still only brings them up to a total of five; quite a difference compared to the rebuilding Astros and fewer than the free-spending Yankees.

Munch on these numbers, charts and graphs today. Tomorrow, we’ll break the payrolls down even further.

Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and You can find her work at and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

Wow the Nats only have two prearb players? Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, I assume. Danny Espinosa will probably make the team too and he’s prearb.

8 years ago
Reply to  David

I would guess the Nationals will have 6 pre-arb players, all told – Harper and Rendon, Espinosa, Lobaton, whoever wins the last bench spot, and at least one pitcher in the bullpen.

8 years ago
Reply to  Wendy Thurm

Do you honestly believe that Harper, with his mercenary Scott Boras in tow, is not going to be permitted to opt out of his contract after this season?

Harper’s parents refused to sign the contract proposed by the Nationals that forbade Harper from opting out when he was eligible for salary arbitration. MLB had to intervene in the eleventh hour, or Harper would have gone back to college and the Nationals would have forfeited their pick. MLB’s amendment to Harper’s contract, that the parties agreed to, states that if Harper qualified for salary arbitration before he reached the end of the contract, a grievance hearing would determine whether he could opt of his contract. That all but guarantees that Harper would be permitted to opt out if it goes to a hearing. Harper was a minor when this contract was signed. There is no way he loses if it goes to a grievance hearing.

I have to assume the Nationals and Harper will reach some sort of contract extension this year that covers Harper’s arbitration years with a very healthy raise.

8 years ago
Reply to  David

Actually, Harper is the one not counting for the Nats. He is still on the five year major league contract he signed when he was drafted. His salary for this year is $2.15 million.

8 years ago
Reply to  cavebird

Memo to self. Don’t open screen, then come back and hour later and comment. Somebody will have already posted the same or better answer. Oops.