MLB 2015 Payrolls: Dodgers and Mariners See Big Jumps

With all of the arbitration cases heard and the major free agent signings completed, save for perhaps a Cuban free agent or two and a few relievers, we can come up with a solid estimate the Opening Day Payrolls for 2015. In 1998, the Baltimore Orioles’ payroll of $70.4 million topped all of Major League Baseball followed by fifteen straight seasons of New York Yankees payroll dominance. For the first time this centruy, the Los Angeles Dodgers finally unseated the Yankees last year. Despite Alex Rodriguez‘s suspended salary returning to the Yankees payroll and the signing of Chase Headley, the Dodgers remain well ahead. Trades for Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick, the signing of Brandon McCarthy and agreeing to pay for much of Matt Kemp’s salary this season were more than enough to keep the crown for highest MLB payroll.

MLB Payroll 2015
Figures from Cots. Minimum salaries of $507,500 added to guaranteed contracts to complete the 25-man roster.

For the second straight year, the Dodgers will have the highest payroll in baseball as the season starts. The Dodgers’ $266 million payroll figure appears staggering, more than 25% higher than the Yankees second place number and more than the ninth (Philadelphia Phillies) and tenth (Toronto Blue Jays) highest payrolls combined. However, the Dodgers’ buying power is still not at the level of the Yankees’ last decade. As a percentage of total team salaries, the Yankees’ payroll from 2004-2010 averaged 8.2%, never dipping below 7.5% before finally falling to 7.3% in 2011. The Dodgers’ payroll in 2015 accounts for 7.3% of total team payroll.

This season, just the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins figure to have Opening Day payrolls beneath the Orioles’ 1998 payroll. However, spending has not increased as much as revenues. Opening Day payroll does not account for total player expenses, but the share of revenue for the players has taken a dive in recent years. The $3.65 billion in player payroll as the 2015 season starts is likely around just 40% of a $9 billion industry, continuing a downward trend in player salaries compared with overall revenue.

The American League, generally viewed as the better league and the winner of interleague play for the past dozen years, remains ahead in payroll as well. Despite containing four of the lowest five payrolls in baseball with the Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, and Astros, the AL pays more to its players than its NL counterparts. The AL owns seven of the top 11 payrolls, but due to the smaller markets at the bottom, the lead is not large. The difference between the two leagues is around $40 million, less than $3 million per team.

Compared with 2014 Opening Day payrolls, there has been an increase of around $220 million in 2015. Last year, the Opening Day payrolls amounted to $3.4 billion. The increase for 2015 is 6.4%. Despite signing Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields away from the AL, the National League payrolls did not move up as much as in the American League. AL payrolls increased by $142 million while those in the NL increased by $78 million.

Roughly half the teams made increases of at least $10 million led by the Dodgers with a $36.7 million increase over 2014. Only five teams decreased payroll by more than $5 million with the Philadelphia Phillies perhaps beginning to rebuild as they lopped $40 million from their 2014 salaries. See the full chart below.
MLB Payroll Change 2014-2015

The Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Boston Red Sox moves in payroll are not surprising given their activity in the offseason. All three teams have brought in significant talent through trades and free agency causing the upward move in payroll. On the other end of the spectrum, the moves of the Phillies and the Atlanta Braves downward makes sense given the talent and contracts that they sent packing in the previous year. Signing Nick Markakis does not make up for losing their two highest salaried players in Justin Upton and Ervin Santana as well as Jason Heyward. Were it not for $13.2 million owed to Dan Uggla in 2015, the Braves’ payroll would be fourth-lowest in baseball.

Outside of the obvious movers, the Seattle Mariners’ offseason has flown a bit under the radar. With the signing of Nelson Cruz, coupled with the addition of Austin Jackson in the David Price deal, the $31.3 million payroll increase of the Mariners was second only to the Dodgers. Another somewhat surprising payroll rise took place in San Francisco. The World Champion Giants’ offseason has been seemingly non-existent aside from losing Pablo Sandoval, but raises to Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, and the trade and signing of Jake Peavy have caused a healthy raise in payroll for 2015. Their opponent in the World Series, the Kansas City Royals, has also seen a decent increase in payroll, although investments in Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez, and Kendrys Morales might not provide the results they are looking for.

On the other end of the spectrum, the paring down of payroll in Arizona and Toronto is somewhat surprising. Arizona’s big move was to sign Yasmany Tomas to a $68.5 million contract, but just $5.5 million of that amount is directed towards 2015. The Diamondbacks traded Martin Prado and Brandon McCarthy to the Yankees last year, and then traded Miguel Montero to the Cubs this offseason. Trevor Cahill is now the Diamondbacks’ highest paid player. With just $32 million committed to payroll in 2016, the Diamondbacks are putting themselves in a good position to spend if they so choose.

Toronto’s big move was the trade for Josh Donaldson and signing Russell Martin, but Donaldson will make just $4.3 million in 2015 and Martin’s deal is backloaded making $7 million for the upcoming season. No big names came off the books for the Blue Jays after last season, but Melky Cabrera, Brandon Morrow, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, J.A. Happ, and Casey Janssen combined to make nearly $40 million in 2014. With Mark Buehrle’s contract coming off the books after 2015, the Blue Jays could also be players in next year’s big free agent class.

The relationship between wins and payroll did not appear close last season with the Yankees missing the playoffs, big spenders Red Sox and Phillies finishing in last place, and the small-market A’s, Royals, and Pirates all making the playoffs. The lack of a relationship between wins and money might not hold true for another season. Cleveland and Oakland will likely keep things going for the smaller markets, but of the top top 13 payrolls, only the Rangers and the Phillies are currently projected to finish with a losing record.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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8 years ago

I wasn’t aware of the Padres having a bunch of payroll coming off the books. How were they able to add all those players and add less than $10mil of new salary over last year?

8 years ago
Reply to  Craig Edwards

Seems so odd that the Dodgers are paying Kemp to bat against them in the division.

8 years ago
Reply to  Hurtlocker

Because that’s what it took to land Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland, and Zack Eflin (who was later flipped for Jimmy Rollins) in exchange

8 years ago
Reply to  Hurtlocker

How about this: the Dodgers are paying Kemp to not get to the fly balls they hit to the outfield.

8 years ago
Reply to  Dave42

The Dodgers are paying almost all of Kemp’s contract this year, so that explains some of it.

8 years ago
Reply to  srpst23

but they still added Upton and Shields at more than $30mil cost for this year, no? I understand Myers and the other adds are minimal cost. That is well done by them!