MLB Teams with the Most Dead Money in 2019

Sunk costs are difficult for all of us. We might keep a gym membership longer than we should hoping to get some value out of it despite not going for months. We might finish a meal that was terrible from the start because we cooked it or paid for it. We finish movies and books we know we will not enjoy. Once some of our money or time has been spent, there is a pull to keep spending or wasting that time and potential enjoyment because we’ve already started. Sometimes, baseball teams are just like us. Once a big contract is handed out, teams feel compelled to continue to provide playing time past the point of utility or give a roster spot to a player whose play doesn’t merit it. That’s not always the case, though. Sometimes teams move on, and when they do, they end up with dead money on their payroll.

This is my fourth year tracking dead money on payrolls and while the amount fluctuated greatly from 2016 to 2017, going from under $150 million to $300 million, last year it was back around $200 million, and it remains the same this season. As to what counts as dead money, this is what I said in last year’s post:

Dead money is generally any money a team is paying out to a player who no longer appears on their 40-man roster. There are three types of dead money:

  1. Money paid to players who have been released. Those players are free to sign with other teams, but the team releasing the player still owes the money remaining on the contract.

  2. Money paid to other teams as compensation for players who have been traded. Generally, we see teams cover a portion of a contract to receive a better return in trade.

  3. Money paid to players who are still in the organization, but who have been removed from the 40-man roster. Any team could have claimed these players if they were willing to take on the contract, and the player probably could have elected fee agency, but then he would forfeit his right to the guaranteed money.

While Jacoby Ellsbury’s salary sits on the Yankees payroll with no expected contribution, that money is only mostly dead. As far as which team has the most money this season, that honor, or dishonor, goes to the Los Angeles Dodgers. These numbers were compiled from Cot’s Contracts.

The Dodgers have been first or second on this list every year I’ve done this exercise, spending close to $140 million since 2016 on players not on their roster. This year’s big expenditure comes in the form of Homer Bailey, who the team acquired from the Reds in order to move Matt Kemp’s contract as well as acquire a few prospects in the deal that sent Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood to Cincinnati. The Blue Jays come in just behind the Dodgers as the team that decided to cut bait with the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki as well as trade Russell Martin to the Dodgers. The moves by the Dodgers and Blue Jays illustrate contrasting styles when it comes to dead money on the roster. Los Angeles acquired Homer Bailey to drop him in a move designed to save tax space as they exchanged Kemp’s bad contract. For the Blue Jays, who are not expected to compete for the division this season, giving playing time and roster spots to aging veterans doesn’t help the club’s future as those resources can be better utilized by providing meaningful experience to younger players. Nearly one-third of Toronto’s payroll won’t even be on the team and the club’s on-field roster is set to make under $80 million this season.

Breaking the money down, here are the players who have been released by their teams.

Released Players on the Payroll
Player Old Team Current Team Money Owed in 2019
Homer Bailey Dodgers Royals $23 M
Troy Tulowitzki Blue Jays Yankees $19.45 M
Pablo Sandoval Red Sox Giants $18.45 M
David Wright Mets None $15 M
Prince Fielder Rangers None $9 M
Phil Hughes Padres None $7.25 M
Hector Olivera Padres None $7.5 M
Austin Jackson Rangers None $3 M
Dian Toscano Dodgers None $200,000

In Prince Fielder’s case, the Tigers are paying some of his salary and a discount for insurance proceeds has been taken. It would be useful to do the same with David Wright, though those numbers are a bit more murky. We know that Wright restructured his contract with some deferrals so that he will make $9 million this year. It’s possible that insurance proceeds, estimated at $12 million by Ken Davidoff over the next two seasons might mean the Mets aren’t actually paying any money to Wright this season. The Padres essentially bought a draft pick by taking on some of Phil Hughes’ salary last year, while also taking on Olivera, who they immediately released, allowed them to get out from under Matt Kemp’s money.

As for trades, here are the players for whom teams are paying some or all of their salaries this season. There are a few repeat names from the list above.

Traded Players Still on the Payroll
Player Old Team New Team Money Sent for 2019
Russell Martin Blue Jays Dodgers $16.4 M
Matt Kemp Dodgers Padres and Reds $10.5 M
Justin Verlander Tigers Astros $8 M
Prince Fielder Tigers Rangers $6 M
Phil Hughes Twins Padres $5.95 M
Robinson Cano Mariners Mets $5 M
Mike Leake Cardinals Mariners $5 M
Jedd Gyorko Padres Cardinals $5 M
Hector Olivera Dodgers Braves $4.66 M
Edwin Encarnacion Indians Mariners $3 M
Evan Longoria Rays Giants $2 M
Clayton Richard Padres Blue Jays $1.5 M

Most of these deals are pretty straightforward, with the old team offsetting some salary to get a deal done or receive a better prospect return. The Edwin Encarnacion situation is a bit complicated. Cleveland and Seattle swapped Carlos Santana and Encarnacion with Seattle actually sending a couple million dollars to Cleveland for this season and $4 million next year. That was not the entirety of the deal; Tampa Bay sent $5 million to Seattle as part of the deal with Cleveland that sent Jake Bauers to the Indians for Yandy Diaz and Cole Sulser. It’s fair to think of that $5 million as shipped through Cleveland, which is how Encarnacion ends up with $3 million from Cleveland this season.

There are just a few more players with payroll qualifying for dead money.

Players Off the Roster Still on the Payroll
Player Team Money Owed in 2019
Yasmany Tomas Diamondbacks $15.5 M
Rusney Castillo Red Sox $11 M
Yaisel Sierra Dodgers $5 M
Kazuhisa Makita Padres $1.9 M

We have multiple, big contracts for Cuban players who haven’t quite worked out. Tomas’ deal couldn’t even be made under the current rules, while Castillo suffers, in part, because adding him back on the roster would result in more competitive balance tax payments. Tomas didn’t make enough contact despite swinging a lot. Castillo has played well in the minors though still wouldn’t be a starter for Boston even if they did bring him up to the majors. Sierra is still in the Dodgers’ system and could be a reliever at some point.

Having a bunch of money on the payroll devoted to players who won’t contribute to the MLB team isn’t a great situation to consider; most of the decisions made above were done to help teams reach some goal, now or in the future. Teams have finite roster space and using that space on players who can contribute is better than using it on a player just because they have an expensive contract. Sometimes teams save money in the present, but have a bigger cost later on. While teams have gotten more frugal about long-term deals, we haven’t yet seen the amount of dead money on MLB rosters decrease significantly.

We hoped you liked reading MLB Teams with the Most Dead Money in 2019 by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Alex
Member
Alex

GREAT to see the Braves are not on the list. Financial Flexibility!! Who needs quality free agents, when you can have Financial Flexibility!!

v2micca
Member
Member
v2micca

Remember, the Braves were going to be able to shop in any aisle this off-season, provided that aisle was only stocking Nick Markakis.

vslyke
Member

Yes, the Nick Markakis signing was clearly their biggest of the offseason in all aspects. I hear they signed a third baseman, but the scrub wasn’t even an All-Star last year!

jdbolick
Member

Donaldson was an exciting signing for them, but it’s still a fact that the Braves’ payroll has not increased. I got massively downvoted a year ago in comments about the Kemp trade for pointing out that taking on contracts in 2018 would not cause them to spend more money in 2019, it just shifted the money they would have spent in 2019 into 2018.

Philo
Member
Philo

As a Braves fan since 1985, I have to say I am so damned tired of Braves fans belly-aching the lack of spending this off season. Do i want the Braves to contend and to win? Of course I do; every game. Do I want them to recklessly spend the capital, both in prospects in cash, they have acquired? Heck no.

I do not want to be tied to 10 or 13 year contract that takes a player to their late 30’s. So bravo on not taking that road.

I also did not want to invest in a questionable free agent outfielder, and for all the crying about it, as near as I can tell, none of the free agent outfielders available came without major questions about declining performance and/or health.

Also, many of the players people are upset over not signing, especially Keuchel require taking a ding in the draft. That is a poor value proposition again. That is giving up your future for the present when you can have both.

So that leaves a trade. None of us know what the actual cost was for some of the trades we missed out on. And, yes, I would love, love, love to see Mitch Hanniger in my outfield, but it is not like you just call up and say “give me Mitch, here’s some magic beans.” Dave Stewart is not in charge up there in Mariner land. If I were the Mariners, my price would be obscene.

Point being, not a single game has yet been played this year. Our team, like every other, is an “on paper” team. Let’s see what we are on-field, then expend our capital strategically where the holes are, or where the injuries (inevitably) set us back. Trading to trade, singing FA’s to sign FA’s, these are poor plays.

Maybe I am completely wrong here, but the flip side is maybe all my fellow belly-aching Braves fans are. None of us know a damned thing at this stage about how this season plays out. So let’s watch some ballgames, and see what unfolds…

jdbolick
Member

As a Braves fan since 1985, I have to say I am so damned tired of Braves fans belly-aching the lack of spending this off season

Your rant missed the point. The Kemp trade was sold as a way to increase payroll in 2019 and many fans, including ones on this website who should have known better, bought that argument. So it isn’t just that the payroll didn’t increase, it’s that fans were misled. Meanwhile revenue from the team has increased dramatically, yet the payroll has remained largely flat since 2014. I think the Braves were wise not to give $330 million to Bryce Harper and I hope that they don’t give $50+ million to Craig Kimbrel, but the fact that payroll has remained flat for multiple years despite revenue increasing so much is a perfectly legitimate thing to complain about.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

The Kemp trade was sold as a way to add Brandon McCarthy and Charlie Culberson without giving anything up of value (including payroll space). This looked a lot better when Brandon McCarthy was coming off of 2.4 wins in 92 innings and Matt Kemp was so bad in the field he was borderline non-rosterable (weirdly, Charlie Culberson wasn’t awful, proving that the cosmos do have a sense of humor), although even prospectively it looked like the Dodgers were getting a slightly better deal.

jdbolick
Member

sadtrombone:
Go back and look because what you’re saying is wrong. The Kemp trade was sold as a way to clear money off the 2019 payroll. McCarthy and Culberson were just throw-ins.

Philo:
Michael Brantley signed for $32 million over two years. J.A. Happ signed for $34 million over two years. Charlie Morton signed for $30 million over two years. Joakim Soria signed for $15 million over two years. Cody Allen signed a one year deal for $8.5 million. There were multiple opportunities for the Braves to strengthen the 2019 roster significantly without making questionable long-term financial commitments. Yet again, this is not about just one off-season either. Atlanta’s payroll has remained largely flat for the last five years despite revenue increasing by more than 50% during that span due to the new stadium, which cost tax-payers 392 million dollars.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

It looks like we were both wrong, and right. The main goal was, according to AA, to open up a spot for Acuna (who, of course, started the year in the minors…hmmmm)

But then, in two separate interviews, he talks about “financial flexibility” and how much he likes Charlie Culberson.

All that said, I don’t think the financial flexibility talk is “wrong” so much as it is likely an unfortunate reflection of the way Atlanta’s ownership group budgets. I don’t know why he would have said that otherwise.

Philo
Member
Philo

I don’t think I missed the point at all. Spending and spending intelligently are not the same thing. Again, maybe I am wrong, and if so, I eat these words, but I have not seen anything that makes me feel like I missed out on someone special where I would not have minded losing the opportunity cost. If I were getting a Mitch Hanniger caliber player, sure, spend away, but ill-spent FA money, and short-sited trades are no way to build a long-term contender. I want the Braves of 15 straight Pennants (with hopefully more than 1 WS win of course) not a team that has a 3-year run and a steady decline.

Someone below mentioned we won’t be able spend the money on FA in season, but that is entirely incorrect. There WILL be players available, who will cost money, and also the possibility that there will be poor contracts that can be absorbed to gain some younger talent as well. Either option will probably be short-term cost and more financially and prospect favorable than playing in the FA market.

willieschampagne
Member
willieschampagne

I guess the counter point is if you aren’t willing to spend prospect capital, and money in areas to push your team over the top you’ll never win a world series. That strategy may help the Braves to make it to the playoffs most years, but t’s going to be a struggle to compete with the elite teams at that point.

FS54
Member
FS54

I am jealous of Braves for all cost-controlled talent they have. They have a first baseman in his prime. Game’s one of the best young stars. Lot of talent on the mound. Pretty good CF and 2B. What exactly is the point of holding out for more picks in 2019 draft or keeping all that money free? They won’t be able to sign any free agents during the season. They will only be able to trade and guess what, that will take away from your enviable system. Adding Donaldson on a 1 year deal was a smart move but I think they could have added at least couple of relievers.

CL1NT
Member
CL1NT

As a Braves fan myself, I mostly agree with you…

While I’m a supporter of AA and for the most part have agreed with his strategy so far, there were a few decisions that didn’t quite make sense.

But as you said, the games haven’t started yet, so there’s really no point in getting to excited at the moment.

AA is obviously very adamant about allowing this organization to grow over time organically. He is banking on his top-5 prospect group to provide value for years to come, in addition to a young and solid core that’s currently in the Majors at the moment. And I agree with all of that as a whole.

But a couple of things I’m not understanding:

▪ why let Suzuki walk? Why not resign both Suzki and Flowers. The duo has provided some of the best value at their respective position over the past two seasons. The McCann signing is nice. We love McCann, but there’s just not enough at that position now; especially now that Flowers has forgotten how to hit righties (though hopefully a platoon between Flowers and Mac will commence in 2019).

▪ Kimbrel: just sign him! Yes the price is steep. Yes he costs a Draft pick. But the Braves are coming off of a season where they led the world in walks, and it was no more costly than from their bullpen. No Kimbrel isn’t what he was back in his “Welcome to the Jungle” days… but he will provide depth in the pen and push down guys like Sam Freeman or Luke Jackson; while allowing Snit to have a Minter/Kimbrel 8th and 9th inning tag team. A Kimbrel signing instantly makes the ‘pen waayyy better.

There’s a few others, but too much typing. However, all in all, I like what the Braves have done for the most part this Winter.

CousinNicky
Member
CousinNicky

Sweet a 1 year deal! The team still has a smaller payroll than the previous year and is coming off a division title. The owners wanted to pocket the extra money and thats that.

jpg
Member
jpg

Even as a Mets fan who hates the Braves, I feel bad for the fans who are dealing with this nonsense. They’re coming off a 90 win, division title winning season. They have a brand new, taxpayer funded park and a roster littered with high end cost controlled talent. And rather than go for it, they sat on their hands. It’s a disgrace.

Pirates Hurdles
Member
Pirates Hurdles

Welcome to Pirate Fandom.

jwpepa
Member
Member
jwpepa

Thanks, that is good stuff right there! A Mets fan feeling bad for Braves fans and calling the Braves organization a disgrace. Golden!

CL1NT
Member
CL1NT

Nah it’s not that bad…

ChippersJonesing
Member
ChippersJonesing

Yeah, I’m really not that sad either.

dcweber99
Member
dcweber99

Hey now, Bob Nutting values financial flexibility so much that he probably makes Pirates accountants do yoga.

jwpepa
Member
Member
jwpepa

Check out Mark Bradley’s defense of the “do-nothing” Braves at the Journal Constitution for another perspective. I think he has it right.