National League Payroll Situations Ahead of Free Agency

In meeting with the press recently, Rob Manfred mentioned a “fun fact” that the small-market Kansas City Royals boasted a bigger payroll than the big-market New York Mets. That fact might not be quite as fun for Mets fans who want their club to spend “commensurate with the economic resources available to them,” to use the commissioner’s words. With increased revenue from higher attendance, a playoff run, and rising projected attendance in 2016, the Mets could be poised to increase attendance, but if they choose to keep the status quo with salaries, they might not have a lot of maneuverability in free agency this winter.

Earlier this week, I took a look at all the American League teams and their current payroll situations as we head into free agency. This post repeats the same exercise for those teams in the National League. When determining a team’s payroll, first we need to look at every team’s guarantees heading into the 2016 season. To nobody’s surprise, the Dodgers have a commanding lead, per Cot’s Contracts.


The Dodgers’ guaranteed salaries for 2016 total nearly $155 million, which leads the National League, but is less than half of what the team ended up paying this past season. The Yankees have more money in guaranteed contracts for 2016, as the Dodgers have more than $100 million coming off the books after last season. To nobody’s surprise, the Miami Marlins have the fewest resources devoted to next season, and roughly a quarter of that money is for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who the team released in May. A little more surprising is that the Arizona Diamondbacks are right there next to the Marlins. Star Paul Goldschmidt is making less than $6 million, and with Aaron Hill in the last year of his contract, the Diamondbacks have only Goldschmidt and Yasmany Tomas signed beyond next season.

Since the current system has been in place, no player has accepted a qualifying offer, so those amounts have not been included above. With a record 20 qualifying offers this year, it is possible that someone finally accepts. The San Diego Padres made a qualifying offer to Ian Kennedy who, after a solid 2014 season, was worth less than one win above replacement this past year and produced a below average ERA (115 ERA-) and FIP (117 FIP-) despite pitching his home games in Petco Park. He might accept the qualifying offer, as might Brett Anderson, who had a solid season with the Dodgers after struggling with injuries for several years. If anybody actually accepts a qualifying offer, the numbers above will require a slight adjustment.

After the guaranteed salaries are considered, teams will tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. We are still several weeks away from the deadline to tender contracts, but MLB Trade Rumors has provided estimates for the amount the players should expect to receive in arbitration. Adding in the arbitration salaries, as well as minimum salaries to fill out a 25-man roster, we can estimate payroll if teams stand completely pat this winter.


These figures could be adjusted lower if teams choose not to tender some of their arbitration-eligible players contracts. The St. Louis Cardinals could knock about $7 million off the total by letting Steve Cishek go, and the Chicago Cubs have $15 million devoted to Travis Wood, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon. The recent addition of Ryan Cook and other potential moves could make one of those pitchers expendable. Jeremy Hellickson, Jenrry Mejia, or perhaps Pedro Alvarez are other candidates who could be made free agents.

Arizona and Miami remain at the lower end, but not too much higher are the Philadelphia Phillies. A tough run of bloated payrolls and a lack of success might be over in Philadelphia, at least in regards to the former. After trading Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels, and buying out Cliff Lee‘s option, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz are all that’s left of the old guard Phillies. Howard and Ruiz are in the final year of their contracts with only Matt Harrison’s $13.5 million guaranteed for the 2017 season after Howard’s $10 million buyout. This might not be the offseason Philadelphia tries to reload, but with their financial power and a few exciting prospects, the Phillies might not be too far away from contention.

We do not yet know every team’s budget for next season, but we can compare the current expected payroll to last season’s Opening Day payroll to see how much room each team has to spend if they make no major moves. Using the figures feature above as well as adding five percent to Opening Day payrolls last season from Cot’s Contracts, the chart below shows how much each team has to spend absent changes to the payroll.

First as a table:

National League Payroll Situations
All figures in millions 2016 Guarantees 2016 Arb Minimum Salaries Proj OD 2016 2016 Commitments Proj Money Left
LAD $154.8 $35.7 $2.5 $285.2 $193.1 $92.1
PHI $51.4 $4.4 $9.6 $154.2 $65.4 $88.8
MIL $53.5 $8.2 $7.6 $109.4 $69.3 $40.2
SFG $120.7 $16.2 $5.1 $181.8 $142.0 $39.9
WAS $92.8 $36.2 $4.6 $170.1 $133.6 $36.5
ARI $32.7 $25.6 $5.6 $92.6 $63.9 $28.7
CIN $80.0 $22.4 $5.6 $121.1 $108.0 $13.1
NYM $60.1 $29.4 $4.6 $106.4 $94.0 $12.4
ATL $73.5 $13.0 $5.1 $101.9 $91.6 $10.3
MIA $31.5 $29.2 $4.1 $72.5 $64.7 $7.8
CHC $81.5 $34.4 $4.1 $126.4 $120.0 $6.4
COL $64.4 $31.6 $4.6 $101.9 $100.6 $1.3
SDP $79.4 $28.5 $5.6 $113.8 $113.5 $0.3
STL $101.7 $27.0 $4.1 $128.2 $132.8 -$4.6
PIT $50.6 $45.0 $4.6 $94.6 $100.2 -$5.6
SOURCE: Cot’s Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors

And then in graph form:


The Dodgers have a lot of room right now, but if they choose to scale back spending a bit, then sign Zack Greinke after Brett Anderson accepts a qualifying offer, they might not have quite as much to spend as the chart indicates. The Mets do not look to have a lot of room in free agency absent an increase in payroll. The Phillies could choose to spend some now, but they might be better off following the Cubs and Astros by waiting to spend until they are closer to contention.

The NL Central could be really interesting this offseason. The Brewers look to have a bunch of money available while the Cubs and Cardinals will need a significant increase in payroll to make major moves. The Cubs could trade Starlin Castro and the Cardinals could non-tender Steve Cishek, but they are going to have spend more to add a major player — or, in the case of the Cardinals, retain Jason Heyward. The Cardinals look ready to spend more while the Cubs should have a little more room to spend as well. Pittsburgh, which has a very good young core, could find itself behind in a race to improve as the Cubs and Cardinals assert themselves. This is one of the best free agent classes in recent memory, and given the amount of money flowing into MLB and the number of teams with money to spend, the players could find some fierce competition for their services this winter.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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7 years ago

Looks like the Pirates and Cardinals might want to start a Patreon?

Only Glove, No Love
7 years ago
Reply to  Bip

The Cards numbers are a little misleading in that there is a whole lot of money coming off the books in 2017 and DeWitt is willing to put some more cash out there right now…

Dave T
7 years ago

I agree with Only Glove, No Love. I’ll also note that the Cardinals have been one of the most profitable teams in baseball in recent years and have a new local TV deal that starts in 2018. The revenue is definitely there to increase the payroll.