Top of the Order: Let’s Review Payrolls

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Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

As I mentioned in my intro column on Friday, my main responsibility here at FanGraphs is updating the RosterResource payroll pages, which give a great overview of all 30 teams’ payrolls and where they stand in relation to the luxury tax lines. I like to view payrolls with the understanding that each team is going to have its own normal range; as such, I find it best to look at the 2024 Dodgers relative to the 2023 Dodgers and the 2024 A’s relative to the 2023 A’s. So, with that in mind, I put the teams into five buckets.

All payrolls listed below are the “real payroll” for the teams rather than their luxury tax payroll. Official 2023 payrolls have not yet been reported, so I’ve used the RosterResource payrolls for both 2023 and 2024.

The Big Gainers (at least 10% increase since 2023)

1. Orioles ($66M to $98M, a 48% increase)

The O’s had nowhere to go but up after running a bare-bones payroll for last year’s 101-win campaign. The big increases came from arbitration raises and trading for Corbin Burnes ($15,637,500).

2. Diamondbacks ($124M to $168M, a 36% increase)

Owner Ken Kendrick wasn’t kidding when he said he was willing to add payroll to keep the team in World Series contention. The Diamondbacks didn’t lose anyone significant in free agency, and new additions Eugenio Suárez, Eduardo Rodriguez, Joc Pederson, and Jordan Montgomery will combine to earn almost $60 million this season.

3. Dodgers ($236M to $314M, a 33% increase)

The Dodgers reined in spending in 2023 with an eye on having maximum flexibility for this season, and goodness did they flex it. They committed over $1 billion in free agency, 36% of the entire league’s total.

4. Royals ($91M to $116M, a 27% increase)

Kansas City’s big move was the mega-extension for Bobby Witt Jr., with free agency expenditures large in quantity (seven MLB free agents) but low in big splashes. (Seth Lugo’s $36 million contract was the largest.) Still, they look markedly improved.

5. Rays ($79M to $97M, a 23% increase)

The Rays were pretty quiet in free agency, but their payroll is up quite a bit even after trading away Tyler Glasnow and Manuel Margot. The large collection of arbitration-eligible players accounts for most of the gain here.

6. Pirates ($70M to $84M, a 20% increase)

This is similar to the Rays’ situation; Aroldis Chapman ($10.5 million) was Pittsburgh’s biggest free agent commitment. David Bednar’s arbitration years and Mitch Keller’s extension could keep the Pirates in the $80M+ range for a while.

7. Nationals ($109M to $130M, a 20% increase)

In the final year of his contract, Patrick Corbin is earning $11 million more than he did in 2023, and his raise accounts for over half of Washington’s increase.

8. Astros ($201M to $241M, a 19% increase)

This year, the Astros almost certainly will pay the luxury tax for the first time under owner Jim Crane. Josh Hader signed the biggest free agent deal for a reliever (by present value), and yet he has just the fifth-highest salary on the team.

9. Reds ($87M to $104M, a 19% increase)

Cincinnati had a very Royals-y offseason. Jeimer Candelario’s three-year, $45 million deal was the largest signing the Reds made, but add the $13 million he’ll earn this season with the salaries of newcomers Emilio Pagán, Frankie Montas, and Brent Suter and you get $37.5 million of fresh commitments to four players. That explains the increase in payroll even without Joey Votto on the team anymore.

10. Cubs ($190M to $224M, an 18% increase)

The Cubs waited awhile to strike in free agency, but they’ve now got four players earning over $20 million and another three above $10 million.

11. Braves ($205M to $230M, a 13% increase)

The Braves added more complementary players from the outside (Reynaldo López, Jarred Kelenic, Aaron Bummer) because their extension-heavy strategy creating few holes to plug. Austin Riley, Matt Olson, and Sean Murphy’s raises combine for $12 million in extra salary.

12. Yankees ($272M to $301M, an 11% increase)

Juan Soto’s hefty $31 million salary in his walk year explains the Yankees’ payroll jump, as the Marcus Stroman contract and arbitration raises are essentially negated by the salaries of Josh Donaldson, Luis Severino, and Frankie Montas (among others) coming off the books.

The Moderate Gainers (between 5% and 10% increase since 2023)

13. Giants ($196M to $208M, a 6% increase)

The Giants look significantly better on paper with Jung Hoo Lee, Blake Snell, Matt Chapman, and Jorge Soler, but they’re not actually that much more expensive. Joc Pederson, Brandon Crawford, Sean Manaea, Alex Wood, and Ross Stripling all underperformed in 2023 and are now playing elsewhere.

14. Rangers ($214M to $226M, a 6% increase)

The World Series champs did their big shopping in the two offseasons before last year, and many of the core contributors from the 2023 roster are still with the team. The largest contract Texas gave out this free agency was Tyler Mahle’s two-year, $22 million deal, leading to a minimal increase in payroll.

15. Blue Jays ($215M to $226M, a 5% increase)

After missing out on Shohei Ohtani, the Blue Jays had a low-key offseason. Yariel Rodriguez signed for $32 million but started out in the minors to get stretched out, and rather than making big expenditures the team will instead be relying on improvements from stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

16. Athletics ($59M to $61M, a 5% increase)

Well, at least their relative change is actually qualifying as a moderate increase? By absolute change, this is essentially nothing; their highest paid player is Ross Stripling, who’s earning $12.5 million, but the Giants are covering $3.25 million of that, meaning the A’s themselves aren’t paying a single player eight figures.

Largely Unchanged (Within 5% of their 2023 payroll)

17. Cardinals ($178M to $181M, a 1% increase)

The Redbirds got most of their offseason shopping out of the way early, locking down Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, and Lance Lynn before the Winter Meetings. The Gray deal is heavily backloaded, though, keeping things steady.

18. Guardians (steady at $98M, a 0.4% increase)

The Guardians will look to bounce back from a sub-.500 year with largely the same personnel.

19. Phillies (steady at $246M, a 0.2% decrease)

The Phillies tend to allocate their contracts evenly and will run it back with essentially the same squad that brought them to within one win of their second straight NL pennant.

20. Mariners ($140M to $139M, a 0.7% decrease)

Seattle made plenty of moves without adding payroll because, as you might have expected, trader Jerry Dipoto’s swaps kept the ledger pretty balanced.

The Moderate Slashers (between 5% and 10% decrease since 2023)

21. Mets ($346M to $324M, a 7% decrease)

The Mets’ payroll remains stratospheric, but nearly $70 million is money paid to other teams for James McCann, Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer. They’re projected to be all the way down to $159 million in commitments for 2025, with no huge arbitration raises set to add to that significantly.

22.Tigers ($121M to $109M, a 10% decrease)

Don’t confuse cheaper with worse. The Tigers should be a much better team this year; they just no longer have Miguel Cabrera’s $32 million on the books.

23.Red Sox ($199M to $178M, a 10% decrease)

Boston’s offseason was many things, but full-throttle it wasn’t. Adding injury to insult, the team’s big free-agent addition, Lucas Giolito, will miss all of 2024 after undergoing UCL repair surgery.

24.Marlins ($110M to $99M, a 10% decrease)

Peter Bendix had a quiet first offseason with the Marlins, with Tim Anderson ($5 million) being his only free agent expenditure.

The Big Slashers (at least 10% decrease since 2023)

25.Brewers ($126M to $110M, a 13% decrease)

Milwaukee traded Corbin Burnes, brought back Brandon Woodruff on a reduced salary, and signed Rhys Hoskins to a backloaded contract that adds only $10 million to the 2024 payroll. Even so, the Brewers are 3–0 to start the season and should still contend for the NL Central title.

26.Rockies ($172M to $147M, a 15% decrease)

Colorado’s payments for Nolan Arenado went down from $21 million last year to $5 million this year, creating almost the entire difference. The team’s only free-agent additions were Jacob Stallings ($2 million) and Dakota Hudson ($1.5 million).

27.White Sox ($177M to $146M, an 18% decrease)

With Liam Hendriks, Yasmani Grandal, Tim Anderson, Elvis Andrus, Aaron Bummer, Mike Clevinger, and Dylan Cease all gone, the White Sox are dealing with a drastic decline in payroll and talent — two roster attributes that could continue to crater next offseason, when both Yoán Moncada and Eloy Jiménez could become free agents.

28.Angels ($215M to $174M, a 19% decrease)

The Angels ducked under the luxury tax threshold by just $30,000 after letting five players go on waivers last August, and they won’t come anywhere close this year. Anthony Rendon and Mike Trout alone combine for nearly 45% of that.

29.Twins ($159M to $128M, a 20% decrease)

Owner Jim Pohlad said payroll would go down, and it certainly did, even as the Twins look primed to repeat as AL Central champs. Carlos Santana ($5.25 million) was Minnesota’s “big” free agent signing.

30.Padres ($255M to $167M, a 34% decrease)

The Padres followed through on plans to bring payroll down to a more manageable level to come into compliance with MLB’s debt-servicing rules, and they didn’t replace Juan Soto in any meaningful way, either.

To be clear, nothing I’m about to say is a dig on A’s fans. They’ve got what I would say is by far the toughest situation of any fanbase in the league, with their favorite team about to abandon them for three nomadic years in an unknown temporary home (Sacramento, perhaps? Salt Lake City?) before heading to a Las Vegas stadium that has been rendered on paper but entirely unclear in its real-life funding. (Nevada will chip in a hefty $380 million of what will be at least a $1 billion project.) With that all laid out, though, the A’s attendance has been nothing short of incredible, and I don’t mean that positively.

ESPN has a handy tracker for average team attendance, and the gap between the 15th-place A’s and 14th-place Marlins (remember, only 15 MLB parks have games during the opening weekend) is about 12,500 per game, nearly as large as the gap between the Marlins and the no. 10 Mariners. The boycotted Opening Day was actually the best attended of the three games, with over 13,000 tickets sold, though it would appear only a fraction actually went to the game. Instead, they bought tickets to access the parking lot for their protest.

Without protests and boycotts to artificially inflate attendance, the A’s may have a tough time cracking 10,000 fans at any point this season, and the team will exit Oakland with a whimper.

It appears as if Joey Bart will be on the move shortly, with his expected-all-spring jettisoning from the Giants’ roster finally coming with a DFA on Sunday. Bart hit well in spring training, with a .414/.526/.448 line in 38 plate appearances. He made the Opening Day roster as San Francisco’s third catcher, but he was never going to overtake Patrick Bailey and Tom Murphy on the depth chart so long as they stayed healthy.

Bart hit just .219/.288/.335 in 502 plate appearances with the Giants, and his -6 defensive runs saved in 156 games behind the plate don’t give any value back on the other side of the ball. That said, he was still the 2nd overall pick in 2018, and I don’t see him clearing waivers. Teams who could look to upgrade their backup catcher spot include the A’s, Diamondbacks, Braves, and Pirates.

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20 days ago

“Teams who could look to upgrade their backup catcher spot include the A’s, Diamondbacks, Braves, and Pirates.”

I know it’s contextual based on Sean Murphy’s injury, but it’s funny to see the Braves included on that list.

Antonio Bananas
20 days ago
Reply to  DH

They’re going to try to make their back up catcher great again with Tromp. But I’m not sure his numbers are bigly enough to match what they had on opening day.