How many teams are at their payroll limit?


Here’s a thought to help us slog through a slow Thursday morning. On MLB Trade Rumors this morning we found out that the Reds have reached their 2009 payroll limit. If they want to add players to strengthen their team, they’ll have to shed comparable dollars in the process. In other words, they’re all but done with the remaining free agent crop. Late last week, we learned that the Astros are likely out as well. The Diamondbacks appear to have severely limited funds, as a number of pitchers (Randy Wolf, Jon Garland, Randy Johnson) have rejected offers, presumably because of insufficient dollars. The Padres are looking to shed Jake Peavy’s contract, so it’s not likely they’re willing to add payroll.

This is not good news for those remaining free agents. The number of teams willing to add payroll is diminishing. WIth fewer teams involved, these free agents have far less leverage than they normally would. Because free agents are subject to market conditions, we could see a number of players taking significant pay cuts — or else sit out part or all of the 2009 season.

Most affected, of course, are the Type A guys who rejected arbitration offers. This means our best pal Jason Varitek, Orlando Cabrera, Juan Cruz, Ben Sheets, Orlando Hudson, Manny Ramirez, and Oliver Perez. Not only do they face a diminished market, but they also cost a signing team a draft pick, which may lead them to shy away.

When thinking of teams which can clearly afford to add some payroll, I’ve got the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Giants, White Sox, and Cubs. Those are the larger market teams, and all of them seem to have a bit of payroll flexibility. There have been conflicting reports on some — Jayson Stark has said in the past that the Giants can’t afford Manny. If an opportunity arose, though, I doubt any of these teams would rule themselves out.

Then we have the teams mentioned above, those who are done spending. They might ink a few players to minor league deals, but you won’t see them getting any of the higher tier free agents. These include the Reds, Blue Jays, Astros, Rays, Marlins, and Padres. Arizona appears to have some level of payroll flexibility, but not much, so we’ll keep them off this list initially. Ditto Texas, Detroit, and Kansas City. Pittsburgh probably won’t add anyone, and there have been no indicators that the Twins are willing to add payroll.

This leaves us with the majority of teams, the ones we’re not quite sure about. They might be able to add payroll, but we’re not quite sure. As mentioned above, the Diamondbacks, Rangers, Twins, Tigers, and Royals appear to have some flexibility, but probably not much. None of those teams is probably willing to add even $5 million in payroll. Though I haven’t read anything about them directly (or don’t remember having done so), the Indians, Orioles, Rockies, Mariners, and Brewers seem to fall into that category.

Who does that leave? The Braves, Phillies, Cardinals, and A’s. Clearly, this is a rough estimation, but could it be that only 12 of the 30 teams are willing to add more than $5 million in additional payroll? Not good news for the remaining free agents if that’s the case. So are these players going to disperse among the available teams, or will they wait around for what they deem an acceptable offer to come around?

That’s what we’re looking for during the rest of the off-season. With a limited number of teams willing to add significant payroll, you might see a number of one-year, below-market deals signed during the first week or two of February. Let’s hope the Yankees can take advantage of that situation.

Categories : Hot Stove League


  1. jsbrendog says:

    ok, if this is the case I am all for adam dunn signing and a trade of nady/swisher. I’d like to keep swisher under the impression that he will be a starting outfielder next yr after damon leaves but that opportunity cannot be passed up.

    do whatever you have to to make it happen.

    • Matt says:

      I’d prefer a trade of Nady because a) I love Nick Swisher and b) it’d make more sense to keep the guy who’s actually signed through next year.

    • Steve B says:

      You’d have to ask yourself why a team would trade anything for a $6M plus Nady when they can probably have Dunn for the same price at this point?

      The free agent logjam at the 1B/Corner OF/DH spot unfortunately hurts the Yankees efforts to move Nady in particular, but Swisher too.

      • Matt says:

        “You’d have to ask yourself why a team would trade anything for a $6M plus Nady when they can probably have Dunn for the same price at this point?”

        You’re right about that. My pipe dream of Adam Dunn on the Yankees will probably never come true. :(

        • Jay CT... Ben Sheets biggest fan says:

          I wonder how they can trade a guy like Nady if no one can afford to sign others. However, Nady is one of the few good right handed power hitting guys available.

      • Joseph P. says:

        I can see two advantages in this for other teams. First, the Yankees can eat, say, $3 million of Nady’s salary. I’m not saying the Yankees will be willing, but it’s a possibility. In another case, the player for whom they trade Nady could make a higher salary (as in my crazy, whacko, Nady for Harang pipe dream).

        • Steve B says:

          That’s the other thing with those two, Joseph. Neither Nady nor Swisher brings anything that the Yankees need. Three things neither guy will bring in return are 1) a legit MLB starting pitcher 2) a solid everyday CF and 3) a high end prospect.

          If only Swish or Damon could be a legit centerfielder, this would all be good. It’s good now, just crowded.

  2. Shamus says:

    I magine Bobby Abreu, as well as Orlando Hudson, just went poopy in their collective pants.

    Bet Bobby thought he would take a small paycut this year, go from 16M down to 13M. But now, he might be lucky to get 10, tops. More like 5-8.

    • Steve B says:

      I think Abreu ends up in Disneyland. They have to add a bat at some point.

      • jsbrendog says:

        another aging outfieler to go with vlad, mathews jr and hunter. great

        • Steve B says:

          I hear you. Matthews deal will always haunt them. He’s simply useless, but they’ve got to live with him as a 4th OF. I assume Rivera and Hunter are locked in as two OF’s. Vlad and Abreu split the RF/DH AB’s?

          They’ve got to something. They can’t sell the fandom on adding only Fuentes after losing Tex, Rodriguez and G. Anderson.

          • Joseph P. says:

            I can see them bringing Anderson back on the cheap.

          • Jay CT... Ben Sheets biggest fan says:

            Well you never know who might fall into their lap, plus they have the players in their system to make a deal if they need to.

          • Matt says:

            I know Anderson was a fan favorite, but you’ve got to think losing him was probably a plus for that team.

            Juan Rivera is just not that good. He had that awesome year in 06 and hasn’t done a lick since then, and he’s not a good fielder. Signing Abreu would probably help the Mickey Mousers since he’s still got something left in that bat.

            There’s really no reason why Vlad should split time with anyone. He had a down year in Vlad terms last year but going into the year, I’d say he’s their best offensive player.

            • Steve B says:

              By splitting time, Matt, I meant they Abreu and Vlad can take turns at RF/DH. Both would get everyday at bats, but dividing their time between DH and RF. He’s DEFINITELY their best offensive player.

              • jsbrendog says:

                vlad might not be able to play the field everyday he’s getting up there and has always had back issues and other nagging typ einjries as well as a swing that could dislocate oth my shoulders

                • A.D. says:

                  Sadly vlad is only 32, the same age as ARod. But Vlad’s body is breaking down and is considered old, ARod will be playing for at least another 9 years.

                • jsbrendog says:

                  wow. that is a shocker. damn. i love vlad and was happy to see him go to a larger market where ppl who are casual baseball fans might actually know who he is because he is soo good. that guy can hti a ball that bounces before it gets to the plate.

              • Matt says:

                Oh my bad; I misunderstood.

                Their OF defense is going to be awful this year, no matter what alignment they throw out.

      • pat says:

        At firstI thought you meant actual disneyland. I pictured bobby dressed as prince ali, waving to all the kids and riding on a float with jasmine and the genie. He would then be the dh on their company softball team.

  3. Matt says:

    A note on the Phillies:

    the fact that they didn’t go after Derek Lowe is not only shocking but also incredibly stupid. Aside from Cole Hamels, their rotation is more or less a question mark. Myers is inconsistent, there’s no way Moyer can repeat what he did last year, Kyle Kendrick took a huge step backwards, Blanton could be reliable, but a full season in a new league could hinder him a bit. Lowe, a groundball pitcher, would’ve been a good addition to a team in a small park that has good up the middle defense.

    They should definitely jump on then Ben Sheets bandwagon for a one or two year deal. If not, I’m not sure if their rotation can hold the team up for long, especially with their best hitter being out for probably a month and the loss of Pat Burrell. Their bullpen was incredible last year but without Romero, Ryan Madson seems to be the only reliable reliever, and if that’s iffy. Durbin and Condrey had great years last year but I think they were exceptions, not the rule. Lidge will be solid but I doubt he’ll go 41-41 again.

    • A.D. says:

      I agree on missing out on the Lowe signing, but their rotation has essentially 2 question marks (and no real #2 starter unless Myers steps up): Kendrick & Myers.

      With Myers, its what Brett Myers do you get, everyone knows he has the ability to be great its will it come together

      Kendrick, will he move forward, same thing with the Yanks giving a kid the 5 spot vs a veteran. They do have JA Happ in the minors who they can bring up as a 6th option.

      Otherwise they should try an grab a ben arm with Romero out, arms available, and a pen that was too good to be true last year.

      • Steve B says:

        I agree on Myers. Jury is still sort of out. He’s a pretty young guy though. If the Yankees traded for him, he’d be the youngest guy in their rotation. He’s capable of being a pretty solid #2 in the NL. He had a solid 2nd half in ’08, going 7-4 with a 3.06 over 13 starts after being sent down to the minors to straighten himself out.

    • Jay CT... Ben Sheets biggest fan says:

      I agree to an extent. I think the Ibanez was a terrible signing even at the point they made it. However, I do think you are being a little too tough on them. One, they did just win the World Series. Two, Moyer showed no reason he could not continue, Myers is a good pitcher who seemed to really straighten himself out, Utley plans to be back by opening day, and with Blanton as an inning eater type solid pitcher, they seem to have a solid 1-4 to me.

    • The phillies are probably on a WE JUST WON THE WORLD SERIES, BI-OTCH high and thus don’t feel compelled to substantially alter their team.

      • Jay CT... Ben Sheets biggest fan says:

        Thats a good point too. They buy a few years of “Well, we won with this team and think we can do it again” attitude due to winning the Series

    • What’sCarlos Carrasco’s ETA? Carrasco finished the year strong after his late season callup to AAA; perhaps he and Happ compete for the 5th starter? He’ll turn 22 just before opening day…

      1) Hamels
      2) Moyer
      3) Blanton
      4) Myers
      5) Kendrick
      6) Happ
      7) Carrasco

      They should be okay. Not dominant, but decent. You can probably find three good starters plus one decent one out of those seven.

  4. A.D. says:

    There’s an article in the times today with a funny cartoon of “Will Hit for Food” discussing out of work hall of famers in Pedro, Griffey, Thomas, and Pudge

    • Matt says:

      I thought the Big Hurt retired?

      Call me crazy but I think his greatness is very under appreciated.

      • Steve B says:

        Seems that way, but he’ll get the call to the Coop in pretty short order once he’s eligible.

      • A.D. says:

        apparently not, he still wants to play… cheap power for a team like Seattle may not be the worst idea.

        • Balls Deep says:

          Thomas’s problem with how he’s perceived is that he has that “unfriendly to the media” tag. He just doesn’t get the pop; and as mostly a DH type, is he better than, say Edgar Martinez, when you look at HOF DH options?

          • Steve B says:

            He’s definitely better than Edgar. Played more in the field and hit better for a longer period of time. Edgar’s case will be interesting. I don’t see Thomas’ HOF candidacy as anything other than a lock.

            • Matt says:

              I think Edgar should definitely go in.

              • Steve B says:

                Edgar’s fringy to me. Some outstanding numbers, but in the end he offered Albert Belle-like career production and needed 2,000 more plate appearances than Belle to do it.

                Hard argument to make that Edgar should be in while Belle got bumped off the ballot.

                Of course, in a world where Sanberg is in the Hall and Lou Whitaker couldn’t get 5% of the vote, anything is possible.

                • Hard argument to make that Edgar should be in while Belle got bumped off the ballot.

                  Edgar Martinez, BA/OBP/SLG/OPS/wOBA
                  .312/.418/.515/.933/.405 in 8672 plate appearances

                  Albert Belle, BA/OBP/SLG/OPS/wOBA
                  .295/.369/.584/.933/.396 in 6673 plate appearances

                  I think you’re selling Edgar Martinez short. Belle was a better power hitter, but Edgar was constantly on base. I can easily vote for Edgar and not Belle, because between the two, I’d rate Edgar as the better player (slightly).

                  But you raise a point in that Belle’s candidacy should have more steam. He’s a borderline no, IMO, not a clear cut no like he’s often portrayed.

                • jsbrendog says:

                  when those mariners team’s were good with griffey buhner and edgar a pcher would much rather face buhner or even griffey a lot of the time as opposed to edgar. edgar worked counts, fould off pitches, hit for avg and power, and was frightening.

          • A.D. says:

            Well, Frank does have the 500 HR, 2 MVP & 50 points more on his career slugging, which puts him apart from Edgar.

            Figure as much as 500 HR may be discounted for guys tied to Roids, I haven’t seen Thomas tied to them, and he was always built like a house, so he might get a boost on that one.

          • steve (different one) says:

            He just doesn’t get the pop; and as mostly a DH type, is he better than, say Edgar Martinez, when you look at HOF DH options?

            by a mile.

            Thomas is one of the best RH hitters in baseball history.

            • steve (different one) says:

              let me add that i didn’t mean to detract from Edgar’s awesomeness. he was also pretty great.

              but Thomas was better.

          • Mike A. says:

            29th all time in times on base (4,222)
            21st in OBP (.419)
            24th in SLG (.555)
            19th in OPS+ (156)
            19th in runs created (2,003)
            9th in walks (1,667)
            25th in XBH (1,028)

            Had a five year run where his worst line was .308-.426-.606. Eight straight years with at least 174 OPS+ to start his career. He’s got 2 MVP’s and three other top three finishes in the voting.

            First ballot.

            • Thomas – yes
              Edgar – yes
              Thome – yes
              Carlos Delgado – no
              Albert Belle – no
              Juan Gonzalez – no
              Bernie Williams – no
              Craig Biggio – mmm… yes
              Jeff Bagwell – yes
              Jason Giambi – no (barely)
              Andy Stankiewicz – oh yeah
              Jonathan Papelbon – Hall of Asshattery, maybe

              • Sweet Dick Willie says:

                Biggio is an interesting case. There was a period (’94-’99) where he was dominant. But it took him a few years to get up to speed, and then there was that long decline (’00-’07).

                In the end, I’d vote no, just because the HOF already has enough marginal players (and by marginal I mean maybe HOF worthy, maybe not).

                But it’s moot, as the 3,000 hits will get him in, which is another reason I’d vote no. We don’t need no more stinkin’ compilers!

                • jsbrendog says:

                  biggio was an all star at 2 of his three positions was he not? He caught, played 2nd, and then the of.

                • Sweet Dick Willie says:

                  Hey, I’m not saying you can’t make a case for Biggio, you certainly can.

                  My point is that it’s not a slam dunk (well, it is because of the 3,000 hits), and there are enough of the “you could make a case for him” already in the HOF.

                  His career numbers are better than Ryno’s, so he most definitely gonna get in.

              • Mike A. says:

                If Jim Rice is a HOFer, then Delgado, Juan Gone and Belle are HOFers too.

  5. Dimitri says:

    Lets go get Juan Cruz for the 8th and Sheets for a #5 both with under-market value contracts Cruz $4-5 mil and Sheets for $9-10 mil.

  6. huuz says:

    this year appears to be shaping up in a manner such that roster and payroll flexibility will play a bigger role than the past. with the rapidly dropping prices for FA players, great deals can be found (e.g. Dunn).

    my concern for the Yanks is what kind of roster/payroll flexibility will we have come June/July? i’m concerned that the sux are in a better position than we are to pick up an absolute steal of a deal, midsummer (wild speculation: but what if roy halladay becomes available on the cheap, or b. webb, etc). hopefully the Yanks will be nimble enough throughout the season to respond if the market get really cheap for elite talent.

    who knows, perhaps our CF problems could be solved if the tigers start discarding contracts and we can get granderson for peanuts (hell, i’d trade ajax for him straight up)?

    • steve (different one) says:

      Halladay, Webb, or Granderson will never be available “on the cheap”.

      it’s certainly possible that someone like Magglio Ordonez would be available as a salary dump, and that Boston would be in a better position to get him, but what can you do about that?

      • it’s certainly possible that someone like Magglio Ordonez would be available as a salary dump, and that Boston would be in a better position to get him, but what can you do about that?

        Smile with glee as the Sox use the most injury prone, defensively challenged and overpaid outfield known to man? (Bay-Drew-Ordonez… yeesh)

      • huuz says:

        I agree that there is about a one in 10,000 chance that halladay or webb will be available for a song…but if that question were posed in jan ’08, the odds would have been more likely 1 in a million.

        my point is that the state of the economy and baseball’s economy could be drastically changed by june/july such that crazy stuff like that *might* happen. your point about magglio’s availablity is much more likely to happen.

        nobody could have predicted the state of the FA market even six months ago, so who knows where it will go in another six months.

      • A.D. says:

        Exactly none of those players will be available on the cheap.

        I’d much rather have CC & Tex for the whole year & the coming seasons, than hope that other teams are doing poorly financially and in the standings and then decide to do something stupid.

        While this offseason has humbled some players on salary demands, its also shown that elite talent is just as expensive as either.

        • A.D. says:

          * just as expensive as ever

        • huuz says:

          its also shown that elite talent is just as expensive as either.

          so far…

          manny is still unsigned.

          • A.D. says:

            true, he’s also asking for 25 mil a year, has potential attitude issues, is going to be 37, wants a multi year deal, and isn’t good at playing defense. Even if he signs for 15M, that will be a deal from past years, but not “cheap” and more money than any of the 3 you mentioned are.

            The guys you mentioned, are all 32 or younger this season, are all signed for well below market value, and are all signed through at least the 2010 season so a team isn’t in a trade or just get pick compensation situation.

            The better comparison for the guys you mentioned are Tex, Burnett, and CC… all of whom god paid big money this offseason.

            • jsbrendog says:

              The better comparison for the guys you mentioned are Tex, Burnett, and CC… all of whom god paid big money this offseason.

              Mo was generous this offseason to his new friends. not so to others

            • huuz says:

              on a different note, i can see webb becoming available in mid 2010 if arizona isn’t in contention.

              their payroll is hovering around $60M over the past few years, and i don’t see how they can expect to resign webb to another contract extension.

              if webb does hit FA after 2010, i could see us letting Wang walk away in FA (he’s also a FA after 2010) and signing webb in his place. they’re the same age and wang has more of an injury history.

  7. Bo says:

    I can see shying away from signing someone for a pick if said player isn’t good. But come on. What late 1st rounder will be Manny or O Hudson or Sheets?

    • What late 1st rounder will be Manny or O Hudson or Sheets?

      Okay, let’s say you’re the, um, Blue Jays. You can sign Manny, Hudson, or Sheets and lose the 20th pick in the draft. Since 2007-2008 are too recent to make good determinations, let’s go back to 2004-2006 and see what kind of players are available between pick 20 and the next time you’d be on the clock (say, pick 75).

      2004: Phil Hughes, Blake DeWitt, Gio Gonzalez, Huston Street, Reid Brignac, Yovani Gallardo, Hunter Pence, Dustin Pedroia, Kurt Suzuki, Wade Davis
      2005: Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Joey Devine, Colby Rasmus, Travis Buck, Luke Hochevar, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden, Chase Headley, Yunel Escobar
      2006: Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Chris Tillman, Brett Anderson, Kevin Mulvey, Trevor Cahill

      Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking to yourself, “Tommie, non of those guys are as good as Ben Sheets when he’s healthy.” And that’s true. But, even if you get Ben Sheets at a tremendous discount, you’re still getting, what, 3-4 years of Ben Sheets vs. maybe 8 years of Matt Garza or Joba Chamberlain or Hunter Pence or Colby Rasmus. It’s a gamble either way. The reason most teams are deciding not to gamble is:
      1) the prospect will be much, much, much cheaper and under team control much, much longer
      2) if your team is not ready to compete for the pennant now, you may be paying for Ben Sheets in 2009-2011 when your team sucks vs. paying Colby Rasmus in 2012-2019 when you have a better squad around him.

      Draft picks are a gamble, they may not work out. Free agent additions are a gamble, they may get hurt or age badly or have their production fall off a cliff. The FA vet is a better bet to produce at big league levels than the typical 20th pick of the draft, but at a far higher cost in dollars for a far shorter window of time.

      I can see why tons of teams wouldn’t pay Orlando Hudson even 5M a year (half his original asking price) even though he’ll probably outperform whomever you draft with a pick in the bottom of the first round: the margin between his performance and the draft picks performance may be less than the margin between what you spend for Hudson and what you spend for the draft pick, and said production may come at a time when your team has no constructive use for it.

  8. Dave says:

    Was Garland offered arbitration? He was right?

  9. Bo says:

    I’d be very careful with the whole payroll limits thing. No team will ever tell what their limit is. it’s all negotiating tactics.

  10. Tom Zig says:

    Salary Cap argument at faceoff blog at LoHug


  11. Troy says:

    Sign Sheets and Cruz.

  12. [...] an hour after I asked which teams can afford to sign a free agent, Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated provided his own take on the situation. Except his is a bit more [...]

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