As Nick Piecoro reported on Monday, the 2015 D-backs payroll could be a “moving target…anywhere in the $80 million to $110 million range, depending on whether there is value to be found.” A look at the team’s current financial obligations, however, makes the lower end of that range seem highly unlikely. Two weeks ago, Jeff looked at how the limited payroll would limit Arizona’s flexibility as it looks to make upgrades this offseason. To help with future analysis, let’s look specifically at the payroll in light of this new payroll intel from La Russa.
The D-backs cleared a fair amount of dollars from next year’s ledger, but even if next year’s payroll is a “moving target,” one hopes that credit will be applied for the money cleared this season, as well. Back just before the trade deadline, La Russa was quoted by Steve Gilbert as saying that they might look “to put more money in the war chest,” and that “that’s all to the good when you start moving forward because the organization is going to spend it.” That’s about $7.5M in money earmarked for the 2014 payroll saved for the war chest, if you include salary commitments to traded players like Brandon McCarthy ($2M), Joe Thatcher ($1M), Martin Prado (~$3M) and Gerardo Parra (almost $1.5M).
But let’s look just at the 2015 payroll, choosing to assume La Russa has already accounted for it in the $80M-$110M range given.
With respect to arbitration candidates and players under control who have not yet qualified for arbitration, a club can simply not offer them contracts. If the low-end $80M number for next season is real, however, the vast majority of those dollars will be going to players with guaranteed contracts.
Those figures are not very flexible. And while moving Aaron Hill without eating most of the money is not impossible, there’s very little chance that these contracts will get moved. Paul Goldschmidt, Oliver Perez and Josh Collmenter are likely to be deemed too valuable to move. It’s just as unlikely that Miguel Montero gets moved, because whatever his strengths or faults, he’s quite a bit better than a replacement level catcher, and the D-backs really have no replacement.
The other contracts are unlikely to get moved not because the D-backs will not wish to, but because they won’t be able to. Brad Ziegler would have been a candidate for a trade if the D-backs were aggressively cutting payroll, but while $5M is a very reasonable salary for him, his recent microfracture surgery means another team is unlikely to want to pay as if he were in mint condition. Cody Ross is in a similar but more exacerbated situation, because although he’s shown recently that he can be useful in 2015, an overpriced outfield platoon bat is the sort of thing one acquires in the summer, not the winter; the D-backs could end up deciding to cut him (saving $500k or so if he signs on with another team), but they’re unlikely to get more than a trivial amount of salary relief by trade.
Bronson Arroyo‘s contract is about as immovable as it gets. Not only will he miss the majority of the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but his contract sports a ridiculous $4M buyout for a $11M club option for 2016, his age-39 season. What’s worse, the $11M option gets bumped to $13M if he gets traded. From a club perspective, this was one of the worst contracts in recent memory when it was signed, and it’s a dumpster fire now. Arroyo can be harmlessly stashed on the 60-day DL now, and there’s a decent chance he could be useful down the stretch next season — but he will not be pitching for a different team if that happens.
Aaron Hill looked diminished in playing time this season, and it seems very unlikely that a team would bite on his full salary going forward, which also includes a $12M salary for 2016. I happen to think he can be an important part of the team next season, especially as part of a 4-man, 3-position time share that keeps Didi Gregorius from being exposed. I’d also speculate that he was shopped just as aggressively as Martin Prado was in July, and that no team was willing to take him without getting a David Holmberg-style gift for that privilege. At any rate, I can’t see Hill being moved without Arizona eating $8M or so overall (and with just $4M attributable to 2014, perhaps, the payroll hit would sink from $12M to $4M). Not impossible, just unlikely, unless the team gets into that aggressive a cost-cutting mode.
Trevor Cahill‘s contract probably offers the best hope of salary relief next year. It may be that next year’s coaching staff will be better stewards of the team’s pitching next year than we saw this year; I’m not sure how to gauge the impact of Dave Duncan, but I think it’s possible that if marching orders were given from afar, there was no lieutenant invested with enough authority to change the battle plan once conditions on the ground changed. The most frustrating thing about the 2014 pitching staff was that they kept going to the same pitching plans over and over again, despite poor results.
But whatever the cause, Arizona has proven recently that the franchise wasn’t able to fix broken starters, and that some of the starters they weren’t able to fix were fixable. Trevor Cahill might be better in Arizona next year under new tutelage. There’s every reason for another team to believe, however, that some value could be found with Cahill. The D-backs team has little invested in Cahill in terms of a roster spot, and very little to lose by eating money to get rid of him. Unlike with Hill and Arroyo, we’re just talking about 2015 here; the $300k buyout on his first club option is modest by industry standards. A trade might only be possible if the D-backs ate $8M of his $12M salary. And for a team willing to take a $4M chance on him, the club options on his contract might be a benefit, rather than a hindrance; if the new club succeeded in fixing him, there’s definitely a chance that he could be worth $13M on a one-year deal for 2016, etc.
In summary: the D-backs could drop something like $4M in 2015 salary commitments by moving Cahill and possibly $8M for 2015 if they decided to eat some of Aaron Hill’s salary just to move him. But the D-backs have $67.5M committed to next year’s roster in guaranteed commitments, and that figure is unlikely to go down by much, if at all.
Salaries for other players
And that’s far from the end of Arizona’s salary obligations, from a practical standpoint. I may not say the same thing next offseason, but Mark Trumbo should be tendered a contract. Even after missing so much time and stinking up the joint when he returned, Trumbo had two two-homer games at the end of the season, which could curtail an arbitration argument that his skills are degraded. More importantly, he’d take his 29-, 32- and 34-homer seasons with him into the arbitration hearing, and a $7M salary for his second time through the arb process seems downright optimistic.
Addison Reed will also earn a non-trivial amount in arbitration, despite it being his first go-round. Just as Trumbo’s homer totals might push his perceived value, Reed’s saves will earn him a solid salary in arbitration — and the D-backs front office might try to cut Reed off at the pass by offering him an extension to keep him affordable through the 2017 season. Looking at the Matt Swartz projections from last year at MLBTradeRumors yields some insight; although saves obscure this process a little bit, I think Reed’s record is much more similar to Ernesto Frieri ($3.4M projection) than to Jordan Walden ($1.5M). Either way, I don’t see a way in which Reed will make less than $3M in 2015, unless they do sign him to an artificially back-loaded contract.
Wade Miley will also head to arbitration for the first time this winter, and he, too, will earn a 2015 salary at least six times greater than his 2014 salary. Last year, the Matt Swartz projections had Eric Stults slated for a $3M award in his first go-round, and I think that’s Miley’s floor, given his innings totals and his surge in strikeout rate this year. His record is similar to what Jeremy Hellickson‘s was ($3.3M), and especially when you allow for a little inflation, something like Travis Wood‘s projection ($3.6M) might be more reasonable. But let’s call it $3.3M.
With $13.3M for Trumbo, Reed and Miley, we’re already almost at the low end of the La Russa range. And we’re not done. David Hernandez, Daniel Hudson, Cliff Pennington, and Jordan Pacheco are also under control and arbitration-eligible. I think Pacheco does not get tendered a contract, especially in light of Tuffy Gosewisch‘s relative success behind the dish and the likelihood that Aaron Hill will be around to back up Jake Lamb at third base.
David Hernandez, on the other hand, has a very good shot at being offered a contract. He’s a hard guy to project, because he was quite good, then quite bad for much of 2013, and then it looked like he had found himself at the end of that season before undergoing Tommy John surgery before the 2014 season began. Hernandez made a $2.125M salary in 2014 in lieu of going to arbitration for the first time (that Reed projection looks reasonable now, right?), and the Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits the D-backs from even offering him a contract with a salary figure at less than 80% that level. He’s no Luke Gregerson (projected to make $4.9M last year by Swartz), but Hernandez has a pretty good record before 2013, enough to assume that he’d settle around $2.5M if he’s tendered a contract.
Daniel Hudson is another difficult case, for the obvious reasons. This is the second time that he’s eligible for arbitration, and if you recall, he was technically non-tendered last year before agreeing to a $700k pact for 2014. The D-backs made that deal largely to retain club control for Hudson’s final two arbitration seasons, but there’s no deal currently in place for 2015. Arbitrators are required to take previous year’s salary into account when deciding between a club’s proffered salary and the player’s, but I think a conservative estimate has Hudson making at least $1.5M. This is the figure I’m least sure about in this whole piece; the fact that he essentially missed two and a half seasons makes this a nightmare, and the fact that he was a starter before then doesn’t help. This number could go well beyond $3M, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw $4M, maybe with a friendly option for 2016. But let’s take that conservative route, and say $1.5M.
Compared to these last two guys, the likely salary of Cliff Pennington is not nearly as difficult to project. His recent salaries have been predicated on the idea that he’s a full-time shortstop, although that hasn’t been the case for two seasons. Penny made $3.25M in 2014. The diminished role makes $5M an unlikely target for him, but he was actually the fifth-most-valuable position player on the team this year per WAR (1.5!), despite having just one-third of a season’s worth of playing time. It could be very difficult to argue that Pennington should make less than $4M.
Odds are that Pennington will not be tendered a contract, although he could be shopped before that deadline in November. With Lamb, Gregorius, Hill, and Chris Owings all likely to get playing time at three positions, Penny could be the odd man out, especially with Nick Ahmed waiting in the wings to take on more of a utility role. The fact that Owings just had surgery on his labrum could give the D-backs pause, but I think we can safely take Pennington out of our projected payroll.
Assuming the D-backs tender contracts to Trumbo, Reed, Miley, Hernandez and Hudson, we’re looking at $17.3M for arb-eligible players. Leaving Pennington out, we’re up to $84.8M for just guaranteed contracts and arbitration guys. Add the likely $600k option that Arizona is likely to exercise for Matt Reynolds, and we’re up to $85.4M.
But that’s not all! The rest of the roster will be staffed by players making league-minimum salaries (or only slightly more). The sure things include Patrick Corbin, Randall Delgado, Will Harris, A.J. Pollock, Vidal Nuno, Tuffy Gosewisch, Chris Owings, Jake Lamb, Chase Anderson, Ender Inciarte, David Peralta, and Didi Gregorius (12 players). Nick Ahmed and a handful of pitchers like Andrew Chafin and Eury De la Rosa could also make the roster. The players I just named, in addition to the ones above, can make for a full roster. The reality is that there will be several more league minimum salaries on the books at some point in 2014, and there may be one or two additional ones even on Opening Day. But let’s just say 15 league-minimum salaries. That’s $7.5M.
All told, then, we’re looking at an Opening Day payroll of $92.9M. That’s with no Pennington. Even if Cahill and Hill get moved, the D-backs are still likely to be over the $80M low-end of La Russa’s range (and I think moving Hill is less likely if Penny is non-tendered). Jeff was absolutely right two weeks ago: the D-backs have almost no flexibility when it comes to acquiring a player from outside the organization. Based on this new intel, I think we now know that the club will acquire no one at all, unless they’re willing to stay at that $110M high end of La Russa’s range.
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