Payroll and the 2013 D-backs

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As the D-backs officially turn their eyes to the 2013 season, we turn our attention to the bottom line - the dollars. What commitments do the D-backs have for 2013, which players under their control are they likely to keep, and how much money is left?

It's typically difficult to even get a vague idea what next year's roster will look like in early October, but Arizona might be a rare exception. Consider this: only one player currently on the D-backs and making above the MLB minimum salary this year will be eligible to declare for free agency at the end of the season. Further, that player, Takashi Saito, was hardly a part of the 2012 club, managing just 12 innings of work with the big-league club. (The club traded impending free agent Joe Saunders at the trade deadline, and let go of impending free agents Lyle Overbay and Geoff Blum mid-season.) In short, the club could (skepticism-filled emphasis here for a reason) go into the 2013 season with a very similar roster to the 25-man squad that was assembled prior to September call-ups.

However, the point of this exercise isn't to spell out what will be for Arizona as it heads into Spring Training 2013, but rather what flexibility there is to make changes that require taking on salary. There has been plenty of discussion here on the 'Pit about who might be dealt to help shed salary, but is it necessary to do so? Can a roster be constructed using what's available in-house and the cash that's left over?

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To begin, here's a basic outline for a 25-man roster:

Starting Pitchers (5): SP 1, SP 2, SP 3, SP 4, SP 5

Relief Pitchers (7): Closer, Set-up, RP 1, RP 2, RP 3, RP 4, RP 5

Everyday Players (8): C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF

Bench Players (5): C, 4th OF, 5th IF, 6th IF, UTIL

As we look at what's available in-house, we'll consider the pieces available in light of how they fit into this basic roster outline. There is some flexibility here - for instance, it's feasible to shorten the bench and go with an eight-man relief corps, but... well, spoiler alert: that won't happen.

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[Special credit: All contract information within comes courtesy of the shining oracle that is Cot's Baseball Contracts]

Guaranteed Money for 2013:

Miguel Montero: $10MM

Justin Upton: $9.958MM

Chris Young: $8.7MM

Jason Kubel: $7.5MM

Trevor Cahill: $5.7MM

Aaron Hill: $5.5MM

Willie Bloomquist: $1.9MM

John McDonald: $1.5MM

David Hernandez: $1.25MM

Trevor Bauer: $1.183MM

Total: 10 Players, $53.191MM

[Quick note: Trevor Bauer's $1.183MM is listed here simply because it was listed in Cot's estimation of the club's 2012 Opening Day payroll, which I will use as a benchmark for the general range in which 2013's payroll might fall. Other guaranteed payments, such as Archie Bradley's $1MM bonus payment, were not listed, and thus are excluded.]

That's right, after my big ordeal about how stable the roster could be from 2012 to 2013, there are just 10 players on the 40-man roster with guaranteed MLB contracts for the 2013 season. Further, partially in thanks to Ian Kennedy's hesitance to sign a long-term contract extension a year ago, just one of the six salaries in excess of $2MM belongs to a starting pitcher. It's hard to argue with the where the guaranteed salaries have been allocated (even if you have a quarrel with some of the salaries themselves): up-the-middle defensive players and big-bopping, Chase Field-exploiting corner outfielders. Further, none of these salaries are albatross-level for the players earning them, so any of these players could be moved if the team finds itself in need of payroll space (though it's immensely unlikely that Miguel Montero will be moved so shortly after signing a big contract extension).

The biggest question here in terms of structuring a roster is whether or not Trevor Bauer will wind up with a big-league rotation slot or if he'll start 2013 in the minor leagues. What simplifies things, though, is that I can't imagine the team bringing in a pitcher on a major-league contract, as the club will likely be more inclined to sit back on their heels and let Bauer, Patrick Corbin, and Tyler Skaggs duke it out for the fourth and fifth rotation spots. As such, the salary difference will only be the major league minimum, about $500,000, and will be adjusted for later on.

***

Arbitration Eligible for 2013:

Here's where things get fuzzy. Not being an expert on the process of salary arbitration, I can't offer precise estimates of arbitration raises for each of Arizona's five arbitration-eligible players. What I have instead provided are personal ballpark estimates of possible arbitration rewards for Arizona's arbitration-eligible quintet, each of whom seems likely to be tendered a contract by the club.

Brad Ziegler: Arb 2, $1.795MM in 2012 - Tendered, Approx. $2.3MM

Matt Albers: Final Arb, $1.075MM in 2012 - Tendered, Approx. $1.4MM

Ian Kennedy: Arb 1 - Tendered, Approx. $4MM (#4 finish in 2011 Cy Young voting, Wins)

Gerardo Parra: Arb 1 - Tendered, Approx. $2MM (Gold Glove)

Chris Johnson: Arb 1 (of 4) - Tendered, Approx. $1.5MM

Total: 5 Players, Approx. $11.2MM

It's hard to see the club choosing to non-tender any of these players. Ziegler and Albers are owners of sub-3 ERAs out of the bullpen in 2012, Kennedy has been a solid #3 starter for the D-backs in his worst years, Parra is at least a phenomenal fourth outfielder and at most an above-average regular, and Johnson's seven home runs and 113 wRC+ in his 42 games with Arizona is impressive. Simply put, it's hard to imagine the team being able to find guys who project as better values on the free agent market than any of these players represent.

***

Outstanding Contract Options for 2013:

Update (10/5): To clarify, these decisions are not real and final, but simply my guess as to whether or not the options will be exercised or not. Sorry about any confusion I may have caused!

J.J. Putz: $6.5MM club option w/ $1.5MM buyout - Exercised

Matt Lindstrom: $4MM club option w/ $200,000 buyout - Declined

Henry Blanco: $1.24MM mutual option - Declined

Total: 1 Player, $6.7MM

Here is where the interesting decisions begin for D-backs GM Kevin Towers. While Towers has indicated that Putz's option will be exercised - and I would be hard-pressed to disagree with that choice - the options of Lindstrom and Blanco are another question.

Lindstrom has been phenomenal for Arizona since coming over from Baltimore in the Joe Saunders trade, posting yet another sub-3 ERA out of the D-backs bullpen (ho-hum), but $4MM is a hefty price tag for a middle reliever, especially one who was replacement-level as recently as 2009. If Arizona were in need of a closer, Lindstrom's 45 career saves and big fastball might be in high demand. However, with Putz and Hernandez locked into the final two innings and Ziegler and Albers available for high-leverage middle-innings situations, there aren't many high-leverage innings left to hand out, and thus only so much value that Lindstrom could add. If Lindstrom's option were for $2-3MM, I'd be all-in, but for $4MM, I'd be expecting about a full win over replacement level, and I'm not sure he could provide that, through no fault of his own.

Blanco has been repeatedly cited as having a role in the development of Miguel Montero as an excellent catch-and-throw backstop, and that value cannot be understated. That said, Montero doesn't still need a mentor (you don't give guys $60MM if they do), and Miggy plays so much that I would expect the ~$740k difference between keeping Blanco and, say, retaining Wil Nieves to be better-spent elsewhere on the diamond. Further, given Blanco's age, the innings behind the dish on his knees, and the thumb injury that ended his 2012 season, Blanco's frailty (and desire to play another season) has to be considered.

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Let's take a look at which roster spots have been filled thus far by players with guaranteed salaries for 2013 and those likely to be retained through options and arbitration:

Starting Pitchers (5): SP 1 (Cahill), SP 2 (Kennedy), SP 3, SP 4, SP 5

Relief Pitchers (7): Closer (Putz), Set-up (Hernandez), RP 1 (Ziegler), RP 2 (Albers), RP 3, RP 4, RP 5

Everyday Players (8): C (Montero), 1B, 2B (Hill), 3B (Johnson), SS, LF (Kubel), CF (Young), RF (Upton)

Bench Players (5): C, 4th OF (Parra), 5th IF (McDonald), 6th IF, UTIL (Bloomquist)

Confusing? Here's what's left to be filled by minimum-salary players:

Starting Pitchers (3): SP 3, SP 4, SP 5

Relief Pitchers (3): RP 3, RP 4, RP 5

Everyday Players (2): 1B (ooooh, this one's a mystery!), SS

Bench Players (2): C, 6th IF

Conveniently enough, it's easy to see in-house options to fill nine of these ten slots. Outside of the obvious assignment of Paul Goldschmidt to the everyday first baseman slot, the club will likely slot Wade Miley third in the rotation, with Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, and Trevor Bauer fighting for the final two slots. For the final bullpen slots, I imagine Bryan Shaw will take slot, Josh Collmenter will fill in as the long man, and a LTBNL (lefty to be named later) will occupy the final slot. On the bench, I could see Nieves and Ryan Wheeler retain their current positions on the big-league roster as cheap backup options to round things out, leaving just the everyday shortstop position open.

Minimum Salary Players for 2013:

These final roster spots will be each owed at least the MLB minimum salary per player, about $500,000. If Trevor Bauer is on the roster, one fewer minimum-salary player will be needed, as Bauer's salary has already been factored in above:

w/ Bauer - ~$500,000 minimum salary * 9 players = ~$4.5MM

w/o Bauer - ~$500,000 minimum salary * 10 players = ~$5MM

tl;dr

Grand Total (w/ Bauer): ~$75.6MM

Grand Total (w/o Bauer): ~$76.1MM

How does this compare to 2012's roster payroll? Well, Cot's has our Opening Day payroll at a titch over $75MM, so almost exactly where the 2013 payroll is projected with no change to the roster. Unfortunately, we still haven't addressed the everyday shortstop hole with this figure - this projected number simply assumes we'll find a minimum-salary option for that position (or use Bloomquist and McDonald in that role, and keeping Jacob Elmore on the roster). In all likelihood, the club will look for a new everyday shortstop, and that player will almost certainly cost more than the major-league minimum.

The question thus becomes whether or not there is room to expand payroll beyond the 2012 Opening Day figure. Did trading Stephen Drew, Joe Saunders, and Ryan Roberts allow us to expand payroll by $5MM or so next year to accommodate an addition without needing to shed an outfielder to save salary? There has been plenty of discussion here at the 'Pit about cutting salary in 2013, but after looking at the club's commitments for 2013, I can't help but wonder if Arizona could actually add salary for 2013. This isn't pure speculation, either - Kevin Towers recently suggested that payroll could be in the upper-70's to mid-80's in 2013, and has outlined his perception of the team's needs.

I won't simply repeat what I've already written, but in looking to address the first of Towers' outlined needs, there are plenty of cost-conscious shortstop options for the 2013 D-backs. In fact, the only option listed in that shortstops post who is slated to make more than $5.05MM in 2013 is J.J. Hardy of the Orioles. If a trade package could be built for Elvis Andrus - who will make $5.05MM in 2013 - centered around Archie Bradley and other prospects (who knows if Texas would do this), could Arizona pull the trigger and keep the rest of the roster intact? Or could Arizona fill two or three of Towers' needs while only shedding one guaranteed salary? If so, Arizona's lineup might be more fearsome in 2013 than any of us have imagined.

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