The Cardinals are not likely to be big players in free agency, but they will participate in some fashion I imagine. Their ability or non-ability to spend will be partially determined by what other teams are willing to pay. What other teams are willing to pay will be partially determined by how much salary they have in the bank. Some teams, like the Cardinals, have a self-imposed payroll they stick to and some teams will go right up to the luxury tax. A few occasionally will go past the luxury tax, but as a rule, it seems to have effectively worked as a salary cap. Thus, I’m interested in seeing the money on the books right now, to see what the difference is between their current payroll and their capped limit.
I’ll be looking at Cot’s Baseball Contracts for this exercise. They have a helpful 2020-2024 payroll tracker on each team’s page. I take the guaranteed payroll from Cot’s, and then move over to MLB TR’s projected 2020 arbitration salaries to determine the players salaries for 2020 in arbitration, which won’t be perfect, but they are pretty close. Some players I make judgement calls on and assume the team will not offer up a contract during arbitration. For instance, Dominic Leone is a question mark on whether or not he will be tendered a contract for 2020. I then added up the arbitration players and the guaranteed salary players, and whatever else is needed to get to 26 men will get league minimum.
The Yankees have $154.5 million tied up in Giancarlo Stanton, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aroldis Chapman, J.A. Happ, Zack Britton, DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino, Aaron Hicks, and Luis Severino for 2020. That’s all guaranteed money. They also have an astounding 12 players in arbitration this year. I have them tendering contracts to 8 of them, including a few no brainers like Aaron Judge, James Paxton, and Gary Sanchez. I think they will not tender a contract in the case of Tyler Lyons, David Hale, Greg Bird, and Luis Cessa, although even if they do none of their salaries are going to move the needle on their 2020 payroll. There is also Edwin Encarnacion, who has a $20 million club option with a $5 million buyout.
So assuming they decline his option, that leaves the Yankees with a payroll of about $193 million and if they accept it, a payroll of $208 million. The luxury tax is $208 million, so if the Yankees plan to do anything in free agency, they are likely not picking up his club option, but if they are content where they are, might as well pick it up. Either way, not a ton of flexibility for the Yankees.
The Red Sox have $139.9 million in guaranteed contracts. They also have 12 players in arbitration. I think they will only tender contracts to 7 of them: Jackie Bradley Jr, Mookie Betts, Brandon Workman, Eduardo Rodriguez, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, and Andrew Benintendi. Sandy Leon Jr, Chris Owings, Steven Wright, Marco Hernandez, and Gorkys Hernandez will probably be nontender, and in the case of the latter two, neither are expected to make much more than league minimum anyway. Add in the league minimum players, and their payroll is at $209 million already. I expect their signing of Xander Bogaerts before he became a free agent signified they are content with that being the only move. So I don’t expect them to be a free agent player.
Compared to the Red Sox and Yankees, the rest of the AL East is hilariously low in guaranteed contracts. The Blue Jays have the least of them all with $29.9 million tied up between Randal Grichuk, Lourdes Gurriel, and the now retired Troy Tulowitzki (who I believe is still guaranteed money because the Blue Jays released him) . The Blue Jays also only have 8 in arbitration targets, six of whom I think they’ll tender a contract to. All i all, the Blue Jays have a “measly” $59 million in 2020 salary by my expectations.
What’s their payroll? Hard to say. They’ve gone as high as $163 million, but I doubt they’ll touch that since they aren’t going all in as far as I know. From 2014-2016, they had a payroll between $125 and $134 million. But of course they won 67 games last year, with a payroll of $114 million. So the Blue Jays have a ton of money to spend, but not sure they’re interested in spending no matter how you look at what their likely limit is.
The Rays too have limited guaranteed contracts, with $34.3 million on the books already. They have nine players up for arbitration, and I could only justify five of them getting contracts: Tommy Pham, Chaz Roe, Tyler Glasnow, Daniel Robertson, and Oliver Drake. Adding the two together and you get a $58.7 million payroll. The Rays have never gone higher than a $76 million payroll, which they reached in 2018 and 2014. They had a $60 million payroll in 2019. They have money to spend but it will probably be bargain basement deals.
The Orioles have two players with guaranteed contracts in 2020, Chris Davis and Alex Cobb. They have seven players in arbitration, all of whom I expect to get tendered a contract. They end up with a $73 million payroll. Despite reaching a high of $164 million in 2017, they are clearly not going anywhere near that and are probably going to end up much closer to the $80 million payroll of 2019. So I don’t expect much of anything from them in free agency.
The White Sox have $15.3 million in guaranteed contracts right now, with contracts to just Kelvin Herrera, Tim Anderson, and Eloy Jimenez, latter two on team-friendly deals. They have eight players in arbitration, and I expect six to get tender a contract. Due to this, they have a current expected payroll of only $52 million. They had an $88 million payroll last year, they have averaged $85 million the past three years, and have reached a high of $127 million, but that wasn’t since 2011. They did reach $118 million in 2015. This team should be a major player in free agency.
The Indians, meanwhile, have more money in guaranteed contracts than the White Sox have in expected payroll. They have a few players with club options, Dan Otero, Jason Kipnis, and Corey Kluber. Kluber’s is getting picked up for sure. Kipnis will probably be left to go to free agency, with only a $2.5 million buyout. Otero has a $1.5 million club option and I’m not positive on this one, but either way, it’s a $1 million difference so probably shouldn’t impact any financial decisions. In terms of arbitration, there’s only really one guy who is sort of questionable and that’s Danny Salazar. He has expected at $4.5 million and hasn’t played since 2017. Healthy, he’s clearly worth that though. If you don’t count him, that’s a payroll of $101 million. They had a payroll of $119 million last year and as high as $134 million in 2018. Buuuuut they clearly seem not interested in all in having that high of a payroll so I wouldn’t expect much beyond either a $101 or $105 million payroll.
The Tigers have two players committed to a contract in 2020, but neither are great: Jordan Zimmermann and Miguel Cabrera. Both will make a combined $55 million. At least Zimmermann is off the books next year. They don’t have much money to spend in arbitration, due to not having many good players, so their final payroll is only $79 million. They had a payroll as high as $199 million in 2017, but they are clearly in rebuilding mode. They had a $115 million payroll in 2019 and $125 million in 2018. I don’t know how much they’ll spend but they could. They are very far from competing though so I expect their payroll to drop for a third straight year.
The Royals of all teams have $54.9 million tied up in Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy, Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez plus I expect a $4 million buyout of Alex Gordon. Jorge Soler is under contract for $4 million, but due to the terms of his contract, he can opt out in arbitration. Considering his projected arb is $11.2 million, he’s doing that. Royals end up with a payroll of $80 million, which is quite below previous payrolls. They had over 100 million from 2015-2018, but $96 million last year. It will probably drop again.
Minnesota has a few departing free agents and not many guaranteed contracts: just $31.15 million. I expect nine of the possible 10 arbitration players to get tendered a contract, with the most questionable being CJ Cron, who is set to make $7.7 million. They end up with a payroll of about $78 million. They had a $119 million payroll in 2019 and a peak of $128 million. But they pretty consistently seem to try for around $100-$120 million. Still, they have money to spend and even more if they let CJ Cron go (which would be more than defensible)
That covers part one. It’s an interesting mix of teams here: teams with virtually no money to spend and teams with lots of money to spend who are mostly rebuilding. The White Sox are an exception and even they don’t seem like a hugely appealing draw. But if they are willing to spend it, they could absolutely get Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon. The question is: will they?