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Estimating budgets: NL Central/West

What is our competition able to spend? Well it’s complicated

Wild Card Series - Arizona Diamondbacks v Milwaukee Brewers - Game One Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Last week, there was some desire in the comments to look at the payroll situations of opposing teams. The objective of doing this is essentially to see who the Cardinals will be competing against in free agency. We already know the Cardinals’ situation. They will have in the neighborhood of $50 million if not more, and they will primarily use that money to upgrade the starting rotation. Were I an opposing team, this would pose a problem if I also wanted a starting pitcher. Are there teams positioned like the Cardinals with the same needs as the Cardinals? Let’s find out.

NL Central

Here’s the fascinating thing about the NL Central. Even after running through their payrolls, I don’t have a very good idea of what the actual budgets are. The Brewers are the lone exception, they seem to run on tight margins. But the Cubs could have a massive payroll or a payroll on par with the Cards. The Pirates and Reds will have low payrolls, but how low exactly?


We’ll start with the Cubs. The Cubs are not in a terribly good position. Both Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger are likely to opt out and in order to re-sign them, they would go over their 2023 payroll. Which they are likely to do, but it’s not really a good start to need to raise payroll to keep the same team.

Dansby Swanson ($26 million), Seiya Suzuki ($21 million), Jameson Taillon ($18 million), Ian Happ ($21 million), and Nico Hoerner ($11.5 million) are all going to return on higher salaries than 2023. Combined, they will make $38 million more money next season. Drew Smyly has a $8.5 million player option he will probably accept. Yan Gomes has a $6 million club option I think will be accepted. Kyle Hendricks has a $16 million club option that I think will also be accepted. Combine all these salaries and we have $128 million in salary.

I am assuming both Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman opt out. They will buy out Brad Boxberger’s club option for $800,000. They have some dead weight on the books. Trey Mancini ($7 million), Tucker Barnhart ($3.25 million), and David Bote ($5.5 million) are no longer on their 40, but still get paid. We’re at $144.6 million.

They have a few players in arbitration. Julian Merryweather and Mark Leiter Jr. are solid relievers, but in their first year in arbitration they’ll get around $1.2 million each. Adbert Alzolay will fare a little better, and I’m estimating it at $1.5 million. They may actually nontender Patrick Wisdom, because from the comps I could find, he should get at least $2.8 million. I don’t think they will, but he’s not very good so they may value the extra $3 million.

Justin Steele is not listed in arbitration on Roster Resource but he has 2.143 years of service time, so... I don’t know why he isn’t. 143 days would be Super Two eligible in every year since 2011. Seems like a safe bet. I’m using Tony Gonsolin as a comp, another Super Two player, who actually signed an extension, but MLB Trade Rumors had him at $3.5 million, so that’s what we’ll use. That’s an additional $10.2 million, bringing the team salary up to $154.8 million. You figure about $10 million for the pre-arbitration guys and they’re at $165 million we’ll say.

Figuring out team needs, they’ve got 2B (Hoerner), SS (Swanson), C (Amaya/Gomes), RF (Suzuki), and LF (Happ) locked in. They have options at CF (Mike Tauchman or Pete Crow-Armstrong), 3B (Christopher Morel, Nick Madrigal or Wisdom), and DH (uhhh Morel/Wisdom?). I don’t see a 1B who looks good. They clearly need another hitter, maybe two. Their rotation is set up to be Steele, Taillon, Hendricks, Jordan Wicks, and..... don’t see a great option in-house after that. Maybe Stroman opts in, but he’ll be 33 and this could be his last payday. Maybe they reject Hendricks’ option but he’s a Cubs legend and they’ll need another starter for about his salary anyway.

Their 2023 budget was $190 million, and if they raise payroll, they clearly have the budget for a bat and an arm. But they’ll essentially be replacing what they already had in 2023 and they’ll cost considerably more than $25 million combined. I’m hoping they splurge on Bellinger.


So the Reds are a bit of a wild card. They have a shockingly low salary for next year and in the recent past, that would give them some money to spend. But they also have a ton of young, mostly unproven or at least unreliable players who they probably don’t want to block. So I have no idea what they’d be willing to spend or what they view as needs.

As far as money guaranteed on the books, there’s Joey Votto’s $7 million buyout (if he wants to return, feels like forgoing the buyout in favor of an $8 million salary would be the play. I doubt he actually gets his $20 million salary). Hunter Greene, still in his pre-arb days, gets $3.3 million from his team-friendly extension. Curt Casali has a mutual option for $4 million and since he had a 40 wRC+ in less than 100 PAs, I’m going to say the Reds just buy him out for $750,000. They owe Mike Moustakas, long since gone, $4 million for a buyout of his option year. They also owe Wil Myers $1.5 million for his mutual option buyout.

So somewhat hilariously, $13.3 million of their $16.6 million in guaranteed salary might as well be lit on fire. They do have some players in arbitration. I have Jonathan India making $2.4 million, using Luis Renigfo as a comp for his first year arb salary. Tyler Stephenson is at $2.2 million for me (using Austin Nola) and I have Jake Fraley at $2.1 million (using Harold Ramirez). The rest of the arb guys already have a baseline, so you have Lucas Sims ($2 million), Derek Law ($1.6 million), TeJay Antone ($1 million), and Alex Young ($1.4 million).

Since I have only covered 9 players, the pre-arb guys are going to combine for a bit more, so we’ll say $13 million. The Reds’ 2024 payroll estimate is... $42 million. They had an $87 million payroll in 2023.

Here’s where it gets complicated. In the infield, they have to figure out some combination of India, Elly de La Cruz, Matt McClain, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Noelvi Marte, and he did play most of his games in the infield, Spencer Steer. Are they adding another player to that mix? I don’t think so. In the outfield, they have TJ Friedl (4.4 fWAR), Will Benson (128 wRC+), and Jake Fraley (1.4 fWAR in 380 PAs). They could use another hitter there.

Starting pitcher-wise, they have Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Brandon Williamson, Andrew Abbott, Graham Ashcraft, Connor Phillips, and at some point Lyon Richardson. Again, they could add a starter to this group and should, but will they? I don’t know. They are definitely a team who will not spend money if they don’t have to and they certainly have enough young talent to justify that to themselves.


In the past, the Pirates have been willing to push their payroll to $90 million, but that was 2018 at this point and I don’t really think a 76-86 team who outplayed their pythag by 6 runs is going to convince ownership to approach that payroll.

Ke’Bryan Hayes is getting a salary cut in what was a somewhat weirdly structured deal, and is getting paid $7 million for what would have been his first arb year. Bryan Reynolds sees a raise, getting $10.25 million. I don’t know their plan with Miguel Andujar, but they paid him $1.5 million to spend most of it in the minors, so they’ll probably pay him $1.7 million just to see what he’s got after a 105 wRC+.

Mitch Keller sees his salary rise to $4 million in his second year of arb. JT Brubaker will probably see a slight raise in arb, but less than he would have had without Tommy John, so I have him at $2.6 million. And my best guess for a closer like David Bednar, in his first year of arb, would be about $3 million. Connor Joe has a chance to qualify for Super Two, with 2.136 years of service time. Not as obvious as Justin Steele, so I won’t factor him into their salary. And that’s all for salaries above league minimum.

Much like the Reds, I’ll have to put a larger amount of the pre-arb salaries into this budget than normal, so we’ll throw $15 million for everyone else on the roster. That would put their payroll at about $58.6 million, which would be closer to $60 million if Joe does indeed qualify for Super Two.

Their 2023 budget was $70 million so I don’t expect them to do much. They’ll probably re-sign Andrew McCutchen and they really could use another outfielder actually.


Brewers fans are pretty convinced they’re going to trade Corbin Burnes, so obviously salary opens up if they do that, but as it stands, they don’t seem to have a lot of budget room. Not sure the return for one year of what looks like a declining Burnes is going to help all that much with 2024.

The Brewers have very few actually guaranteed deals. Christian Yelich, with five years to go on his deal, will get $26 million next year. Feels like we’re already in Year 10 of that deal. Aaron Ashby signed a team-friendly deal, and gets $1.2 million in what would have been a league minimum year for him. Freddy Peralta, in an extraordinarily team-friendly deal, is getting just $5.7 million in what would have been his final year before free agency. And that’s it for the guaranteed deals.

Mark Canha has a $11.5 million club option with a $2 million buyout and if it was 20 other MLB teams, I’d assume they’d accept that easily, but I don’t really know with the Brewers. I’ll assume they do. Wade Miley has a $10 million club option with a $1 million buyout. Surely they pick this up. Andrew Chafin has a $750,000 buyout and Justin Wilson has a measly $150,000 buyout, both of which I assume they have to pay.

As far as the arb salaries go, I have Burnes down at $15 million and Brandon Woodruff at $16.2 million. Willy Adames is looking at about $13 million. Adrian Houser should get $5.4 million and Devin Williams $5 million. I expect them to nontender both Rowdy Tellez and Eric Lauer, who are both looking at something like $7 million if they don’t. Hoby Milner should get $1.4 million in arb. Tyrone Taylor enters his first year and my comp for him was Lamonte Wade, so I have his first year arb salary at $1.4 million. Bryse Wilson is also entering his first year, and I have him at $1.2 million. Abraham Toro, in the Winker/Wong trade, was already Super Two, and crossed the three year threshold and should see $1.5 milion.

The Brewers have less pre-arb players set to be on their 2024 roster, so I’ll only add $9 million for those guys. So without trades and assuming they bring back who I assume they’ll bring back, their budget will be $113.75 million.

Their 2023 payroll was $126 million. So the Brewers are in an awkward position, because they could roll with this group one more year, but then Burnes, Woodruff and Adames all become free agents. If they desire to compete every year, they probably need to get more than just the qualified offer draft picks for them. Trading Burnes would give the money to acquire a bat, but it would likely result in a worse team in 2024. So they’re in a tight spot.

NL West


I presume they are rejecting Mark Melancon’s option and that Miguel Castro accepts his $6 million player option. If both things are true, they have a $90 million payroll. They had a $124 million payroll this year. As far as needs, they could use someone in the rotation and a bat I think.


The Dodgers have an absurd amount of club options. Max Muncy’s will be picked up. I don’t know if anyone else’s will. A normal team, I’d say no for sure. Unlimited budget, who knows? Anyway, their 2024 budget is $127 million right now, but you can throw in $20 million for Clayton Kershaw, so it’s actually $147 million. It was $236 million in 2023. They do have some holes. Assuming Betts moves to RF, they still need another outfielder and a DH. They have three locks for the rotation (assuming Kershaw returns), but probably have enough pitching depth that they only really need one more starter.


I have the Giants with about a $150 million payroll. Both Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea can opt out, but I don’t think they will. Alex Cobb has a $10 million club option that will be accepted. They had a $196 million payroll last year. I feel like they need a bat more than they need a pitcher. They were 26th in baseball in OPS. They are also already paying $8+ million to five starters, which does not include top 20 prospect Kyle Harrison.


The Padres have quite a few player options. I assume Seth Lugo opts out. I’m not sure about Michael Wacha. Nick Martinez might opt out but also has a 2 year, $32 million club option that might be accepted. Matt Carpenter will presumably opt in. Assuming just Carpenter opts in, their salary is at $193 million. But Martinez and Wacha don’t have straightforward player options - Martinez also has a club option at 2 years, $32 million and Wacha has a club option for the same before he can exercise his player option. So... I have no idea what their salary ends up at, but it could be $193 million, it could $220 million before free agency.

They could use a 1B or DH depending on where Jake Cronenworth plays and...they probably need a starter, no idea how the player options shake out.


The Rockies have a payroll around $134 million or so, and their 2023 payroll was $172 million. But their payroll in 2022 was $136 million and in 2021 it $118 million. Is a team who won 59 games really going to spend money? But it’s the Rockies, they don’t behave logically.

And I’ll stop there. I’ll try to get a part two up at some point.