No matter how many MLB games end up being played in 2020, baseball is looking at an uncertain offseason this winter. Teams are losing tons of money during the COVID-19 pandemic and those losses will be passed down to the players through free agency and arbitration. It is expected there will be mass non-tenders as teams get their payrolls in order.
Payroll flexibility is always at a premium -- it's sort of funny how some teams talk about needing payroll flexibility but never use it -- and that will be especially true following the pandemic. The less money you have on the books going forward, the greater your chances of keeping your team together or (gasp) even adding to your roster in an effort to win the World Series.
Baseball is not a salary cap sport and, because of that, we can not simply measure each team's future payroll flexibility but looking at their contract commitments and future cap space. It's a little more nuanced and speculative than that. We can, however, estimate each team's future payroll flexibility using the following information:
- Contract obligations. What deals are already on the books?
- Arbitration-eligibles. Which players are due significant raises in the near future?
- Established payroll levels. How much has the team spent on payroll in recent years?
Using that information, we can estimate how much payroll flexibility each team has this offseason. How much teams can spend to improve their roster, basically. It's likely payrolls will come down in 2021, which is an important consideration, and it's impossible to know how much each team will trim their player budget. Some will cut payroll more than others. We have to guesstimate.
Because we like ranking things here at CBS Sports, I'm going to attempt to rank all 30 MLB teams by their payroll flexibility heading into this coming offseason. Which teams are in the best position to spend? That's what we're trying to answer, and I fully admit the nature of this beast makes this a fool's errand. That's never stopped me before though, and it won't stop me now.
So, without further delay, here are our 2021 payroll situation rankings, starting with the teams in the biggest financial bind and ending with the teams best positioned to spend and add to their roster.
2020 projected payroll: $187.5 million
Good news: the Cubs have roughly $100 million coming off the books after this season. Bad news: their arbitration class will be one of the most expensive in the sport, three starters will become free agents (Tyler Chatwood, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana) this winter, and that $85 million does not include their $14.5 million club option for Anthony Rizzo, which I have to assume will be picked up. That $85 million covers only four -- four! -- roster players (Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel).
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has been at the forefront of the "owners crying poor" movement in recent weeks -- he recently called the league's losses "biblical" -- and Bryant and Contreras were very much on the trade block this past winter. Wouldn't it be something if the pandemic leads to no trade market for Bryant and the Cubs non-tender him to get payroll in order? I don't think it'll happen, but the chances it happens have gone from none to slim thanks to the shutdown. Either way, the Cubs are going to be strapped for cash this winter. Payroll space will be at a premium.
2020 projected payroll: $69.3 million
Despite their success the last two years, the Rays have not upped their payroll. In fact, their 2020 full season payroll is down from $76.4 million in 2018. That is the team's established payroll level. $70 million or so. They've been around there since 2012. What about after the pandemic? I have no idea, but it's hard for me to think Tampa's payroll will do anything other than come down given the club's ballpark and attendance issues. Not many teams will feel the pandemic's impact on their bottom line more than Tampa.
Even during the good times the Rays have a knack for trading their best players to accumulate cheaper young talent. They did it this past offseason with Tommy Pham and Emilio Pagan. Could the pandemic lead to a Blake Snell trade? His salary jumps to $10.5 million in 2021 and climbs even higher in 2022 and 2023. That could be one-fifth of the team's post-pandemic payroll. Maybe even more. Trading Snell would be a quick and easy way to clear money and import a ton of young talent. As things stand, the Rays will have to continue their financial juggling act this offseason, only this time more moves could be required should payroll come down.
2020 projected payroll: $70.0 million
Even with CEO Derek Jeter foregoing his $5 million salary during the shutdown, the Marlins furloughed 40 percent of their baseball operations department, and it's safe to assume the team reported to have the lowest annual revenue in the sport will trim payroll in 2021. Corey Dickerson and Miguel Rojas are the only players signed beyond this year (both contracts expire next offseason) and Miami's arbitration class is heavy with non-tender candidates (Aguilar, Adam Conley, Yimi Garcia, Garrett Cooper, etc.).
The Marlins have enough young starters either in their pre-arbitration years (Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Jordan Yamamoto) or on the cusp of the show (Nick Neidert, Sixto Sanchez) that trading Smith and/or Urena to save money is doable without putting a big dent in the rebuild. No one was expecting the Marlins to spend big this offseason. The pandemic will likely wipe out any modest payroll increase the team was planning, however. Few teams will feel the shutdown more in their bottom line than Miami.
2020 projected payroll: $146.9 million
The Reds have spent heavily the last two offseasons in an effort to win and that's admirable, but it may hurt them in 2021. Trevor Bauer is the only big-money player set to become a free agent this winter, so all those free agent contracts will roll over into next season, and several of them include raises. Castillo is due a significant raise as a first time arbitration-eligible player as well. Once the Reds sign their arbitration and pre-arbitration-eligible players to fill out the roster, payroll will be right back to where it is now, even with Bauer coming off the books.
Trading a core player to make payroll next season seems like a distinct possibility for Cincinnati. Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas could be difficult to move given their eight-figure salaries. Sonny Gray and Eugenio Suarez are more realistic trade candidates. Pitching is always in demand, so there will be a market for Gray, and the Reds can replace Suarez at third base with Nick Senzel, who makes near the league minimum. Suarez is very good and signed affordably. There will be a market for him even after the pandemic. Point is, the Reds look to be in a real payroll bind heading into next season.
2020 projected payroll: $180.1 million
Justin Upton will make $24.7 million next season and he will be only the fourth highest paid player on the Angels behind Anthony Rendon ($27.5 million), Albert Pujols ($30 million), and Mike Trout ($35.45 million). Yikes. A top-heavy payroll, this is. The Pujols contract expires after next season, but before then the Halos will have to re-sign or replace a pretty important player in Andrelton Simmons. I suppose the upside of a patchwork pitching staff is a lot of non-tender candidates (Matt Andriese, Felix Pena, Noe Ramirez, etc.), so there's some flexibility there.
, which leads me to believe they'll be in cost-cutting mode this winter. I can't see Trout being traded under any circumstances. Would they attach a top prospect like Jo Adell or Brandon March to Upton to get rid of a different huge contract? Sounds crazy, but this is the same team that gave up 2019 first rounder Will Wilson to unload Zack Cozart's $12.7 million salary over the winter. Tommy John surgery will keep Ohtani's first year arbitration salary down and that's good, but it sure looks like money will be tight in Anaheim. They have a lot of money tied up in only a few players.
2020 projected payroll: $210.9 million
Years ago the Astros started their rebuild by stripping the roster bare -- their end-of-season payroll was $29.3 million in 2013 -- and the core has since gotten expensive. Jose Altuve, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke will earn just under $85 million combined in 2021, and the arbitration class will be pricey. Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel, and George Springer will have to be re-signed as free agents or replaced after this season as well.
Houston's bench (Aledmys Diaz, Dustin Garneau) and bullpen (Joe Biagini, Chris Devenski) is full of non-tender candidates, so there are some savings there,. That was before the pandemic cut revenue streams too. I won't go as far as to say you can start to see the Astros' window closing, but clearly, the current core won't be together too much longer. An ownership mandated payroll reduction in 2021 will force new GM James Click to make some very difficult decisions.
2020 projected payroll: $154.5 million
The Rockies have $74.5 million tied up in three players next season (Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story) and. Impossible? No, but less likely. All those bad reliever contracts (Wade Davis, Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw) expire after this season, so that's a relief, though the arbitration class won't be cheap. Senzatela, Carlos Estevez, James Pazos, Raimel Tapia, and Tony Wolters could all be non-tender candidates to get payroll in order.
Re-signing the arbitration-eligible players and filling out the roster with pre-arbitration players will get Colorado's payroll back to where it is now, or pretty darn close to it. If ownership mandates a payroll reduction and an Arenado trade doesn't happen -- he's owed $199 million from 2021-26 -- the Rockies may have to trade Story. He's due $18 million in 2021 and will be a free agent after that season, and Colorado could plug top prospect Brendan Rodgers in at short. Teams that miss out on Francisco Lindor this offseason (more on him in a bit) could turn to Story as a Plan B. Trading him is the quickest way for the Rockies to clear significant dollars in 2021.
2020 projected payroll: $152.1 million
Yeah, I'm as shocked as you are. Who knew the Padres were going to have a $152.1 million payroll in 2020? Much of that is Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado, and Wil Myers, and those three will all still be on the books next year as well, but that is a shockingly high payroll for a traditionally small-payroll team. Garrett Richards, Jurickson Profar, and Kirby Yates are San Diego's notable impending free agents and Yates is the only one it'll really hurt to lose.
The Padres have several core players in their pre-arbitration years (Trent Grisham, Chris Paddack, Fernando Tatis Jr., etc.) plus a great farm system, which equals cheap production to offset those big contracts. That said, I'm not sure a $150 million or payroll was sustainable even before the pandemic. We know the Padres tried to unload Myers this past offseason and were willing to give up good prospects to do it. I imagine they will rekindle those efforts this offseason, except suitors could be even harder to find. Even with all those cheap young players, San Diego could be in a real bind financially.
2020 projected payroll: $53.9 million (not including Felipe Vasquez)
If it weren't for Gregory Polanco, the Pirates would have a clean payroll slate next season. He is the only player on the roster under contract next year. Everyone else is either an impending free agent or under year-to-year team control as an arbitration-eligible or pre-arbitration-eligible player. That equals flexibility. It also means the same roster -- a roster that isn't very good -- will be more expensive next year as everyone gets closer to free agency.
In the Before Times, Pittsburgh's full season $53.9 million payroll would have been shameful. MLB is making north of $10 billion a year in revenues and a franchise was going to run a sub-$55 million payroll? Embarrassing. But will payroll even be that high in 2021? Maybe not after the shutdown. Trading Bell to clear payroll and collect prospects is an obvious move for a rebuilding team. Frazier and Musgrove could be on the block too. The Pirates have few contractual obligations and yet still may not have much to spend this winter.
2020 projected payroll: $170.6 million
Goodness, that arbitration class. Would the Mets non-tender Diaz if they're facing a payroll crunch? Can't rule it out. David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes come off the books after this season but the Mets have been receiving insurance money during their injured list stints, and there's no guarantee they'll put that money back into payroll once their contracts expire. Jacob deGrom's salary jumps over $30 million next year and Syndergaard is expected to begin the season on the injured list as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. That makes re-signing or replacing Marcus Stroman and Rick Porcello a priority.
The Mets have run payrolls far below what their market size dictates in recent years and that's a bad omen. Safe to assume ownership will scale back on spending following the shutdown. The club could have roughly half its payroll tied up in three players (deGrom, Robinson Cano, Jeurys Familia) and that arbitration class is large. For the Mets to make payroll next year, they could be forced to trade away several players -- Nimmo would be an obvious trade candidate given the club's corner outfield depth -- or maybe even non-tender guys like Diaz and Matz.
2020 projected payroll: $92.6 million
I want to make you feel optimistic, Indians fans, but the team's Opening Day payroll went from $134.6 million to $119.6 million to $92.6 million the last three years, they salary dumped Corey Kluber, and Lindor was very much on the trade block long before the pandemic turned the world upside down. Few teams are more likely to cut payroll next season than the Indians. They were trending that way anyway, and the shutdown makes it a near certainly, with Lindor a major trade candidate.
Carlos Carrasco and Jose Ramirez are the two players currently under contract for 2021, though Roberto Perez's $5.5 million option is a safe bet to be exercised, and I think Brad Hand's $10 million option will be picked up as well. If anything, the Indians would pick up the option and trade him rather than let him walk for nothing. Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, and Zach Plesac are all in their cheap pre-arbitration years, so that's good. Lindor will be a free agent after 2021 and a trade has felt inevitable for a while now. The pandemic makes it a near certainly. The Indians somehow have few future salary obligations but are also in payroll trouble.
2020 projected payroll: $171.1 million
A weird thing happened this offseason and I'm not sure anyone noticed: the Nationals cut $25 million off their payroll immediately after winning the World Series. Huh. Losing Anthony Rendon contributed to that, obviously, but Washington's window to win is as open as it's going to get with Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg still elite, and the team didn't do anything significant to improve the roster. Hmmm. Next year Turner and especially Soto have big arbitration raises coming, so maybe that's why the Nationals didn't spend more. They're planning for 2021.
Next season is the final season on Scherzer's contract and while an extension feels inevitable, I would not call it a lock. For a while there it seemed Rendon and Bryce Harper would spend their entire careers in Washington and that didn't happen. Soto needs a long-term extension at some point -- he is the epitome of a franchise player, that's not someone you let slip away -- and don't forget about Turner either. He's an impact guy. The Nationals don't have any big expiring contracts this year (Adam Eaton and Anibal Sanchez, that's about it), so payroll space will be short supply this winter once the arbitration-eligibles sign.
2020 projected payroll: $186.5 million
That $122.5 million includes the $16 million the Red Sox will pay David Price to pitch for the Dodgers. It also includes the $19.4 million they will pay J.D. Martinez should he not opt out of his contract, which seems likely following this weird, abbreviated season. Devers, a first time arbitration-eligible, and Rodriguez, a fourth time arbitration-eligible as a Super Two, will be in line for significant raises. Maybe Benintendi too should he have a big breakout season (or as much of a breakout season and you can have in a shortened season.)
The Red Sox could lose several key contributors to free agency after this season, including their closer (Brandon Workman), their first baseman (Mitch Moreland), and two outfielders (Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar). They will have to be re-signed or replaced, and I have to think the club has a long-term extension for Rodriguez in the back of their mind. Then again, I would've said that about Mookie Betts, and we know what happened there. Unless Martinez surprises everyone and opts out, the Red Sox don't figure to have much wiggle room under this year's payroll number once they sign their arbitration-eligibles. Could be a quiet winter.
2020 projected payroll: $131.8 million
The Twins put a lot of eggs in the 2020 basket. Homer Bailey, Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Rich Hill, and Jake Odorizzi are among the club's impending free agents and their arbitration class is significant (Rosario could be a non-tender candidate given the team's outfield depth at the upper levels of the farm system). Also, Josh Donaldson's and especially Miguel Sano's salaries jump quite a bit in 2021. Minnesota will have to replace a lot of important players this winter and give other key players a raise.
A payroll reduction would leave the Twins with little spending room once they pay their arbitration-eligibles, and it could force them to make some difficult cuts (i.e. Rosario as a non-tender candidate). The Twins have internal options to fill out the rotation, though veteran reinforcements are never a bad idea for a team with a window that's as open as it's going to get. Minnesota has a lot of core players either set to become free agents or due arbitration raises. It won't be easy to navigate.
2020 projected payroll: $156.3 million
Given where they are in their rebuild, it feels like the Giants are just waiting for those dynasty era contracts to expire. Madison Bumgarner is gone, Jeff Samardzija's deal expires this winter, then Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Buster Posey all come off the books after next season. Come 2022, the Giants will have close to a clean slate financially, with Evan Longoria the only payroll anchor. The team doesn't have young players who project to make big dollars through arbitration either.
That gives the Giants a chance to be opportunistic. The free agent market is expected to be slow-moving this winter. Could the Giants lure some top free agents to San Francisco -- hello, Mookie Betts -- with back-loaded contracts that include a smaller salary in 2021 and larger payouts in 2022 and beyond, after all those contracts are gone? Would be a heck of a way to capitalize on that upcoming payroll flexibility to advance the rebuild. That flexibility is still a year away though. Next year's payroll situation isn't great.
2020 projected payroll: $98.6 million
Ryan Braun's contract expires after this season and Christian Yelich's extension does not kick in until 2022, so 2021 is a bit of a sweetspot season for the Brewers. That said, they still have more than $40 million tied up three outfielders (Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Avisail Garcia) and a sizable arbitration class, with Hader already at the high end of the closer salary scale for his service-time level. His name popped up trade rumors this past offseason and, if Milwaukee needs to trim payroll, trading Hader is an obvious way to do it.
The Brewers have a thin farm system -- Baseball America ranked it the worst system in the game before spring training -- and they have leaned heavily on low-cost free agents the last two years. It's worked really well, and my guess is the free agent market will be flooded with one-year contract candidates this winter, but the Brewers don't appear to have much financial wiggle room once they get their arbitration-eligible players signed. Braun's contract expiring gives them some breathing room. Overall though, the Brewers might be forced to trade Hader (and others?) should payroll come down.
2020 projected payroll: $96.0 million
The current collective bargaining agreement phased the Athletics out of the league's revenue-sharing plan, so they didn't have as much money coming in as usual even before the pandemic. The days of Chapman and Olson being dirt cheap elite producers are over now that they're set to enter arbitration for the first time, plus Marcus Semien will be a free agent this winter. That great infield is about to get much more expensive. Perhaps more expensive than the A's can afford.
Several A's relievers will become free agents this offseason (Liam Hendricks, Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria), though I suspect rebuilding a bullpen with one-year contracts won't be too difficult in a depressed free agent market. Those mid-range free agents are going to feel the crunch more than anyone. With Semien a free agent and Chapman and Olson starting to make real money, the days may be numbered for this Oakland team as we know it. They'll have some money to throw around this winter but not much, and come 2022, it might not be possible to keep the band together.
2020 projected payroll: $244.6 million (
That $131.9 million includes Zack Britton, whose contract includes a $13 million player option for 2021. I think we can assume he will pick that up given the expected free agent climate. The Yankees have three significant contracts coming off the books after this season (Ellsbury, J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka) with a few other important players hitting free agency as well (DJ LeMahieu, James Paxton). Key players must be replaced, and the club's arbitration raises will take a big bite out of any savings.
The Yankees are the sport's marquee franchise and largest market team, and it stands to reason they are better equipped to deal with the financial losses stemming from the pandemic than most. That said, this year's payroll is an anomaly even for them -- it's their first time over $225 million since 2013. Even with a $225 million payroll next season, re-signing or replacing LeMahieu, Paxton, and Tanaka will take some creativity once the Yankees get their arbitration class locked down. They have money to spend, but perhaps not as much as you think with Happ, Ellsbury, and Tanaka on expiring deals.
2020 projected payroll: $83.9 million
Right around here is when the rankings start to go from "money will be tight" to "they have some flexibility." Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez will combine to make close to $30 million in 2021, in the final year of their contracts, otherwise the only money the Royals have on the books beyond this season belongs to Whit Merrifield. Dozier, Keller, and Mondesi will be in their first arbitration years in 2021, so they won't get big bucks. Soler is an interesting case though. He led the American League in homers last year and will be a free agent after 2021. Non-zero chance he winds up on the trade block this winter.
Even though they are not far removed from a World Series championship windfall, the Royals are a small-market team and figure to feel the financial pain of the pandemic more than most clubs. A payroll reduction should be expected. For every team, but especially the Royals. Ian Kennedy's expiring contract will free up room this winter, and Kansas City has a ton of cheap young pitching coming soon (Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Brady Singer), which will keep costs down. A Soler trade could be a baseball move as much as a cost-cutting move. The Royals shouldn't have to jump through hoops to meet their payroll target in 2021.
2020 projected payroll: $61.4 million
That $36.1 million next year will go to Alex Cobb and Chris Davis. Otherwise the scorched earth rebuild has left the Orioles with minimal salary commitments, and even their arbitration-eligibles won't break the bank. Givens has been on the trade block for a while now and could be moved as he enters his walk year. Alberto and especially Nunez, a one-dimensional DH, could be in the non-tender crosshairs if they don't repeat their 2019 efforts in an abbreviated 2020. Others arbitration-eligibles like Richard Bleier, Pedro Severino, Hector Velasquez, and Asher Wojciechowski could be non-tendered no matter what they do in 2020.
The Orioles have close to a clean slate payroll-wise and I don't know how ownership plans to act going forward, but they strike me as a candidate to take on money in trades to acquire prospects. The Padres were willing to attach very good prospects to Wil Myers over the winter and I thought the O's should've been all over it, but alas. Maybe they don't have to take on that big a contract, but it would seem they have enough flexibility to help out a team looking to shed a contract, and get some prospects for their trouble. Not a bad idea. Will they actually do it? Beats me. Cobb and Davis are the only thing standing between Baltimore and zero future salary commitments.
2020 projected payroll: $125.4 million
What was supposed to be a long-awaited breakout season for the White Sox has instead been interrupted by the pandemic. The good news is the ChiSox have locked up nearly all their core players (Tim Anderson, Aaron Bummer, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert) to affordable long-term deals and their big-money contracts (Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel) are sensible. Also, with all due respect, their impending free agents are replaceable (Steve Cishek, Alex Colome, Gio Gonzalez, James McCann, etc.).
Giolito's raise as a first time arbitration-eligible player could be significant even after a shortened season. Mazara and Rodon are non-tender candidates, however, and other arbitration-eligibles like Adam Engel and Jace Frye won't put a dent in the payroll. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is notoriously stingy -- Chicago's payroll was $71.6 million as recently as 2018 -- and I have to think a payroll reduction is coming in 2021. For pretty much every team, but especially the White Sox. Thanks to those affordably signed core players, the ChiSox may not have to trade anyone to make payroll. Looks like there's enough room to keep the band together.
2020 projected payroll: $222.0 million
The Dodgers have done a good job staggering their contracts, meaning there's always money coming off the books. This offseason it will be Mookie Betts and Justin Turner. Next offseason it will be Kenley Jansen, Clayton Kershaw, and Chris Taylor. The offseason after that it will be Max Muncy and David Price. Joc Pederson, Blake Treinen, and Alex Wood will also become free agents after this season, which should be enough to offset large arbitration raises for Bellinger and Buehler.
The pandemic could really throw a wrench into the "re-sign Mookie!" plan. Even with revenues down, he might still be a $30 million a year player, and that puts the Dodgers over $150 million for only eight players in 2021. Their farm system is productive -- Gavin Lux and Dustin May are ready to provide dirt-cheap impact -- but still, that's a lot of money for only a few players. Los Angeles has a great television deal and leads the league in attendance every year, so the club should be able to weather the financial storm better than most. Reducing payroll in 2021 won't require a massive roster overhaul, but it could cost them a chance to retain Betts.
2020 projected payroll: $120.4 million
The Diamondbacks have several core players locked up affordably (Nick Ahmed, Eduardo Escobar, Ketel Marte, David Peralta) and Madison Bumgarner gave them a discount, though his salary jumps from $6 million in 2020 to $19 million in 2021. Mike Leake's $18 million option is a lock to be declined while Starling Marte's $12.5 million option is probably a good bet to be picked up. The club's biggest impending free agent is Robbie Ray, a rotation stalwart who won't be easy to replace.
Bradley's salary will push $5 million as a third time arbitration-eligible closer in 2021. He could wind up on the trade block should D-Backs ownership cut payroll. Kelly, Walker, and Weaver will all be arbitration-eligible for the first time. Zac Gallen, Yoan Lopez, and Alex Young give Arizona some nice dirt-cheap production. Re-signing or replacing Ray will be a challenge. Otherwise the D-Backs appear to have the flexibility to sign their arbitration-eligible players and fill out the bullpen without exceeding this year's payroll.
2020 projected payroll: $166.1 million
Yadier Molina is not one of the seven Cardinals players under contract next season but I have a hard time seeing him elsewhere,. Let's pencil Molina onto the 2021 Cardinals and call it $115 million instead of $100.7 million. Sound good? Andrew Miller's ($12 million) and Kolten Wong's ($12.5 million) club options really could go either way at this point. Flaherty is due a big raise as a first time arbitration-eligible player. Bader and Hicks, not so much.
Re-signing Molina and paying out arbitration raises would leave the Cardinals well short of their 2020 projected payroll. They'd have to re-sign or replace Miller and Wong (and Adam Wainwright), but St. Louis is loaded with dirt cheap pre-arbitration-eligible players like Tommy Edman, Giovanny Gallegos, Dakota Hudson, and Tyler O'Neill. Big production at prices you can appreciate. Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Martinez can all come off the books after next season too. It appears the Cardinals will have the flexibility to jump into a depressed free agent market and give out back-loaded contracts so the payout comes in 2022 and beyond.
2020 projected payroll: $100.7 million
The Robinson Cano trade was such a huge win for the Mariners. It freed up a big chunk of payroll long-term and it gave them a building block prospect in Jarred Kelenic. Yusei Kikuchi and Kyle Seager are the only big dollar deals on the books in 2021 and Seager's contract expires after that season. The arbitration raises won't be too burdensome, and impending free agents like Dee Gordon, Kendall Graveman, and Taijuan Walker won't be hard to replace.
The Mariners have chopped approximately $50 million off their payroll since 2018 as they've committed to a(nother) rebuild. I would not expect them to return to the $150 million level anytime soon, especially not after the pandemic, but they still look to have some financial breathing room going forward. Enough to take advantage of a depressed free agent market? Yeah, possibly, especially with Kelenic and fellow top prospect Julio Rodriguez not far from the big leagues. It's a good time to strike. All things considered, the Mariners appear to be in the good shape payroll-wise. No really tough decisions on the horizon.
2020 projected payroll: $104.0 million
Miguel Cabrera. He's the only player the Tigers have under contract in 2021. And in 2022 and 2023 as well. The Tigers are a clean slate otherwise. Fulmer and Boyd are under team control as arbitration-eligible players through 2021 and 2022, respectively, so they will continue to be mentioned as trade candidates. Potential building blocks like Christin Stewart and Spencer Turnbull are in their pre-arbitration years, and of course top prospects like Matt Manning, Casey Mize, and Tarik Skubal () have yet to make their MLB debuts.
Similar to the Orioles, the Tigers appear to be in financial position to help out teams looking to clear payroll this winter, and by help out I mean take on a bad contract and acquire some prospects in the process. Wouldn't be a bad idea to explore some long-term contract extensions now either. Who knows, maybe Manning or Mize would jump at the long-term security after these last few months. The Tigers might not be ready to win in 2021, but squint your eyes and they could be a real headache for opposing teams starting in 2022. They have few dollars on the books and a lot of young talent coming.
2020 projected payroll: $148.0 million
The one-year contracts for Cole Hamels and Marcell Ozuna will come off the books this winter, as will Mark Melancon's sizable contract, clearing $50 million. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies are signed dirt cheap, and the arbitration class won't be too expensive with Soroka as a first year eligible. The looming headache is Freddie Freeman's next contract. He'll earn $22.4 million in 2021 then become a free agent after the season. The Braves have to start planning for his next contract now.
Hamels, Melancon, and Ozuna (and Shane Greene) coming off the books is good for payroll flexibility. It's also bad for the team because those are pretty good players who have to be replaced. The Braves are deep in young arms (Ian Anderson, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, etc.) and might be able to replace a few of those guys internally. It's never a bad thing to bring in quality veterans though. Even if ownership cuts back on payroll, the Braves figure to have a good amount of maneuverability before Freeman's next contract kicks in and Acuna and Albies start getting more expensive. Another one-year contract heavy offseason could be in the cards.
2020 projected payroll: $177.0 million
Jake Arrieta and David Robertson come off the books this offseason and that's a lot of money for not much production. Jay Bruce is an expensive bench player (or DH) and he'll become a free agent as well. That's the good news. The bad news is the Phillies still have to re-sign J.T. Realmuto, arguably the game's best all-around catcher, and he's one of the few free agents who could get a market rate contract this winter rather than something well below his actual worth. Re-signing Realmuto is a priority.
Hoskins will get a decent raise as a first time arbitration-eligible player, but the rest of Philadelphia's arbitration class is made up of injured players who won't command much (Seranthony Dominguez) or non-tender candidates (Deolis Guerra, Andrew Knapp, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, etc.) who can be easily replaced. The core aside from Realmuto and Hoskins is locked up, giving the Phillies the flexibility to take advantage of what figures to be a depressed free agent market. They're in pretty good shape even if payroll comes down a bit.
2020 projected payroll: $150.4 million
In decisions that now seem prescient, the Rangers front-loaded several of their larger contracts. Elvis Andrus, Kyle Gibson, and Lance Lynn will all earn less in 2021 than they would have earned in a full 2020 season. Shin-Soo Choo's monster contract expires this winter, though Mike Minor's bargain deal expires as well, and there's the looming $18 million club option decision on Corey Kluber. Gallo headlines an arbitration class that is otherwise heavy on non-tender candidates (Nick Goody, Rafael Montero, etc.).
The Rangers were set to open a new ballpark this season, and even if they play a handful of home games this year, they lost out on the new ballpark windfall teams typically enjoy. Texas was in position to be a major player in free agency this offseason before the world was turned upside down. Now, I'm not so sure. The Rangers figure to have quite a bit of financial wiggle room even after paying their arbitration-eligibles, but the chances of a big free agent spending spree -- George Springer in center and J.T. Realmuto behind the plate sure would look nice, no? -- have likely gone down. The Rangers could instead focus on second- and third-tier free agents.
2020 projected payroll: $109.0 million
Hyun-Jin Ryu is the big earner and Randal Grichuk and Tanner Roark are well-paid, otherwise the Blue Jays don't have much on the books and all those highly regarded youngsters (Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) are still years away from arbitration-eligibility. Toronto has more young talent coming too, particularly righty Nate Pearson, who ranks among the game's top pitching prospects. He should arrive at some point in 2020.
The Blue Jays ran payrolls north of $160 million as recently as 2018. They will spend when they're good, and their current payroll outlook sets them up to be very aggressive in free agency this offseason. Maybe they don't spend huge on a Mookie Betts or a J.T. Realmuto, but they could load up on one- or two-year deals while the kids are dirt cheap. Could they get, say, post-back surgery James Paxton on a one-year prove yourself contract and Trevor Bauer on one of those one-year contracts he says he's going to sign? There's an opening for the Blue Jays to load up on short-term deals and make a run in the AL East in 2021 and 2022.