Rebuild Binder

Bruce Extension Part 2: Payroll

This is an exercise, not a forecast or a prescription. It follows my post from Friday that raised the idea that the Reds consider extending Jay Bruce for three years at $43 million.

A common and understandable objection to a new contract for Bruce relates to the payroll implications. It’s an easy point to make. You lay out the Reds current contract commitments in 2018. Joey Votto will make $25 million. Homer Bailey, $21 million. Those contracts hit hot buttons among many Reds fans. In 2018, Devin Mesoraco will make $13 million and the Reds will pay Raisel Iglesias $5 million. That totals about $65 million.

If you add $14 million for Jay Bruce, you’re at $79 million.

That seems like a big number to have tied up in five players. But that bit of math doesn’t make the full case that the Reds couldn’t afford a Jay Bruce extension. To reach that conclusion you have to go further and figure out how much the remainder of the roster will cost, not just those five players. There also has to be an estimate of what the Reds will spend on payroll in 2018.

Let’s take a healthy swing at figuring that out. Many people will be surprised at the result.

One important detail before we go on. The league minimum salary, which players earn their first three years of major league service, is set by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the MLBPA. That figure is currently $507,500 based on the CBA that expires this December. By 2018 a new CBA will set a different minimum. For our exercise, let’s assume it increases to $600,000. Keep in mind that since we’re talking about a variance of tens of thousands of dollars instead of eight-figure contracts, whether the new league minimum ends up at $550,000 or $650,000 barely matters for what we’re doing here.

Again, this is an exercise, not a forecast or prescription. Here’s a breakdown of what the Reds roster could be like using current players in the organization. It groups players by position and indicates what their salary will be in 2018. In the case of arbitration eligible players, the numbers are educated guesses based on similar players and their awards.

Infield

Infield: Catcher and first base are signed. By 2018, the Reds will be free of Brandon Phillips contract. Jose Peraza and Adam Duvall would be pre-arbitration that season, earning a league minimum salary. Eugenio Suarez will be in his first year of arbitration. If Alex Blandino is playing 2B, Peraza at short and Suarez at 3B, it’s the same total.

Outfield

Outfield: Bruce making the proposed $14 million, Winker pre-arbitration and Billy Hamilton in his second year of arbitration.

Bench

Bench: Four players for $3.7 million and Tucker Barnhart in his first year of arbitration at $1.5 million. Blandino and Ervin (or some other young OF) make league minimum. Assume they sign two other cheap bench players. If those latter two come from inside the organization, they’d earn league minimum.

Starters

Starters: Bailey and Iglesias are under contract. That’s an estimate for Anthony DeSclafani’s first arbitration year assuming he’s become a pretty good pitcher. Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson are at league minimum, with one more pre-arbitration year to go, thanks to the Reds paying attention to the Super Two cutoff this year.

Bullpen

Bullpen: Six of the seven in this bullpen would be pre-arbitration. Dan Straily would be in his first year of arbitration.

With this baseline, the team payroll would be $104 million. That is *with* the Jay Bruce extension. Yes, the Reds will carry a few big salaries. But thanks to the rebuild, the rest of the roster is populated with a dozen league-minimum players. That brings the overall payroll down to a reasonable expense.

Again, to be clear, this is not a prediction of the Reds 2018 roster. It is a baseline, a starting point for thinking about building a team. Players the Reds are counting on will bust or get injured. Others not on the team yet – like the #2 draft-pick in 2016 – could emerge as a starter. The Reds will make trades. For instance, they could trade Adam Duvall and Amir Garrett for a big upgrade at third base. Or Billy Hamilton and Rookie Davis for a big upgrade in centerfield. Or two pitchers for a good third baseman if Duvall or Suarez doesn’t make it. The range of trades is constrained only by the imagination and creativity of the new front office. Not so much by payroll.

Finally, let’s look at how much the Reds would spend on player salaries in 2018. Their payroll in 2014 was $114 million, which had increased stepwise from $76 million in 2010. The club is negotiating a new regional television contract, presumably with FSO, that begins with the 2017 season. Revenues from MLB continue to skyrocket. Conclusion: It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Reds were willing and able to pay at least $150 million in payroll by 2018.

But even if we choose an extremely conservative number, say $130 million, the Reds could afford another Joey Votto salary – another Joey Votto – above the baseline.

The main point is that even assuming the Reds pay Jay Bruce $14 million in 2018, the payroll budget is comfortably within range to afford it and more. If you’re tempted to look beyond 2018, many of these players will graduate to bigger paychecks. But remember that Devin Mesoraco’s salary goes off the books to help with that. Plus more revenues.

One last time – Friday’s post and this one are not intended to make the case that the Reds should offer Jay Bruce an extension. There remains a strong argument to trade him. But the Reds should at least kick the tires on keeping Bruce around. It depends on who would play in his place and who they could acquire in a trade. One thing is for sure. The assertion that a few big contracts mean the Reds can’t afford Jay Bruce (and other free agents) is simply wrong.

47 thoughts on “Bruce Extension Part 2: Payroll

  1. A bit befuddled why the $$ aspect of this idea is getting so much attention. Jay Bruce is a 3 for 55 June away from being worthless again. The Reds should pray that he’s hot in July when some desperate teams need a RFer. This entire premise is just a bad idea. Good research, though.

    • Agreed. Although the numbers are all reasonable, Bruce’s inconsistent play pushes me away from locking him up long term. It seems as if the Reds have gotten nostalgic with contracts, handing out big money to home grown veterans. If you aren’t winning with them, use the money to find someone better instead of being complacent and settling for the roster you have

    • The “Bruce is inconsistent” idea was built into this exercise from the start. Assumed that he would be a 2.2 WAR player this year and decline from there. See Friday’s post. If he went back to being a 5 WAR player like in 2013, we’d be talking about a lot more money.

      • A technical question regarding 3-year duration:

        How much of this is based upon:
        (a) simple performance aging curve
        (b) dynamics of the free agency marketplace
        vs.
        (c) estimated time for minor league prospects to be identified and developed
        (i.e. how certain that Winker and Ervin will be ready for full-time promotion to the show and contribute at least an average expectation)?

        Given how the Reds have structured the current development path, how much of a setback would it be if both Winker and Ervin are busts? One-year, two-year, longer or no setback (given what may be available in the marketplace).?

        Not criticizing three-year, mind,….it seems to be a sweet spot.

        • I chose three years because I wouldn’t want the Reds signing anything longer term than that for Bruce. And I didn’t choose anything less than three years because it’s unrealistic to think Bruce would sign for anything less.

      • Understood. But I’d rather be out from under an inconsistent player in a year than have him around for 4, even at a fair price.

        • Keep in mind that, even to Steve, this is a hypothetical case. Could go either way on this.

  2. Steve, what credence to you pay to Votto’s off-hand comment that he would walk away from his contract if he continues to underperform his expectations? Joey works in mysterious ways. That’s a free $25 million.

    • We’re a million miles away from that. When Votto makes $25 million in the out years, a WAR will be going for more than $10 million. He’d only have to be a 2 WAR player to be worth it. He was a 7 WAR player last year.

  3. I agree with Steve, the money isn’t the problem. Jay Bruce is still a good player, even though he never turned into a great player in the way we all hoped. He will probably be worth the contract Steve outlines, and the Reds could afford it in the years that he’s talking about.

    The issue is that to get to those years (2018 through 2020) the Reds have to pay Bruce this year and next year to be productive on a terrible team (and probably a bad team next year). Other teams that are good right now would love to have that production, and they are willing to pay for it with prospects.

    So if the Reds trade Bruce they lose out on a year an a half of production they don’t need, but they get some prospects that could be good when the Reds are good again. Then, when they are getting to be good again, the Reds can spend that same $43 mil over three years to get an additional piece, and as Steve notes, they can afford that.

    The only way extending Bruce makes sense is if he takes a below market-rate deal, so that the Reds could add additional pieces. I see no reason for him to do that, and so it just makes sense to trade him so that his production this year and next isn’t wasted on a terrible team, and so the Reds can get better going forward.

    • Jay Bruce hasn’t been a “good” player in a couple of years now. What in his recent history makes you think he is good? He is replacement level player, already at his peak. Yes, parting with Bruce means would could get even worse (say the same .230 hitter with half the power or a .260 hitter with NO power). The only thing “good about Bruce is his above average HR rate. That’s it. Everything else is BELOW average. If he “only” hits 20 or 25 HRs, he is slightly below average given the rest of his game isn’t even average.

      Basically, for 20 games or so, Bruce is a “good” RF, and sometimes great, the other 130 games he is below average.

      I know we don’t have much, Votto and that’s it (and he is trying to impersonate Bruce right now), but that’s no reason to slide our expectations downward and accept an average player as “good”. We won’t be a contender again for a long time if our “good” players are Jay Bruce clones.

  4. Steve:

    Now you are entering the territory I was trying to explore in attempting to determine what the club’s -sustainable- level of payroll could be under a reasonable economic model.

    Payroll outflow is, for the most part, a known unknown.

    Right now, between revenue sharing (potential +), an up-in-the-air broadcast contract with FSO (+, but how much +??) and gate-driven revenue (ticket sales plus concession revenues, etc., etc. — potentially impaired as the team goes through this painful rebuilding process – falling from 2.4MM peak to 1.8MM trough with little-to-no ability to justify a ticket price increase), all of the cash inflow numbers are unknown unknowns.

    My (highly naïve) working assumption is that the sustainable level is above the 80-85MM current level but below the 105-115MM prior peak – before adjusting for the factors above.

    The other (equally naïve) assumption is that payroll is more than the major league player roster – we don’t know how much (or much more) the club needs to be spending to remain competitive in draft, Latin American discovery signings.

    ‘tiz a puzzlement.

    • You could start your own site and write about the terrible bullpen every day. Every hour if you want.

    • We have other problems, but Bruce is also part of the problem. Most of the lineup needs GONE, the sooner, the better. I fully realize we could get worse (think Braves bad hitting-wise), but I would rather have the hope for more upside and risk the downside than simply maintain status quo of below average everything EXCEPT power (and even that is now below average, which makes the Ks and outs more maddening).

  5. I’ve always liked Bruce but I would not consider a 3 year, 43 million extension for him for many reasons:
    1) He is 29 years old now and you can no longer point to him developing further. As you pointed out in the first article, you would expect him to decline from this point forward.
    2) Based on his long past history, you have to expect his offensive numbers to regress and him to become a below average offensive player (pessimistic view of the last two seasons being his new level of productivity) to slightly above average offensive player (perhaps in the 105 to 110 OPS+ range).
    3) Even if he hits the higher range above, his value is still likely muted because his defense has declined. Some good points regarding Hamilton’s incredible range were brought up in the previous article but Bruce plays a non-premium defensive position either average or poorly at this point. And will only get worse.
    4) Perhaps more important than any of the above points is that the Reds have time to see where Bruce falls on the above projections (as well as where they are at competitively). If he meets or exceeds the higher range of expectations this season, then pick up your option. If he meets or exceeds them again next year, you can offer him the QO for a few million more than 3, 43 million contract proposed. And you have time to evaluate how he ages. Based on his defense and offensive dropoff, early returns on his aging curve don’t look positive. Signing him to a 3 year extension does not make sense to me.

  6. I am all in with signing Bruce to an extension.
    Have brought it up numerous times but think it would take something like 3/50. maybe a bit less if you agree to a no-trade provision

  7. Jay Bruce ’18 $14M + “Other Joey Votto” ’18 $25M + $6M Petty Cash= $45M for Bryce Harper

    Eh? Only partially kidding…

    Apparently 2018 is going to be on the best FA classes in awhile, at least something I read in March said so…

    What I was hoping is the Reds spend 2016 and 2017 figuring out what they have, then use all this “saved” money to make a splash in free agency to plug their biggest hole. Boom… insta-contender!

    • NOT A CHANCE….

      Dusty Baker was supposed to be a big boon to signing free agents.

      Coco Codero was the last significant free agent signing and there we had to OVERPAY for a closer to Like Cincy

      Face it, Free Agents are not the plan for the Reds

      • Not much of a chance, I agree… but it’s very rare to be able to build a contender without utilizing free agency to some extent.

        • you always use free agents to build your team but this was in reference to your comment:

          “:money to make a splash in free agency to plug their biggest hole. Boom… insta-contender!”

          That is what has zero, zip, nada chance.

          The Reds have to be creative. The best free agent the Reds will be able to sign in the next 3 years are Jay Bruce and Zack Cozart.

        • Zack signing with the Diamondbacks has nothing to do with the Reds signing free agents. Most major leaguers would sign with AZ over Cinn

  8. “Friday’s post and this one are not intended to make the case that the Reds should offer Jay Bruce an extension. There remains a strong argument to trade him”

    If the right contract is signed, these are not mutually exclusive.

    Do Both

    Just do not keep leaving us with holes in the outfield. When the kids are ready for the OF in GABP, then trade Jay. Still a while until his 5/10

    But as you indicated so well, a win/win contract fits in the team $’s framework and helps us to a winning team faster.

    we are seeing now what playing a bunch of kids means

  9. I appreciate the salary breakdowns Steve. I am not against trading Bruce I just am hoping that they get something decent for him. I still think he is a decent player and an asset to the team and would be ok with them keeping him as well as long as the contract was not something that would hamstring the team.

  10. I’m curious if you think the Reds will be in contention in 2018. Or, rather, if you think the Reds front office things going into 2018 they will be in contention. If the answer to either of those, but more importantly the ladder, is yes, that roster construction is all wrong.

    The Reds are paying Alfredo Simon $2 million in a year that has been chalked up as a loss from the beginning. If they think they have a shot, for better or for worse, they aren’t grabbing a bench player for under $2 million, let alone 2 of them.

    Also, if we know anything about how the Reds construct a bullpen when in contention, it is that they are willing to overpay, both in trades and in dollars. If they think they can win, they’re getting 1, of not 2, “proven closers.”

    It’s not my money, and the issue for me isn’t really about payroll as much as roster flexibility. But I think your assumptions are unrealistic, based on what we know about the Reds roster construction strategies.

    • I think the Reds will be a .500 team in 2017 or better. I doubt they’ll be able to contend for a wild card slot. The NL Central is tough. I definitely think they could put a team together by 2018. They have the money and base of players. They have to make smart, aggressive decisions. For example, they need to find a pitcher who satisfies their definition of a closer internally to avoid big spending on that.

      • Not enough offense! GABP makes us look better then we are at times although short fences go both ways. Our road record and road scoring tells the true story though? It won’t get better if they trade Bruce and/or Cozart either? How do they get significantly better next year? I don’t see it?

        • 12 different pitchers, for one. Mesoraco back, two. Votto not in a slump, three. Make a trade or free agent signing to add another piece of offense, four.

        • steve, I rarely take exception with you but on #4 a free agent signing of any impact is not an option for the Reds.

          I agree with the trade aspect, but let’s get serious about free agency. No impact player north of Coco Cordero will be a Red

      • Steve,
        I will say you are a lot more optimistic than I am. I don’t think the Reds will be .500 again until sometime in the 20’s. There just is not much everyday talent on their team or in the farm system. They have some average minor league players, but very, very few position players with major league potential and no one- not even Winker- with star potential written all over them.
        The Reds will not be a winner again until they start drafting position players with real major league potential, in my opinion. This is the worst front office for drafting that I have witnessed in my 55 years of following the Reds.

    • I think the 2016 team will be OK when they have a starting rotation of Bailey, Iglesias, DeSclafani, Reed and Stephenson and a bullpen of Lorenzen, Finnegan, Lamb, Straily, Cingrani, Moscot and Ohlendorf. We could see all of that from July on if the pitching staff can get healthy.

      • That team seems pretty weak. Either way, they are not a “Jay Bruce” away from the postseason. You have as much a chance of getting Bruce like production from just playing whomever you chose (trade pickup, current minor leaguer, waiver pickup) at a fraction of the cost. Example is Duvall, he never was getting a chance with the Giants, who preferred the carcass of Marlon Byrd. Opportunity is a commonly overlooked “value”.

      • I agree. I think people need to start asking….If not Bruce, then who? Winker in LF is a given, but who gives you a more predictable player- Hamilton/Ervin/or Bruce? I m much more comfortable penciling in Bruce and Winker as corner outfielders now and then take the rest of this year and 2017 to see what Ervin and Hamilton and Suarez and Duvall and Peraza give you. I also look at Nick Senzel at UT and think I wont miss Todd Frazier so much. Benintendi with the Red Sox is proving how elite SEC position players project and Senzel’s Cape Cod numbers and SEC performance convince me he should be out #2 pick.

  11. I hear KC has some interest in Jay Bruce. I could go either way with resigning him or trading him but trading a hitter when we need hitting seems strange. If KC thought they had some good hitting in the minors that was ready then they’d be there already? Moving Jay for a couple of teenagers seems insane to me if that’s the case?

    • What about Texas? They need a lefty outfielder badly. If we paid his salary we could get a decent player. Heck, throw in some AA pitcher to chum the waters and get a good player.

  12. I could go either way on this because I am a fan but part of why we are where we are is the fact the front office is still trying to hang on to the past with basically the same position players.Now for the shocker I say sign him.BP and Cosart will be gone which leaves us with Jay and Joey as the only two guys left when we were competing for a title.Not sure if he would sign for that money but lets see.

  13. I take that back about the Royals….they have this 23 yr old Cheslor Cuthbert! Played for a few weeks earlier when their guy went on the DL and played decent 3B. OPSing 1.026 at AAA with 11 bbs/14 Ks!! I guess they’re trying him at 2B in Omaha a little bit to see if they can get him in the lineup. They could move Suarez somewhere else if they got this kid somehow? They need starters too….trade them Disco and get back a reliever and prospects in one big deal!

    • I don’t see how you give up disco unless you get a stud hitter. He has too much value that we can’t replace easily, especially for a reliever!

  14. a 3 year contract sure I can get behind that notion. What would we do with him after 3 years though? trade him at 2 or go for a +1 pick and make him the obligatory 1 year contract offer that he will most surely refuse.

  15. Bottom line: it’s all a crap shoot.

    There are so many question marks; so many players coming back from injury, so many guys with little or no experience. I’d say it’s easier to to win at daytrading than guess who will emerge as successful, above average major league players among the unknowns. These things sort themselves over time, but the futures clock has had a set back. The heavy rash of injuries has delayed the entire rebuild project. People still talk about “when we get these guys back next month, next year,….” Well, wasn’t Mesaraco supposed to be back this year? Same way with the DLed pitchers? The future is difficult to speculate on when you have guys who keep getting hurt.

    Whether or not to sign Jay Bruce for 3 years isn’t that relevant, in my mind. He’s not a future cog. I don’t see the Reds at .500 next year, Steve, and by the time they start to win again, Bruce’s 3 years will be pretty much up. He is only here because he had such low trade value last winter. Nobody wanted him. Personally, I say deal him asap while he’s hitting well. Sell high. Get decent every day prospects He’s not needed on a losing team. Pocket the money and consider dangling the extra cash in front of a good free agent in 2018 or 19.

    Let me just say, your projected financial payroll sheet Is quite educational and well appreciated. It sheds light on some of the ways the Reds can maneuver. Whether or not Bruce is signed. it’s a good perspective. Nice job. Definitely beats talking about the bullpen.

    • Correct, all forecasting, all assuming situations stay the same.

      For instance, we can just as easily state, “what if” Finnegan and Lamb keep getting better “as starters”? For a move, do we really put them out in the pen? Or, contract wise, do we try to secure them with an extension and try to buy out their arbitration years? If we do that, that would cost money.

      As for the list itself, what I don’t like with this is, this has every pitcher in the bullpen having a recent history with us as being a starter, 5 of them at the major league level. And, 3 of the starters listed have no more than one full season under their belt (one of those barely a drink of water), a fourth who hasn’t even seen the majors yet, and the 5th we haven’t seen pitch in over a year and still haven’t seen him pitch off a major league mound yet. Not to mention, this list doesn’t even have Cingrani in the picture. Where is he going to be?

      Literally, one can easily make the case that any one or a combination of these 12 pitchers (all listed plus Cingrani minus Homer) can be switched from the pen to a starter and vice versa. Which is where Jocketty put us, and thus, makes us have to answer the question, out of these 11, “Who are we going to go with as a starter?” I can’t help thinking what we ought to consider is trading away at least a couple of these pieces for some actual regular everyday players.

      • And that’s why I said the rebuild has stalled some. I’m sure the Reds were hoping to use this season to settle out who would make the best starters, but the best hopes of mice and men….etc, etc. At some point I think they had hoped to put some of the poorer performing starters into the pen and see what they could do there. If 6 or 7 of the new guys all perform well, either as starter or reliever, then you might wanna take a chance on using 1 of them as trade bait, maybe with Bruce or Cozart. The problem with that angle is that the sample size on all of these guys would still be so small, you might accidently trade away the best of the lot. Right now the Reds whole pitching thing is a mess. They started rookies, what, like 60 games in a row last year. They’ve gone 16-45 since mid September last year. How do they make heads or tails out of anyone yet?

    • As for extending Bruce or not, the question always is, “Do we have a plan B?” If not, then I would think we are extending him. If yes, then I would think not. I believe we could make a plan B. As in, possibly Duvall stay in the OF with Winker and Hamilton, the infield stay as in except Peraza for BP.

      Then, also, if we do decide to try to go with “Plan B”, what can we get for Bruce? I mean, I don’t want to see another “major league ready” starting pitcher for a while. And, if we ask for too much, are we really even going to be able to get rid of Bruce? Then, if we simply let Bruce go at the end of the season, what compensation do we get if any?

      What would I do? It looks like Bruce has finally tweeked his swing and/or batting “viewpoint”, with lower hands and shorter swing. He is only back to his pre-slump numbers. And, that is not even 2 months into this season yet. So, he could return to his “regular slump” numbers of the last 2 seasons. Would a playoff team be willing to take a flyer on him? I believe so. I would dangle him out there. But, in return, I would want one thing, a “major league ready” regular non-pitching player, or one that is just a season away. If no one steps up, then I look at his numbers at that time. If it seems like he’s “re-found” his numbers from the pre-slump days, then I believe I would extend him. If not, then “Bye Bye”.

      The important thing is, I believe we have some flexibility there.

      • I agree, I think the prudent course would be to watch him closely thee next few months and see if he continues to improve on his ability to go inside out and beat the shift. If he can and it lifts his OBP, and he stays committed to that swing, then resigning him is a sensible option. But the idea of a prospect who is very close might be a better choice overall, considering the salary saved. The money could be spent wisely when the Reds look more ready to win.

  16. Bruce is hitting about as well as he can with a 116 wRC+, as his ceiling has been a 124 wRC+ and even still is fWAR is negative! What a disaster his defense has become.

Comments are closed.