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