It’s no secret that essentially all major sports — not to mention most businesses in general — have lost money over the last 12 months or so. A global pandemic that temporarily shut downs most of the world can do that. Back in January, I looked at how bad revenue was for the Braves in 2020, coming after a 2019 season that saw nearly $150 million in profits for the Braves.
Braves: Just how bad was revenue in 2020? https://t.co/RPO9PKhHaW
— SportsTalkATL.com (@SportsTalkATL) January 18, 2021
This past season, during the third quarter alone (July-September), the Braves saw a 48% decrease in revenue or a drop of roughly $100 million compared to the club’s third quarter a year ago.
All-in-all, money was certainly lost, which meant payrolls were bound to drop for the 2021 season as well. Hell, according to a report by ESPN this past December, payrolls MLB-wide were slashed a combined $2.5 billion in 2020. Logically, all of that money isn’t going to come back all at once.
But as we inch closer to Opening Day of the 2021 regular season, it’s unreal just how much disparity exists regarding payrolls across MLB. There’s nearly a $65-million difference between the top spender in baseball (Dodgers) and the fifth-highest spender (Astros), not to mention there are currently 12 teams running payrolls that equal less than $100 million, highlighted by Cleveland who’s all the way down to $40.3 million (via Spotrac).
Now obviously, some of this was expected. Of course the pandemic impacts teams in different ways, and if you’re already a small-market spender, chances are you’re not upping the payroll at a time like this. But something just doesn’t seem right. I mean, the five lowest-spending teams in baseball combined are barely spending more than what the five highest-spenders are averaging this year.
And for Braves Country, the gap between our team and their rivals in the West, the Dodgers, has never been larger. And this is even after LA spent $100 million to renovate Dodger Stadium leading up to last season, an expense that you’d think would cause the team to cut back a bit in 2021.
Looking at the last four seasons, counting 2021, LA has always out-spent the Braves. In 2018 the gap was relatively high with a difference of roughly $60 million, though in 2019 and ’20 the gap between the two teams was just $20.1 million and $27.5 million, respectively. On average, for those three seasons combined, the Dodgers spent nearly $36 million more than the Braves, which given the market the Dodgers reside in, doesn’t seem too bad.
However, this season the gap is nearly $100 million.
According to payrolls found at FanGraphs Roster Resource, Atlanta currently has an estimated luxury-tax payroll of $157,559,333, while LA sits at $257,530,324. That’s a whopping $99,970,991 difference, or almost 4.5 Freddie Freemans (his ’21 salary is just over $22 million). For two teams at very similar contention levels, there’s no way there should be that big of a difference in spending.
Could you imagine if the Braves still had almost $100 million left on their budget for this current offseason?
As of a week ago, reports indicated the team had just $5 million left to spend, hence the inactivity since re-signing slugger Marcell Ozuna in early February, a deal guaranteed for four years and $65 million.
Braves Report: Atlanta down to less than $5 million in payroll flexibility https://t.co/Z2tVErQUL9
— SportsTalkATL.com (@SportsTalkATL) February 22, 2021
Ozuna’s $16.250 million salary this season accounts for almost 40% of the roughly $44 million Atlanta is on the hook for this year from the team’s five MLB signings this offseason (though Abraham Almonte’s $990K isn’t guaranteed).
ATL’s 5 MLB Signings (’21 money)
- Charlie Morton, P — $15 million
- Marcell Ozuna, OF — $16.250 million
- Drew Smyly, P — $11 million
- Jake Lamb, INF — $1 million
- Abraham Almonte, OF — $990,000
So given what they’ve spent and what’s reportedly left in the budget, the Braves were planning to spend around $50 million this offseason, which is still a three-year low in terms of overall payroll.
ATL’s Payroll, 2018-21 (via Spotrac)
- 2021: $157.5 million
- 2020: $176.3 million
- 2019: $178.9 million
- 2018: $157.8 million
Meanwhile, the Dodgers dropped a ton on pitcher Trevor Bauer and will pay him $34 million in 2021. That’s a lot of money when you consider LA already has to pay Clayton Kershaw $31 million this season, on top of Mookie Betts‘ $25.5 million, then the four other players that’ll cost at least $15 million (Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Kenley Jansen, David Price). Money just isn’t an issue for the Dodgers.
Although, if you listen to some of the projections, LA is held in a much higher regard than Atlanta this coming season. PECOTA has the Braves tallying just 82 wins in 2021 — a fourth-place finish (lol) — compared to the Dodgers projection of 103. Sure, almost $100 million seems about right when you’re talking about the difference between a fourth-place club and one expected to win the most games in baseball. But I don’t have to tell you how ridiculous PECOTA’s projection is, especially considering Vegas has Atlanta finishing 2021 with the third-most wins (91.5) behind the Padres and Dodgers. I’m taking the over on both projections.
However, regardless of how many wins the Braves have this season, the Dodgers shouldn’t be pacing them in spending at this rate. And it doesn’t help matters that the two teams locked up in a close NLCS last year, with Atlanta just one win away from the World Series (a World Series LA won, by the way). I usually try to avoid complaining about Liberty Media and its stinginess, and I’m not so naive to think that Braves Baseball is the company’s top priority. Atlanta is and will always be a market a few rungs below Los Angeles’. But in terms of actual talent and performance level, the Braves and Dodgers are so much closer than what their payrolls display… especially this year. And it’s going to be a real shame if Atlanta again comes just a game away from overcoming LA in a postseason series.