Do the Phillies Have Payroll Space to Afford A.J. Burnett?
Yesterday, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that starter A.J. Burnett, who had been mulling retirement, decided to make his services available for at least one more season. Obviously, the Pirates are interested in bringing him back, but the Orioles and Rangers are two other teams expected to show interest. The Phillies, with a mediocre starting rotation beyond Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, could also decide to pursue the right-hander on a short-term deal. Sawchik reported that they have interest.
The big question is: do the Phillies have the payroll space below the $189 million luxury tax threshold to fit Burnett? Let’s take a look at the payroll for the 17 players already prescribed salaries. Note that the average annual value of multi-year contracts is used towards the luxury tax.
|Ryan Howard||6||$ 143,000,000||$ 23,833,333|
|Cliff Lee||5||$ 120,000,000||$ 24,000,000|
|Cole Hamels||6||$ 144,000,000||$ 24,000,000|
|Chase Utley||2||$ 27,000,000||$ 13,500,000|
|Jonathan Papelbon||4||$ 50,000,000||$ 12,500,000|
|Jimmy Rollins||4||$ 38,000,000||$ 9,500,000|
|Carlos Ruiz||3||$ 26,000,000||$ 8,666,667|
|Marlon Byrd||2||$ 16,000,000||$ 8,000,000|
|Kyle Kendrick||1||$ 7,675,000||$ 7,675,000|
|Mike Adams||2||$ 12,000,000||$ 6,000,000|
|Roberto Hernandez||1||$ 4,500,000||$ 4,500,000|
|Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez||3||$ 12,000,000||$ 4,000,000|
|Antonio Bastardo||1||$ 2,000,000||$ 2,000,000|
|Ben Revere||1||$ 1,950,000||$ 1,950,000|
|John Mayberry||1||$ 1,587,500||$ 1,587,500|
|Wil Nieves||1||$ 1,125,000||$ 1,125,000|
|Kevin Frandsen||1||$ 900,000||$ 900,000|
Players like Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, Darin Ruf, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Jake Diekman, Jonathan Pettibone, Justin De Fratus, Brad Lincoln, and others are pre-arbitration. Their salaries will be figured out soon, but will likely be in the $500,000-$550,000 range. Their salary will be prorated for the time they spend on the Major League roster. Also note that if Bobby Abreu makes the roster, he’ll make $800,000. The Phillies used over 50 combined pitchers and position players last season so the cost of role players adds up faster than you’d expect, even if it is prorated. At the very least, they’re paying at least $4 million for the remaining eight spots which will be filled by pre-arb. players. In all likelihood, they’ll pay between $6-8 million depending on how often they’ll have to call players up and down. So we’re at about $160 million.
As per the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Phillies will also pay their share, 1/30, of player-benefit costs. As Wendy Thurm explained at FanGraphs, this includes “things like contributions to the pension plan, workers compensation premiums, spring training allowances, moving expenses and player medical costs”. Last year, a 1/30 share was valued just under $11 million. It should be slightly higher this year but we’ll roll with $11 million. We’re around $170 million, less than $20 million shy of the luxury tax threshold.
Could the Phillies get Burnett for an average annual value of $15-20 million? Although he did not receive a $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Pirates, he earned $16.5 million last season and although he was a flip of a coin away from retirement, he is coming off of a season in which he posted a 3.39 ERA in 191 innings at the age of 36. And, don’t forget, the Phillies will be bidding against at least two other teams, maybe more. It’ll be tough to get him closer to the $15 million or less range. More would hamstring the Phillies from making minor additions during the season, particularly near the trade deadline.
The Phillies could free up some space by cutting Mayberry during spring training. He and the Phillies agreed on a $1.5875 million salary to avoid arbitration. It, like the scores of others earned in a similar fashion recently, is not guaranteed. If the Phillies cut him, they would only owe him either 30 or 45 days’ pay, depending on when the decision is made. But that’s about the only payroll flexibility the Phillies could create. They would have to be able to grab Burnett at about $15 million on a one-year deal, otherwise they likely don’t have the space. Moreover, Amaro has stated he plans to stay closer to last year’s Opening Day payroll of $160 million than the $189 threshold.