With the Angels officially eliminated this season, it was inevitable that Halos Heaven was going to be overrun with opinions and projections on what the 2014 roster would and should look like. Nashdiesel was the first to set this in motion, laying out the players that are virtually guaranteed to be here next season, barring any trades or signings. Without stepping on his toes, I would like to take that a step further and break down where our team sits in regards to payroll.
Many here believe that it's irrelevant, given Arte spending like a drunken sailor the last couple seasons. That is only partially true. Arte has no hesitation paying players competitive salaries, obviously. However, he has shown a clear opposition to going over the luxury tax, which he hasn't done since 2004. That threshold goes up to $189 million next season, where it will remain until 2016. For the sake of this fanpost, I will assume Arte will continue to want to stay under the threshold, though it's not impossible to think he may be willing to make a one-season sacrifice and pay a small tax if it's going to benefit the club in 2014 and beyond.
Some assumptions have to be made before breaking down next season's payroll. Guys like Frieri, Trumbo and Bourjos are eligible for arbitration for the first time, so I have to make my best guess, based on similar players and what they were awarded. I also have to presume that a guy like Tommy Hanson is going to get cut rather than receive another arbitration offer and I would hope that would be the same with Juan Gutierrez. Please feel free to correct, disagree and give your best guesses on these estimates. Also note that all players are listed with their average annual value, rather than what they will actually be paid in 2014, as AAV is the number that gets calculated for luxury tax purposes. (All salaries courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Cot's)
Josh Hamilton $25M
Albert Pujols $24M
Vernon Wells $18.6M-x
Jered Weaver $17M
CJ Wilson $15.5M
Erick Aybar $8.75M
Howie Kendrick $8.375M
Joe Blanton $7.5M
Chris Iannetta $5.183M
Sean Burnett $4M
Jerome Williams $4M***
Mark Trumbo $3.5M*
Ernesto Frieri $3M*
Kevin Jepsen $2M**
Peter Bourjos $1.5M*
Hank Conger $0.5M
Garrett Richards $0.5M
Andrew Romine $0.5M
Buddy Boshers $0.5M
Kole Calhoun $0.5M
Dane De La Rosa $0.5M
Grant Green $0.5M
Luis Jimenez $0.5M
-x $2.4M paid by NYY
That is roughly $152 million for 22 roster spots plus the ghost of Vernon Wells. I removed Shuck and Cowgill because there is no need for them if Bourjos is still here along with Calhoun. Obviously if Peter is traded then one of them easily takes his roster slot for the league minimum. While this is a hell of a lot of money already committed to next season, it does give DiPoto some wiggle room to improve the roster.
So what are the most glaring omissions on this list? Well, I only count 3 starting pitchers, depending on how you view Jerome Williams, so those spots definitely need to be filled. Tendering Vargas a qualifying offer pushes payroll up to $166M, leaving $23M to sign another starter and still stay below the threshold. Easy, right? Not quite.
By now you might have noticed that I have left off perhaps the most important payroll decision in the history of the franchise: Mike Trout. Seems strange saying that about a guy who is another year away from arbitration, but of course this is no ordinary second-year player. If there is one subject that everyone on this blog can agree upon, it's that Arte needs to pony up and sign Trout for life (or at least a decade). With him widely considered the best player in the game already, it is going to take a ridiculous sum to convince him to forego free agency at age 26 and surpass A-Rod's record deal.
Finding a template for paying Trout in his controllable years is pretty much impossible. The closest I can come up with is Tim Lincecum, who earned similar acclaim with back-to-back Cy Young awards in his second and third seasons. As a "super two" he earned an extra year of arbitration, making $9M, $14M, $18M and $22M in each successive season. Of course Trout's first two seasons blow any of Tim's out of the water, so he clearly has a case to ask for a record number in his first year of eligibility, 2015. If he has another MVP-type season in 2014, he can probably seek out more than $20M in his first year of arbitration and have a damn good chance at getting it.
It would seem the best Arte can do is get that clock started early and offer him an Arod/Pujols deal, somewhere in the range of 10 years, $250 million. That would give Trout an astronomical raise in 2014 and afford him security should he suffer some sort of significant injury before hitting free agency. If Arte waits until he is arb-eligible, Trout may decide it's worth the risk to wait it out, clean up in his three years of arbitration and sign a record deal with whoever he wants when he's 26. Even if Arte does make that kind of offer, Trout may decide he doesn't want to lock himself in for that long at this point in his career. Arte can split the difference, offering an eight-year deal, which would lock him up an extra three years but still allow Trout to get paid now and then cash in again at age 29, still in the middle of his prime.
If our dreams come true and Arte does lock up Trout, that's going to tack on roughly $25 million to the payroll, bringing us to $177M, still in need of two starting pitchers. If he doesn't lock him up, I can see Arte at least throwing him a good-will bone and pay him a couple million, which sucks for the prospects of signing our star long-term but would go a long way towards fixing the starting rotation for 2014. Personally, I'd rather lock Trout up and go cheap on the rotation one more year, but I'm probably not very rational when it comes to comes to the subject of Mike Trout. Really, who can be?
There are options, of course. If Arte can get Trout to agree to a deal, DiPoto can move guys like Trumbo and Bourjos for starting pitching help. I won't venture to guess what kind of value can be found for those guys, as starting pitching is always at a premium, but it certainly won't hurt to fish around. I've also read the suggestion on here to trade Kendrick, shedding some significant salary. That makes Green the starting second baseman, with someone like Eric Chavez as a platoon partner for Jimenez at third, something I wouldn't mind seeing happen, regardless.
Ideally, we make the winning bid for Tanaka, which would not count against payroll. Darvish's average salary is $8M, so if Tanaka were to agree to something less than that, he could be a luxury-tax bargain. It would seem the bidding is going to get hot and heavy, however, with the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox all in the mix, so I'm thinking Tanaka is a long-shot at best. Even without Tanaka, there is still Garza and Nolasco on the market, two guys who won't cost a draft pick and should provide an upgrade over Vargas for a similar cost. A high-upside signing such as Tanaka or Garza would make me feel more confident with handing the 5th spot to Williams or Shoemaker. Settling for Vargas or Nolasco, I'd prefer one more solid starter to round out the rotation, which would have to come via trade.
So what say you? What are your payroll-conscious roster projections? What will it cost to lock up Trout? Which starting pitchers can be had for our excess outfielders?
UPDATE**** I didn't read carefully enough and missed that the total payroll is based on the 40 man roster, not the 25 man major league roster. I assumed it was the same as hockey, where minor league salaries don't count against the cap unless the player is recalled. So please tack on an additional $7-8 million or so to that total figure.