8 MLB Teams Poised to Make Waves with Big Winter Moves
Teams throughout Major League Baseball have become much more cost conscious with regard to their payroll.
With the new collective bargaining agreement agreed upon last year, teams who exceed $178 million in salary for the 2013 season are taxed at the rate of 17.5 percent for a first-time offense, and as much as 50 percent for a fourth-time offense.
As such, teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees are already close to that threshold just based on 2013 commitments alone, without signing free agents or signing players who will be entering arbitration.
MLBTradeRumors.com listed each team's payroll commitments for the 2013 season, and there are some teams that clearly have some wiggle room with regard to payroll next season and beyond.
Here are eight teams that could make a splash this offseason based on current payroll figures.
New York Mets
The Opening Day payroll for the New York Mets has steadily dropped in recent years—$135.7 million in 2009, down to $132.7 million in 2010, down to $120.1 million in 2011 and then to $93.3 million this year.
With the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal now clearly in their rear-view window, the Mets are free of the financial constraints caused by that entire debacle.
According to Forbes.com, the Mets could lose around $23 million this season. But that's progress, considering what the team lost in its prior two seasons.
In addition, minority investors have pumped $240 million into the team's coffers as well.
Bottom line is, GM Sandy Alderson will have much more available cash to make upgrades significantly more meaningful than signing the likes of Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco this offseason. With a commitment of just $54.5 million for the 2013 season, it would be relatively shocking to see the Mets playing small-ball with free agency.
Under the first year of the new Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer regime, the Chicago Cubs have jettisoned a lot of cash via trades over the past year, and now have only $41.8 million in committed payroll for the 2013 season.
And that's counting Alfonso Soriano as well.
Even if the Cubs are successful in trading Soriano this offseason, they'll likely still carry the bulk of his payroll. But the contracts of Carlos Zambrano, Marlon Byrd and Kerry Wood will all be off the books entirely.
Will the Cubs spend willy-nilly to improve their roster for 2013 and beyond? Highly doubtful, but money is clearly there to infuse the club with some prudent signings.
However, Epstein has been known to make a few waves in his day, so keep an eye on the happenings on West Addison Street this offseason.
I had to take a second look at the payroll commitments for the Atlanta Braves in 2013.
The Braves only have $15.2 million committed for next season.
But, in taking a third look, the commitments don't include team options for Brian McCann, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, which would add another $27.5 million to that figure. Even with that, it's still only $42.7 million.
The Braves have to make a decision regarding center fielder Michael Bourn, who will no doubt command big money on the open market. Their younger stars (Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward and Jonny Venters) are still under team control, and Martin Prado has one more year of arbitration eligibility, so signing their current players other than Bourn won't be an expensive proposition.
GM Frank Wren will have wiggle room, but considering their relative inactivity last offseason, the Braves appear to be continuing down the path of fiduciary responsibility.
But the wiggle room is there for a possible wave-making surprise or two.
With payroll commitments totaling $55.0 million for the 2013 season, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Arizona Diamondbacks active this offseason.
After winning the NL West in 2011, the D-Backs clearly took a major step backwards this year. While injuries to Daniel Hudson and Stephen Drew didn't help, the team's performance is still a major disappointment.
GM Kevin Towers was active last offseason with the signings of Jason Kubel and the trade for Trevor Cahill. While the Diamondbacks can't be considered a major-market team, I'd be surprised to see them stand pat and watch the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers continue to grow above them.
For the first time in 15 seasons, baseball is once again alive in Baltimore.
This past weekend saw more than 175,000 fans attend a four-game series between the Orioles and New York Yankees at Camden Yards. That's a sight that's not been seen much in recent years.
GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter have the city abuzz once again with baseball fever, and with only $53.2 million in commitments for next season, Duquette could well be looking to build on that momentum.
Decisions will need to be made regarding the status of Mark Reynolds ($11 million team option), and it's a safe bet the Orioles will decline the option for Kevin Gregg ($6 million).
The Orioles are averaging more than 25,000 fans per game at Camden Yards. Look for Duquette to make some waves this offseason to keep the momentum going and keep those fans in the stands.
San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres are 10 games above .500 in the second half—a far cry from a miserable first half where they posted a 34-53 record.
On top of that, the Padres have new ownership in place and only $26.0 million in salary committed for next season.
While we won't see the Padres become a nine-figure payroll team, GM Josh Byrnes will no doubt be active as he continues to build on a stellar second half.
Boston Red Sox
One has to scroll down pretty far on the list of 2013 payroll commitments to find the Boston Red Sox.
That, in itself, is a strange sight.
The Red Sox only have $45.6 million committed for next season. With one fell swoop, GM Ben Cherington rid the team of $60 million in commitments with the trade of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Daisuke Matsuzaka also comes off the books next year.
The Red Sox will have some decisions to make, namely the status of both center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and DH David Ortiz. They alone will add close to $30 million to that committed figure.
However, considering the Red Sox have been one of the top three or four payroll teams in recent years, Cherington will have more than enough wiggle room to make a major splash this offseason. With names like Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn and others out there potentially available, it would be a shock to see the Red Sox inactive.
The nation's capital is going to see postseason baseball for the first time since 1933.
Not since the old Washington Senators lost to the New York Giants in the 1933 World Series has a game of meaning been seen in D.C., but the Nationals are about to change all that.
More than two million fans have already passed through the turnstiles at Nationals Park this season as the local nine have given the Washington faithful another team besides the Redskins to root for.
The Nationals have commitments totaling $58.6 million for next season, not including the 2013 option for first baseman Adam LaRoche ($10 million).
Decisions need to be made concerning Edwin Jackson, Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan, but considering the success of the team and the renewed interest at the gates, the Nationals could capitalize on that this coming offseason.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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