In world of dollars and sense, will Braves raise player budget?

Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei (left) made a rare visit to Atlanta in 2016. Here he is with Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk at a game at Turner Field. (Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com)

According to a recent accounting, via my Googling fingers, Liberty Media Corporation has assets totaling $41 billion and the entire Liberty empire last year had a total market value of $80 billion, give or take a drachma. Their CEO, Gregory Maffei received $16.6 million in compensation in 2016, and their cute little baseball team, the Braves, who have uniforms and everything, are valued at $1.5 billion.

These are things I think about when the Braves choose to dump Jaime Garcia and Sean Rodriguez to save nickels in the name of “payroll flexibility.”

Now let me be clear: I have no problem with the Braves trading either player. They weren’t going to make the playoffs. Garcia was a 31-year-old, late-rotation starter with a 4.30 ERA who was going to be a free agent. Rodriguez, a utility infielder, might have been a nice piece at the outset of the season, but got into a horrific car accident, and by the time he came back the Braves had a logjam of young infielders.

The Braves got almost nothing for either player. But they made certain all knew about the money they saved in the late-season dump: $4.7 million the rest of the season on Garcia; $1.75 million this year on Rodriguez and $5.75 million next year (although counting the 2018 salary in the name of economics now is a bit disingenuous because Rodriguez could’ve been moved in the winter, like any other veteran still under contract).

My biggest issue, or rather question, regarding the Braves moving forward is: What does all this mean in terms of their plans to spend money?

Like any corporation, Liberty Media, based in far-away Colorado, is bottom-line driven. They don’t follow wild-card races. They follow stock prices. The Journal-Constitution’s Tim Tucker reported in May that Liberty said approximately $653 million had been spent on SunTrust Park as of March 31. Of that, $378 million was secured by the Cobb County Board of Suckers and assorted fanboys. The other $275 million came from the Braves.

In addition, $354 million had been spent on the mixed-use area around the stadium. Once you get past all of the calculations, Liberty said the Braves were carrying a debt of $420 million as of March 31.

And you thought your mortgage was high.

Now you see why it’s so important to the Braves that all of those restaurants and businesses in The Battery thrive. And that they sell tickets. That debt must come down and, until it reaches a sane number, it’s fair to wonder how high the Braves will allow their payroll to go.

The Braves’ payroll to start this season ranked 19th overall. They now sit 24th overall at $113.7 million, which is below the league average of $150.8 million, according to Spotrac.com.

Splurging in free agency or taking on big contracts in trade don’t guarantee success. But there’s no question it increases a team’s chance to win. Of the top 10 payroll teams in baseball, five currently are sitting in playoff spots (Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Boston, Washington, Chicago Cubs) and at least one other is in the wild-card race (Baltimore). Another (Texas) just moved into sell mode.

Contrast: Of the bottom 10 payroll teams, only Arizona (which just made the cut at No. 21) may reach the postseason (second in the National League wild-card race).

Back to the Braves: They will enter this winter like they entered the last one – in need of starting pitching. The only certainty in the rotation next season is Mike Foltynewicz. The team needs to add at least two starters – preferably two who can slide into the rotation’s top three.

Because how much pressure do you really want to put on young arms and young minds?

It makes the most sense for the Braves to try to use Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis and Matt Adams as trade bait in hopes of getting a starter already under contract. But moving Kemp’s salary won’t be easy. (He turns 33 next month, and the Braves are responsible for $36 million of Kemp’s $43 million in 2018 and 2019). Maybe they’ll move some prospects, which they’ve been resistant to. But they are certainly not going to trade their most valuable player, Freddie Freeman. 

The Braves burned money attempting short-term fixes in the rotation with Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Garcia. The strategy of building a safe bridge to 2018 failed.

Watch ticket sales. Home attendance is up significantly this season as expected in the new park, with an average of 31,861 per game (from 24,950 in the final year at Turner Field). But if this season doesn’t sufficiently impact season-ticket sales and revenue streams, it likely will impact future roster plans.

SunTrust Park attendance in 2017

Watch the money. That will tell the story of the next phase of the Braves’ makeover.

This from Maffei three weeks ago at an investor conference at SunTrust Park (via Tucker):

We expect the Braves to continue to operate with the same financial discipline and prudence that they have historically, despite the upgraded new facilities. 2017 will begin to see the positive effects of The Battery’s operations on the Braves‘ cash flows, and we expect them to increase annually with full impact in 2019. … As we get more cash flows from The Battery and the new ballpark, we expect to deploy cash for normal business operations, potentially including paying down debt and investing in the team to enhance baseball operations.”

I don’t read that as plans to spend big — certainly not any time soon.

Subscribe to the,We Never Played The Game” podcast with the AJC’s Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein on iTunes. Episodes also can be downloaded from on-demand link on WSBRadio.com.

Some recent ramblings

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38 comments
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Ben9494
Ben9494

What concerns me the most is ownerships responses to increase in payroll. They have said they expect the team to continue to operate with the same fiscal responsibility they have shown in the past. If that is true with the increase in revenue from the new stadium that would put the MLB payroll in the 120- 130 range. If everything all our hopes from the rebuild come true, Acuna, Sorkoa, Allard, Maitan and Gohara are all stars, in 3 years after coming to the big leagues that give us a 2-3 yr window before they are free agents. If the payroll doesn't increase then we watch these guys leave just like Jup, JHey and Simmions and we enjoy 2-3 good years then a new rebuild. Even with a better farm team it is near impossible to win without players in their prime and to get those you have to pay. Only 1 team in the last 30 yrs has won a title without a top 15 payroll.

sea8491
sea8491

@Ben9494  In addition to lacking funds, Are you concerned by the management team in place that runs the Current Brave organization?  Kimbrel, Alex Wood, Olivera?

Mattster08
Mattster08

Reading these comments and "articles" on AJC has made me truly understand why real Braves fans hang out on Talking Chop.  You guys don't understand the concept of a rebuild, and that sucking for a few years is inevitable when one happens.  They'll spend more when the time comes to compete, it's just not time yet.  Patience is a virtue.

sea8491
sea8491

@Mattster08  With Liberty media owning the Braves, do you honestly think the Braves will actually compete some day?  With prospects and not too much cash? With the present day management Team the Braves will win? Wish I shared your optimism and hope you are right and I am dead wrong

savannahgator5220
savannahgator5220

Finally happy to see so many of you have found out about LM. These guys do not care one iota about winning. The only thing they care about is thier wallet. Boycott STP, and boycott The Battery unless a business is locally owned.

sea8491
sea8491

Just think, if the Braves owners could have eaten  the contract of B J Upton maybe the Braves would still have (1) future hall of famer Kimbrel, 2017 Cy Young winner, Alex Wood and maybe a greater return for the trade of Perraza.  Whoever did the Alex Wood trade should be losing his job, pure incompetence.  Just horrible

sea8491
sea8491

Probably the only way to obtain a new owner would be for the attendance to drop off?

Probably the only way to obtain a new owner would be for the attendance to drop off?


Toby Allen04
Toby Allen04

The pitching starved Braves just sold their best AAA pitcher for cash. This is nothing but a P.T Barnum act. The only way you run these clowns off is to boycott the games. A bankrupt Battery will get that Hannibal Lector looking Malone's attention

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

The Braves died when Ted lost his boardroom battle with the corporate shirts at AOL TW in the early 2000's.  He lost control of the teams and its never been the same -- corporate ownership should be banned from MLB none of it is any good

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

We do not like this but LM is not going anywhere.  They do not care, they are making money and could care less about baseball or the local community.  This is the worst ownership in all of baseball and that includes the likes of Jeffrey Loria who is finally getting out -- for that I am glad for Marlins fans.  We are stuck with this for a long long time

1linepass0101
1linepass0101

I bet things are going to change in this town. The Atlanta United get 40k+ a date. As astounding as that is, it's also a yard stick. I am of the generation who really started playing soccer. I know lots of people younger than me who are bananas about it. Lots of young people think the game of baseball is too slow. Face it, the strike of 94 did a lot of damage.

When the Braves have to compete for summer entertainment dollars, we're going to see some changes. One way or another. I have to feel bad for the people of Cobb though, because if this goes sideways, they get stuck with the bill.

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

@1linepass0101  Liberty Media is not going to change.  They do not care as long as their asset is going up in value and corporate stock prices are going up -- and they do not want to sell cause they would be paying big capital gains tax -- tax is one of the reasons they got involved with this in the first place

#41
#41

It has become apparent that the Hart and Coppy plan is failing. If it was working, after all these years of building for the future, this team would be getting better. Instead, we have a team that can't even beat the worse team in baseball. 

E983
E983

Big corporate owner, bottom line profits are their game. If nobody goes they sell the team.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

For us fans yearning for the Braves to get back into the playoff mix, not likely to happen until a wave of quality young pitching emerges and produces at the MLB level. Nothing else at this point really matters.

UnbiasedObserver
UnbiasedObserver

Nothing is changing.  We have at least 5 years now of how they handle things.



Mediocrity, at best, will continue.



Carry on.

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

@UnbiasedObserver  Yea, I see LM hanging around for a good 5 yrs or longer -- the Braves are a real estate venture for this feckless corporation now and there is no incentive for them getting out of the way

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ToeMeetsLeather
ToeMeetsLeather

Hey, look at the bright side. College football starts in a few weeks.

Larry2704
Larry2704

Maybe Liberty Media is waiting on the citizens of Cobb County to pony up for a decent free agent.  Every front line starter mentioned at the trade deadline and last winter doesn't fit into the Braves' budget.  Sad.  Under Liberty Media, we might need to wait longer than the Cubs to win another World Series.

joedavis
joedavis

Serious question:  If Mr. Schuerholz had to work withLiberty Media's tight-budget checkbook instead of Ted Turner's free-spending treasure chest.... would he be in the Hall of Fame?  

TMCB
TMCB

been saying it since the year 2000, The Braves #1 focus has been on the bottom line dollar instead of the on-field talent. Money is the driving force behind every single move they make. They have brainwashed most of their fans that they are a mid-market club... and spend accordingly, while several much smaller market teams outspend them year after year. Please do not take my word for it, look it up for yourself. Their spending is down from the middle of the pack the last couple of years and that is understandable. But they sold a bill of goods to its fan base and the people of Cobb Co. that STP & the Battery was going to significantly increase to the talent on the field... 
I will believe it when i see it. and based on the comments in this article i ain't going to happen anytime soon.
How about reporting what kind of bonus' ALL of the Braves management and executives are receiving year after year while the payroll and overall spending decreases?
THAT would be eye opening!

sea8491
sea8491

Why doesn't chipper Jones emulate Jeter and get a group together that can purchase the Braves?  I am going to contact Mark Cuban, Mike Dell and others like them.  Look what Tom Ricketts did to the Cubs after buying the cubs?  A new owner would replace Hart and Coppy in a New York moment



extremus
extremus

I hate Liberty Media and corporate ownerships in general.  Human owners can be "characters" and even annoying at times (some folks get tired of seeing Arthur Blank roaming the Falcons sidelines...which may have bitten them in the butt on more than one occasion), but at the end of the day they truly want to have a winner (as in championships) in their town (and that is why Arthur Blank can walk that sideline all day for all I care).  Liberty Media's people probably attend more Rockies games; they don't care anything about the Braves or the city of Atlanta beyond profit/loss margins.  I really wish some human ownership who'd genuinely be invested in the team and restoring its former greatness again would pull the Braves out from under their control. 

DNorth
DNorth

Cobb County doing what they did has unfortunately stuck us with Liberty ... its a revenue generating asset with hugely underwritten infrastructure and they're not going to sell it until or unless they can make even more money doing that.  


The team will never be more than competitive because when the young stars get expensive, they'll trade them off for more prospects which are cheaper.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

Mr. Schultz,

Unfortunately the veterans Brave players that Coppy wants to move Markakis, Kemp and Matt Adams would be lucky to return a MLB #4 or #5 starting pitcher, and that is if Coppy is willing to eat 75% of Markakis and Kemp's Salary. His best bet is hoping Adams continues to play above his career numbers,and can bring back a top pitching prospect in a trade. Moving Kemp and Markakis will be just a salary dump  at this point Kemp can't stay healthy and Nick does not hit for enough power to draw interest in a trade.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Yes but Adams at his best is not going to return a top rotation pitcher.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

A company with 31 Billion in Assets and valued at 13 Billion ,yes Braves fans that Is B as in Billion,is concerned over a debt of less than $450 million. And the Braves are valued at over $1.5 Billion, so because of this MASSIVE DEBT ,Liberty has to tell Coppy to be  disciplined and historically prudent in building the Braves team in 2018 . With at least 5 players on the current MLB roster making the pro rated MLB minimum this year (Camargo, Albies, Newcomb, Sims, Lane Adams) and the possibility of two or three more joining the roster in 2018.( Acuna, Gohara, The Great Dansby) . The Braves will have at least one third of the roster making near the MLB minimum and another third( those at ARB 1 or ARB 2 Levels) making less than $1Million a year. So after dumping Garcia and Rodriguez and recouping over $10 Million in current salary commitments, Coppy is told by his bosses to watch his budget and try to unload, Kemp, Matt Adams and Julio Teheran in the off season, leaving only Freeman ,Inciarte , and possibly Flowers (team option in '18) under contract next year. So it will be at least 2019 before the Braves can spend at least the MLB average on salaries. Hmmm.... so if Coppy can get back 50 cents the dollar for Matt Kemp $22Million and maybe another Class A prospect, and a middling MLB veteran Pitcher for a Teheran and Matt Adams combo, the Braves and Coppy may be able to have historically Disciplined team roster salary wise.

So what does this mean ,Braves Fans another year like this year, weak but hopefully young pitching rotation, and at least 4 possibly 5 position players with less than 100 games in MLB.But at least for Coppy he will keep his bosses at Liberty Happy , with his historic frugality.

PTC DAWG1
PTC DAWG1

I don't think ownership values winning at all.  

jlrhoya
jlrhoya

Can a local rich guy come from somewhere and give them an offer they cannot refuse?


The Falcons became great when Blank bought them out.  I just hope the Braves do not have to become an unwanted asset to convince Liberty to let go of them.

new555
new555

@jlrhoya This was going to be my point as well.  When Ted owned the team, more effort was made to put a winner on the field.  Liberty treats the Braves like a corporate asset and their corporate values take over.  Corporations mainly care about the bottom line, not a real desire to win a championship. I have been saying this for years now.  I wish Liberty would sell to a local person with $.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@jlrhoya Why not the Consortium that Glavine is involved with trying to purchase the marlins, or the Jeter Group. But alas ,I don't think Liberty is through fleecing the Taxpayers in Cobb or squeezing every dime out of Braves fans to consider selling the Braves.