A salary floor? The Atlanta Braves might already be equipped for this

The Atlanta Braves might not oppose a new floor... for payrolls. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
The Atlanta Braves might not oppose a new floor... for payrolls. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

It’ll never be approved in the form initially proposed, but an MLB salary floor could be something the Atlanta Braves could live with.

The Atlanta Braves really have some things going for them on the field right now, but an early MLB labor proposal might now be the worst thing in the world for this team in the future.

With the current labor agreement between MLB owners and the player’s union set to expire when December begins, the first note of interest is the good news that both sides are already engaging in face-to-face (no, not Zoom calls!) negotiation sessions.

Usually, one could expect that early sessions like this might be held to knock out the “easy” items from each side’s checklist… but here in these early in-person meetings, it seems that a big proposal is already on the table:  a salary floor.

The owners are proposing that all 30 MLB teams be required to spend a minimum of $100 million on payroll annually.  In exchange for this concession, the owners wish to drop the current luxury tax threshold from $210 million to $180 million.

While the reporters breaking this news — Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drelich (subscription required for access to TheAthletic) — did not provide specifics on any details, one can assume from the language used that this would be an “all-in” payroll amount…. salaries plus a percentage to include the cost of benefits (medical, etc.).  That’s the case with today’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

For context, the Atlanta Braves payroll exceeded this $180 million figure in 2020… or rather, they would have done so had a normal 162-game season had been contested.  Figures from the Cot’s website placed their spending at the equivalent of $181.0 million.

The Player’s Association isn’t happy with the current payroll rules for a couple of key reasons:

  • They believe that current luxury tax restrictions (i.e., the penalties for exceeding the $210 million threshold) function as a de facto salary cap.
  • There is currently no floor for payrolls.  This functionally allows clubs to spend as little as they choose, though there are increasing pressures on low-revenue clubs related to the use of revenue-sharing dollars.

Adding a true “floor” would thus be of interest to the Union, but probably not at the price of lowering — and strengthening — a ceiling.  Under this proposal, the ceiling would become a lot more rigid… though as noted, the players believe there’s functionally already one in place today.

Implications to the Braves and MLB

As hinted, this being an early proposal, the chances of this working its way into the final, new CBA are vanishingly close to zero.  While that’s so, it’s not crazy to think that a modified version could end up in a new agreement.

So what would a salary floor — with a hard ceiling — do?  There’s a few obvious things:

  • A true ceiling would prevent teams like the Dodgers and Red Sox and Yankees from going “all in” for players with big salaries.
    • Right now, the Dodgers are at something in excess of $260 million… and they’re making enough money to brush off the taxes like nothing worse than tipping a hotel valet.
  • It could balance the playing field a bit more.  While there would still be a market for the high-est-priced talent, team would have great difficulty in paying any more than 2 or 3 such players at a time… and then also paying 25 or 26 others on their roster.
    • One could envision clubs like the Pirates or Orioles choosing a strategic time to ‘jump in’ to a contention role with the right players.  If they are forced to spend money, it makes sense to do so smartly.

That leads me to our Atlanta Braves, with an ample assortment of young talent still breaking out onto the scene.

The Braves already have Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies inked to long extension deals. Both would have to be considered as model contracts for how teams might need to proceed in a future with true payroll limits.

They need to get Freddie Freeman back under contract for 2023 and beyond, but discussions about salary ceilings might complicate matters on that a bit (unless the belief is that the proposed $180 million limit won’t stand up, which is highly likely).

The best way, then, for teams to keep young talent around (and happy) for long periods of time might be to get them signed early.  The prices should be a little lower since both sides would be making a bet that the player will be good enough to keep while providing long-term security to that player.

Another way to do this would be to front-load such contracts so that the monies delivered are more balanced, a move that might have allowed, say, Acuna’s $100 million deal to pay out as equal $12 million years rather than maxing out at $17 million.  Do that and you can afford more players at lower annual rates.

The Braves would appear to be well-positioned to try moves like this, given up-and-coming players like Austin Riley or even a Dansby Swanson.  Promising prospects like Michael Harris and Shea Langeliers could also be offered lucrative “starter” contracts to keep their prices at manageable levels in such a future.

It can be risky to commit such funds to a young player early in his career, but such moves are a lot less risky than the act of paying big free agency dollars to veterans already past their prime years.  If ownership does manage to get such a deal pushed through, the contracts landscape could change dramatically.

Next. See Freddie. See Freddie Hit.. dark

You can expect a lot more news about this and other proposals for the new CBA between now and the end of the year, but if something like this comes to pass… the Atlanta Braves might actually be in reasonable shape to thrive in such an environment.