The Reds 2019 Opening Day payroll was approximately $127 million. That represented a $25 million increase over 2018 payroll and a $37 million increase over 2016.
Since then, the club has released (Matt Kemp, Zach Duke, David Hernandez, Jared Hughes) and traded (Tanner Roark, Yasiel Puig, Scooter Gennett) many of those initial players. They also acquired by trade (Trevor Bauer) and picked up a couple players (Freddy Galvis, Kevin Gausman) who had been released. Several important current team members have been promoted from the minor leagues (Nick Senzel, Josh VanMater, Aristides Aquino, Lucas Sims, Phillip Ervin). That’s a massive turnover with salary implications for 2020.
So let’s take an early look at where Reds payroll is headed in 2020 and see how much room they’ll have to make additional deals to improve the team this offseason. We’ll start by establishing a Baseline Roster and Payroll.
In 2020, Major League active rosters expand from 25 to 26. Let’s assume the Reds divide that evenly between pitchers and position players and create a Baseline Roster. It’s a best-estimate of what the 2020 Opening Day roster would look like if there were no trades or free agent (including Jose Iglesias and Alex Wood) signings. It will let us generate a starting point for payroll.
- Catcher: Tucker Barnhart
- Infield: Joey Votto, Josh VanMeter, Freddy Galvis, Eugenio Suarez
- Outfield: Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, Aristides Aquino
- Bench: Kyle Farmer, Derek Dietrich, Phillip Ervin, Curt Casali, Jose Peraza/Alex Blandino
- Starters: Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, Tyler Mahle
- Relievers: Raisel Iglesias, Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen, Lucas Sims, Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Kevin Gausman, League Minimum
To be clear, this isn’t necessarily a bare bones roster. It includes Freddy Galvis and Kevin Gausman. It assumes the Reds would choose between Pereza and Blandino for the right-handed utility infielder. The eighth member of the bullpen would be a league-minimum salaried player such as Joel Kuhnel, Sal Romano, Jimmy Herget or Wandy Peralta.
So how much will the Baseline Roster cost?
Let’s start with Reds players who have contracts for 2020. For these five, the team is on the hook for their entire salaries, regardless of whether the players are cut, injured or make the team. The chart shows the 2019 and 2020 salaries. These numbers are set.
Freddy Galvis also has a contract that sets his 2020 salary and the Reds have an option. When the Reds claimed Galvis off waivers, they assumed his contract as well. Based on the deal Galvis negotiated with the Toronto Blue Jays, he will earn $5.5 million if he makes the Reds Opening Day roster or $1 million buyout if he doesn’t.
Players who have three or more years of Major League service time, but fewer than six years, have earned the right to arbitration if they can’t reach an agreement on salary with the club. A few players with two-plus years of service time earn the right to an extra, early year of arbitration. They are called Super Two players. Bauer, Gausman and Dietrich are in that category and will be in their fourth year of arbitration in 2020.
The numbers in the “2020 Salary” column are a rough guess. Those salaries will be negotiated next winter and likely won’t be known until February 2020.
Kevin Gausman presents an unusual case. He’s been through 3 years of arbitration as a starting pitcher and because Gausman had nice years with the Orioles, his salary has crept up. But the Reds have used Gausman in the bullpen. Reds broadcasters have discussed Gausman maybe moving to the rotation. I don’t see that. He would be much more expensive compared to Tyler Mahle or even Anthony DeSclafani and it’s hard to see Gausman being a better pitcher than either of those other two.
At Gausman’s current salary, he would be too expensive for the bullpen. Would his salary get reduced in arbitration if Gausman is given a new role? Players seldom take cuts in arbitration from one year to the next and in any case it’s limited by contract to 20%. If the alternative was being non-tendered (cut), Gausman could make a deal with the Reds outside the arbitration system for a lower salary. We’ll leave him on our Baseline Roster for now, but he might not make it. If the Reds non-tender Gausman, they don’t owe him anything because unlike Galvis, he doesn’t have a contract.
Regarding the final utility slot: Jose Peraza would be eligible for his second year of arbitration. He made $2.775 million this year. Alex Blandino would be paid league minimum.
The Reds have many players who will make the Opening Day roster who won’t have enough service time to qualify for arbitration. Players in that situation have their salaries set entirely by the team. That usually means league minimum or close to it. Based on the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that runs through the 2021 season, league minimum will be around $570,000. Players who have been paid the minimum a year or two are typically given small raises.
The Baseline Roster Reds players in this category are:
- Aristides Aquino
- Luis Castillo
- Phillip Ervin
- Kyle Farmer
- Amir Garrett
- Tyler Mahle
- Cody Reed
- Nick Senzel
- Lucas Sims
- Robert Stephenson
- Josh VanMeter
- Jesse Winker
Early Bottom Line Estimate
Keep in mind the 2020 arbitration numbers we’re using are estimates and approximate and the Reds have decisions to make on Gausman, Galvis and Peraza.
This projection of payroll for our Baseline Roster is $113-4 million. That payroll fills the entire 26-man active roster with known Reds players. It assumes regular arbitration raises and current contract commitments. Without Gausman, Galvis and Peraza, the number falls to $95-97 million.
If the Reds plan to boost payroll in 2020, say up to $130-135 million, the front office would have $20-$40 million to spend above the Baseline Roster. That’s a healthy amount.
With that context, how should the Reds spend the extra money?