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Are the Braves a small market team now?

Jan 4, 2014, 10:55 PM EDT

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four Getty Images

The Braves may be moving into a new stadium soon, but with the Phillies’ latest 25-year, $2.5 billion TV deal with Comcast SportsNet, Grant Brisbee of SB Nation argues that the Braves have more in common with the Rays than the rival Phillies, Mets, and Nationals.

Brisbee notes that in 2000, the Braves had the third-highest payroll among all 30 teams at $86 million. They stayed in the top-ten through 2006, but have had the 15th or 16th highest payroll in each of the past four seasons, hovering between $84 and $90 million. Their current TV deal, to compare to that of the Phillies, will give them between $200 and $400 million over 20 years. Even in a vain attempt to put lipstick on a pig, Braves CEO Terry McGuirk admitted the team’s TV deal is bad:

“We have a long-term, 20-year deal. It is what it is. It was a deal that we didn’t like when we saw it, when we inherited it. And we knew that in the performance of time, it would probably not be the deal that we would like to have in the marketplace to exploit…. It’s not the only lever and dial we have to pull and turn to make this thing work, and we just have to be a little bit better in a bunch of other areas. And I think we are.”

If the Braves had more payroll flexibility, they may not have lost catcher Brian McCann to free agency and they may have been able to replace Tim Hudson with someone better than Gavin Floyd. They could happily sign Freddie Freeman to a contract extension to buy out his three years of arbitration eligibility and a year or two of free agency. If they so desired, they could do the same with Kris Medlen, Craig Kimbrel, and eventually Andrelton Simmons as well. But, as McGuirk says, they will instead have to be “a little bit better in a bunch of other areas”, just like the Rays. To their credit, they certainly have been, developing a ton of Major League-quality talent over the years.

  1. xmatt0926x - Jan 4, 2014 at 11:07 PM

    I don’t think people have generally likened them to the Rays, but I think fans of the other teams in the NL East have understood that the Braves can’t be compared to the other teams in the division payroll wise. Their attendance is mediocre at best most years. There have been many articles on this blog talking about the horrific TV deal that they are locked in to.

    The average Braves fan 30 years of age or under would be amazed to remember the days of Ted Turner and his spending during the early 90’s when you could watch them on TBS every night all over the country. They seemed to get all the good players. For a time they were the closest thing the National league had to the Yankees in the American League.

    • hollyvvoodhunter - Jan 6, 2014 at 10:05 AM

      I was a former Dodger fan in the 80s as a kid, that is until Turner had them blasting on TBS and I watched more Braves games then Dodgers. I fell in love with that crew and been a fan since ’90. However The Braves seem to have the same fate as another Turner owned company….WCW.

  2. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jan 4, 2014 at 11:14 PM

    I can just see Liberty Media standing outside the stadium with a rusty metal cup. Spare change? Anyone have any spare change? We really need to build a new stadium. Our old one lost it’s new stadium smell.

  3. chill1184 - Jan 4, 2014 at 11:40 PM

    “To their credit, they certainly have been, developing a ton of Major League-quality talent over the years.”

    Which at least IMO is more important than having the big payroll. If one keeps the minor league talent pipeline going having a mid to small payroll isn’t as important. Look how well the Cardinals adjusted when Pujols left for example.

    • jjschiller - Jan 5, 2014 at 1:29 AM

      The Cardinals spent $117 million, $10m more than average and $30m more than Atlanta. When replacing a player like Pujols, it helps to be able to sign a Matt Holiday beforehand and extend your Yadier Molinas.

      I’m not accusing you here, but it baffles me that commentators always insinuate that St Louis is running on the cheap because they’re in the middle of the country, when they are an upper-third payroll most years.

    • sumkat - Jan 5, 2014 at 2:01 AM

      As important, not more important. It’s great to have those young guys coming up, but if you can’t keep them once them are in their prime, or can’t add an extra piece here or there if enough of them are ready, it makes a huge difference.

      The way to build a team is, and always will be through your farm system. But in todays MLB, the way to build a consistent winner is to have a good farm system, and be able to pony up the cash when needed

  4. schmedley69 - Jan 5, 2014 at 12:10 AM

    They don’t have Billionaire Ted and his bottomless pockets anymore and they don’t have the advantage of being on national TV and getting all of those extra viewers who were tuned to TBS to watch “Fishing with Orlando” and Andy Griffith reruns. They have to rely on their local, passionless fan base for revenue now, and their attendance and TV ratings put them in the small market category. Boo frickin’ hoo.

    • jjschiller - Jan 5, 2014 at 1:30 AM

      All that, and they still utterly outclassed your Phils.

    • genericcommenter - Jan 5, 2014 at 3:23 AM

      I guess most of the thumbs down were for the 2nd part of your comment. Just wanted to add that I became somewhat of a Braves fan (even when they were terrible) in the late 80s because of that TV exposure. It seemed like every day after school around 1988, I would come home and watch some MTV, and then do my homework while watching a Braves game. Didn’t watch much fishing. I was more of a “New Leave it to Beaver” fan. That and NWA wrestling.

      • schmedley69 - Jan 5, 2014 at 11:57 AM

        I was more of an original Leave it to Beaver guy, but I also loved the wrestling on TBS. Gordon Solie was the best.

  5. ndrick731 - Jan 5, 2014 at 1:21 AM

    If somebody actually showed up at their games they might be in a better financial position. Of course the same thing could be said for the Hawks and of the departed Thrashers and Flames. Anybody that places a team there or in Miami or Phoenix shows that they have no fiscal common sense.

    • bellweather22 - Jan 5, 2014 at 3:38 PM

      The Falcons normally do pretty well, in non 4-12 seasons. Their attendance was actually pretty good even this year. Hockey could have worked as could basketball, but the Atlanta Spirit group (owners) would rather sue one another or splash themselves across the media than figure out how to make a winning team. Their recent disappearing act is a good sign, actually.

      BTW: I think the Braves move to a new stadium site (where people actually live) will give a big boost to attendance. People hate slogging into downtown during rush hour to watch a game.

  6. DonRSD - Jan 5, 2014 at 1:29 AM


  7. jucam1 - Jan 5, 2014 at 2:34 AM

    Those Phils have won a title this century tool bag…. You can take your class and hide it in you sad little stadium with your sad little TV contract that will make you irrelevant for the next two decades…

    • liverpoolred04 - Jan 5, 2014 at 9:18 AM

      Yet with your little title in a decade, the Braves are still better than your Phils

  8. kappy32 - Jan 5, 2014 at 3:11 AM

    You said the Braves have more in common with the Rays than the Phillies, Nationals, and Mets. I must disagree with you when it comes to the Mets. Under Sandy Alderson’s direction, the Mets have looked more like the Pittsburg Mets than the New York Mets. Last I checked, NY is a baseball town & is a large market; larger than Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Atlanta, yet since Omar Minaya was fired all three aforementioned teams have consistently outspent the Mets each offseason. When Aldreson (SA) took over, I agree that there were some bad contracts on the books: Oliver Perez (3 years / $36 million); Luis Castillo (4 years / $25 million); Jason Bay (4 years / $66 million); and Johan Santana (6 years / $137.5 million). Santana’s contract only became an albatross after his torn shoulder capsule cost him a tremendous amount of time towards the end of the deal. Santana did throw the Mets first, and only, no-hitter & he was a pure bulldog down the stretch the couple years (2007 & 2008) the Mets were in contention for a playoff spot. Nevertheless, $23 million per year is a lot to pay a player to rehab in Florida, and SA inherited that deal & the others, an average annual total of $57.75 million. Very few teams can absorb that hit – paying that much for injured or underperforming players – but it shouldn’t completely cripple a team that plays in the largest market in baseball. It was clear that SA needed to clear some, if not all, of that money & he did a good job doing so. However, that money was off the books following the 2013 season. The 2013 offseason was supposed to be the time where the Mets invested money into quality players, putting a quality, contending product on the field for 2014. Unfortunately for Mets fans like myself that have watched minor leaguers play for the past 3-4 years, they didn’t do it. Despite all that money coming off the books, SA was budgeted at $80-90 million (arbitration awards & pre-arbitration raises included), and that is not a NY budget, that is a Pittsburg or Tampa Bay budget. The Mets were in dire need of at least 2 OF’s & a SS. In years past, the Mets would have targeted the top OF on the market & traded a few prospects to land a top SS. In 2013, the Mets signed Curtis Granderson & Chris Young. In 2013, the Mets let Jhonny Peralta walk to the Cards & refused to entertain any offers that included their prospects. In 2013, SA’s Mets place a higher value on unknown prospects than proven major league player(s). Recent history has shown that no matter how highly regarded they are, prospects are still unknowns. The Mets once thought the world of Lastings Milledge; they deemed Fernando Martinez & Phillip Humber “untouchable”; and they saw Mike Pelfrey as a #1, at worst a #2, starting pitcher. Matt Harvey & Zack Wheeler have come to be very good players, but that doesn’t mean that Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and Jacob deGrom are going to amount to anything more than a few #5 starters or middle relief pitchers. Now, I like the Granderson signing; I think they got a $20 million per year player at $15 million at a team-friendly 4 years. The Chris Young signing has the potential to be a steal at $7 million. In past years Granderson would have been the second signing. In past years the Mets would’ve targeted Ellsbury & not let him go to the Yankees, even if that meant overpaying him.

    Even if the Braves are moving towards a small market mentality, they’re not alone. They’re joined by their NL East buddies, the Mets. It’s sad.

    • 78mu - Jan 5, 2014 at 12:39 PM

      Santana threw a 1 hitter – it was the umpire that took away Beltran’s hit.

  9. mtr75 - Jan 5, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    There’s no team in baseball with a worse TV deal than the Mets. Thanks to the Wilpons and their Madoff-esque financial management, they get next to nothing from SNY, which because it pays so little for the TV rights makes a huge profit, which the Wiltards turn around and use to leverage SNY to the hilt. It’s a disaster, like everything the Wilpons touch.

    • Old Gator - Jan 5, 2014 at 1:08 PM

      And of course we’re still not really clear on how badly l’affiare Madoff hit the Wilpoons in the piggybank. Also, Alderson was tasked from the outset with finding ways to run off or eliminate some of the residual Minaya-era contracts and do some serious work down on the farm (“And I ain’t gunna work the Wilpoons’ farm no mowah….”). These things take time, especially considering that the mess he inherited from Minaya and the Madoff disaster left this team’s finances looking like the aftermath of the Fukushima tsunami. Alderson is a smart guy and he didn’t take this job in ignorance of the situation. Give him some time. This season? Heh, no. Next? Not likely. Let’s see what kind of stock they’re breeding meanwhile.

  10. wpjohnson - Jan 5, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    McGuirk has been with the Braves for many years so for him to say that they “inherited” the bad deal is a bit misleading at best. The braves main problems are in management. Get rid of those making the stupid deals- both financial and player trades- and the team should improve.

    • bellweather22 - Jan 5, 2014 at 3:46 PM

      Frank Wren’s free agent signings (Uggla and BJ Upton, in particular) have been disastrous. Home grown players including Medlen, Freeman, Simmons, Heyward, Kimbrel, Minor, Tehran and Gattis is where their talent lies. The trade for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson worked out, but only because Johnson had an unexpectedly productive season. But with the budget they have, they have to keep producing great home grown talent or it will unravel quickly.

      • President Charles Logan - Jan 5, 2014 at 8:18 PM

        Justin Upton has worked out?/ yeah maybe for 2 months out of the year he did. He’s feast or famine .. period. I wish both him and his brother got traded …. but nope Hank Aaron had to stomp his Racist feet and have his all African “Dream Outfield” at Turner Field each night

  11. kylewo - Jan 5, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    Clearly, they aren’t what they once were, but I think small market is a stretch. I’m also genuinely surprised by what’s going on with the attendance. Any insights into what’s going on with that?

  12. rcali - Jan 5, 2014 at 5:54 PM

    Baseball teams crying poor, always hysterical. If they would ever open up the “real” books to the public, we would all be sick seeing how much they make while claming they don’t have the money to sign quality free agents.

  13. President Charles Logan - Jan 5, 2014 at 8:15 PM

    Braves are Penny Pinching due to the fact that they are bogged down to 2 awful albatross hefty contracts right now with the BJ Upton and Dan Uggla .
    I was all for the Uggla signing years ago and Ive been really shocked and disappointed that he has not worked out ….. but I cringed when they gave that punk Upton that kind of $$ and then traded for his over rated Home Run or nothing brother .

    • Kevin S. - Jan 6, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      Now why would you have been shocked that Uggla didn’t work out? Is it because second baseman typically age so well? No, that’s not it. Is it because three-true outcomes “all-or-nothing” slugger typically age so well? Nope, not that either (and I find it hilarious that you would dismiss Justin Upton as a HR or nothing guy while not applying that to Uggla). Is it because Uggla’s white and you’ve demonstrated yourself to be a race-baiting douchehole? Dingdingding, we have a winner!

  14. jucam1 - Jan 5, 2014 at 10:51 PM

    No they’re not Dr Tool, the Phils are now a national power with a tittle this century, your cute little has been team wishes they were the Phils…. But good luck being mediocre for another 40 years

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