The Seattle Mariners went over their payroll budget in 2014 with a final tally of $107 million. At the outset of the offseason, GM Jack Zduriencik made it clear that the club wouldn’t be pulling back from that number. That sentiment was echoed by president Kevin Mather who said that the club would be doing what they could to add five or six wins to an 87-win season.
We don’t know what the M’s total salary expenditure for 2015 will be until season’s end. But, after the signing of Rickie Weeks to a one-year deal, we can estimate that total to be around the $120 million mark — at least a 10 percent increase from 2014’s total. We do know that Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano represented approximately 52 percent of Seattle’s $92 million payroll, according to the Associate Press.
With the increase in payroll for the upcoming season, and additions of several players, Seattle is looking at a much different distribution of payroll. In fact, several positions will see an increase in payroll space.
The chart on the right shows an approximation of how the Mariners will distribute their payroll this year based on a projected Opening Day roster. These are the players that are included at each position:
- SP: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker/Roenis Elias
- RP: Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Dom Leone, Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar, Carson Smith, Lucas Luetge
- C: Mike Zunino
- 1B: Logan Morrison
- 2B: Robinson Cano
- 3B: Kyle Seager
- SS: Brad Miller
- LF: Dustin Ackley
- CF: Austin Jackson
- RF: Seth Smith
- DH: Nelson Cruz
- Bench: Rickie Weeks, Jesus Sucre, Willie Bloomquist, Justin Ruggiano, Chris Taylor
The numbers shown are approximations, although now that Tom Wilhelmsen’s arbitration case is settled, we should have a pretty good idea as to what payroll will look like. For pre-arbitration guys I used a simple estimate of $500 thousand for first year, $600 thousand for second year, and $700 thousand for third year. This was done to give some separation between each service year. Typically most of these salaries will fall in the $500-to-600 thousand range depending on the team.
I also ignored the potential outfield and shortstop platoons as, for these purposes, it’s simpler to have a designated starter for each position. Right now it would make sense for Smith and Ruggiano to platoon in right field. There’s also reason to believe Miller and Taylor will platoon at shortstop though one could seize the everyday job and the other starts at Triple-A. We also don’t know how much Weeks will be able to play in the outfield yet, but it’s conceivable he could end up in a platoon with Dustin Ackley in left field.
One of Walker and Elias will take the No. 5 spot but will earn a very similar salary in 2015. Despite what may or may be going on with Bloomquist and his recovery, the assumption is that he will be on the bench. It is also unlikely the club utilizes an eight-man bullpen to start the year, but as there is an extra player on the bench factored in, I did the same with the bench. Danny Hultzen is owed $1.7 million for 2015, but he will start the year in the minors and go from there, so his salary is not included.
So, without further ado and in pie chart form, the 2015 salary distribution for the Mariners.
As we can see, the bulk of payroll is allotted to the starting rotation and second base which should not be a surprise. Felix and Cano, the team’s highest paid players, are due $24.86 million and $24 million in 2015 respectively. Seager, who signed a $100 million extension this winter, will receive just $4.5 million of it this year.
What is interesting to note though, is that Cano’s contract no longer covers one quarter of the M’s payroll. In fact, after the club’s expenditures this offseason, he represents about 19 percent of total payroll. Approximately the same goes for Felix, meaning just under 40 percent is allotted to this two players — down from about 50 percent on Opening Day 2014.
Without reading to much into this, we have proof that ownership is in fact committed to the club’s payroll. As mentioned off the top: payroll was said to be increasing, and we can clearly see that it has.
Otherwise, the payroll is fairly evenly distributed. The catching and shortstop positions make up the smallest portions of the chart with all three of Zunino, Miller, and Taylor playing as pre-arbitration guys. Again, both shortstops may or may not start the season on the big league roster.
In the following chart, we can see how the Mariners compare to the rest of the American League West in terms of payroll distribution by position.
The same caveats used for the Mariners — playing time, pre-arbitration salaries, etc. — apply for the other four teams as well. A few things that I made note of:
- The division will spend very little on the catcher position. The Los Angeles Angels Chris Iannetta is the highest paid catcher and will earn $5.53 million in 2015.
- Left field is another position with minimal expenditure across the division except for Josh Hamilton. The slugger is due $25.4 million for the season but is currently rehabbing an injured shoulder and when he will be ready is still up in the air.
- The Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics project to have the smallest payrolls in the division, but have the highest portion of payroll allotted to the bullpen. The Astros signed Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to lucrative deals this winter while the A’s acquired Tyler Clippard in a trade with the Washington Nationals.
- Based on the estimation, less than $1 million more has been spent on the rotation than the bullpen by the Athletics. With the pricey free agent acquisitions, the Astros are projected to spend more on their bullpen than rotation this year.
- The highest-paid first basemen in the division, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are both near the beginning of monster contracts that already appear to be albatrosses as both have battled significant injuries recently. The pair are expected to be healthy for Opening Day.
- After the signing of Rickie Weeks, the Mariners have the most payroll allotted to their bench — nearly double what the Astros, with the next highest amount, will spend this year.
With more than one month until Opening Day, there’s still a chance that each of these teams adds to their payroll.
*All salary information, aside from the noted pre-arbitration estimates, is from Baseball-Reference.