As I mentioned in a previous article, the Padres, despite being considered as a contender for 2014, are in a wait-and-see mode with regards to many of their players. A couple are approaching free agency, a few are extension candidates and a couple more could be cut loose after 2014 if they do not perform well. What this all adds up to is that come the end of the season, the team will have a lot of payroll flexibility.
In 2014, the team is committed to close to $90 million in payroll. You can see some of the details here at Cot's Contracts. That bottom line only adds up to $82.5 million, but if you include the likely $2 million combined that Alonso and Grandal should make plus about $500K for each player that fills out the roster it adds up to something between $88 million and $90 million. In 2015 that number drops to $32.725 million committed. In 2016 it is just $11.35 million.
That 2015 number is a little deceptive. The team does not have $50 million in flexibility. Everth Cabrera, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Alonso, Grandal, plus maybe some others will have have salaries in the millions, but do not have the exact dollars figured out yet. If you do some quick and dirty math they will take up around $20 million combined. You also will have a number of those $500K guys. Still you could see somewhere on the order of $25-30 million in payroll flexibility.
That flexibility comes at the cost hinted at in the introduction paragraph and in the previous post. Chase Headley, Josh Johnson, Chris Denorfia, Seth Smith, Nick Hundley, Tim Stauffer, Ian Kennedy and Huston Street all will or could come off the books. That is quite a talent drain and would be difficult to bounce back from. Which leads you to believe that some of the flexibility will go to keeping those players. However, given how much earning power both Headley and Johnson would have coming off good years it certainly won't be all of them. And at most would include Headley OR Johnson, but probably not both without trading other players to create additional wiggle room.
Speaking of wiggle room, the team does have some of that due to what happens after the 2015 season. It is almost inconceivable that the Padres will want Carlos Quentin follow that season, so his contract comes off the books. Benoit may prove a vital cog in the bullpen, but he will be 38 after his contract is up which is after the 2015 season as well. The Padres will also have the option to buyout Corey Luebke's deal. Will Venable will be a free agent. If Street and Kennedy are retained for 2014, then they will also reach free agency in 2015. What this means is that the Padres could be somewhat creative if they were to hand out a big multiyear contract to someone (cough, Chase Headley, cough) after the 2014 season. The team could slightly backload the deal making the first year salary lower than the other years in order to meet the 2014 payroll, but fit in easily for 2015 and beyond.
Of course, handing out big contracts decreases the payroll flexibility in future years. In order to stay competitive the team will have to rely on cheap young players to come through. The Padres have some of those that could help. Names like Rymer Liriano, Austin Hedges, Matt Wisler, Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland, Robbie Erlin, Kevin Quackenbush, Leonel Campos, Max Fried, Joe Ross and others are on the way and could be the help that would be needed. Still, the team would need some cost certainties along the way.
Signing young, talented players to contracts that buy out their arbitration years helps with providing that cost certainty. The Braves, as mentioned in the other article, are one of the teams doing that and those extensions went along with acquiring players like the Uptons who make big money as well as having to say goodbye to other expensive players like Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. This is the financial land that the teams with middle tier payrolls live and the Padres will need to adapt as they attempt to move on to that new frontier.