What Will the 2011 Payroll Be?

I’ve been trying to put the finishing touches on my 2011 plan, which I’d hoped to run this week but now might push to Monday, and one of the biggest hang-ups is not being sure how much money the club will actually be able to spend on payroll. Thanks to the divorce atrocity, that’s not something anyone seems to be able to guess, including Ned Colletti, if you believe the quotes in T.J. Simers’ story:

Colletti said he doesn’t have an answer from Frank McCourt on how much money, if any, will be available this off-season to improve the team.

The Dodgers have exclusive rights to negotiate with seven players before free agency begins. But he said those talks depend on what he has to spend and he doesn’t know that answer.

I think most fans are terrified that the payroll will be on the level of something you’d see from the Pirates or Marlins, and while that level of cost-cutting seems unlikely, their concerns are more than justified. Let’s take a look at what might really happen.

According to the excellent Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Opening Day payroll the last two seasons was $100.4m (2009) and $102.0m (2010). That includes all the “dead money” from corpses like Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, and the like. Of course, the payroll certainly changes from April 1 to the end of the season based on trades and attained incentives; according to True Blue LA, the end-of-season numbers were $110.2m (2009) and $99.7m (2010).

That’s obviously not headed in the right direction, and fears are further fueled by revelations that have come out of the divorce case, including claims that Frank McCourt is completely cash-poor and that some financial documents claimed that his long-term plan was to keep the payroll low through 2018.

However, 2010 was a complete disaster, both on the field and off. If Frank plans on keeping the team, the only way to even contemplate rebuilding his image is to put out a winner, and decreasing the payroll while risking another losing season isn’t the way to do that. Similarly, if the outcome of the case is a sale of the team, a losing team would hardly have the market value that a winning team would.

We’ve also heard snippets from writers who think that there may be money to spend. ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned that…

I’ve heard that the Dodgers should have more payroll flexibility than last winter, when they were completely locked down.

ESPN LA’s Tony Jackson said something similar, saying…

It is going to take more than the money owner Frank McCourt put into this year’s payroll to turn this thing around. There are strong indications McCourt will increase that figure, although it isn’t clear by how much.

Of course, we’re dealing in complete unknowns here. Personally, I think a total teardown to a level below $80m, which I know many are worried about, is almost certainly not going to happen. But if you can’t get above $100m and spend some real money, is it worth it to try to build a team that may only be slightly better in 2011?

Let’s hear your thoughts. (Note: I’m including the $17m or so in 2011 “dead money” here.)

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  1. [...] results from the 2011 Payroll question: 22.85% of you think the payroll will be under $90m, beating out the 20.97% who said [...]

  2. [...] idea. Many think that the payroll could be cut drastically as the divorce case plays out, yet some (including Tony Jackson and Buster Olney) think there might be more to play with as Frank McCourt tries to repair his image. So for this [...]

  3. [...] idea. Many think that the payroll could be cut drastically as the divorce case plays out, yet some (including Tony Jackson and Buster Olney) think there might be more to play with as Frank McCourt tries to repair his image. So for this [...]

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