Entering 2017, the National League East will consist of two teams with legitimate World Series aspirations (New York Mets, Washington Nationals), two teams in the midst of rebuilds (Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies), and one team that spent $2.5 million on the world’s tackiest lawn ornament (Miami Marlins).
However, despite the wide variety of outlooks for this season, the NL East will also enter 2017 with Major League Baseball’s smallest payroll disparity.
Take a look at the current and estimated team payrolls for the upcoming season (courtesy of Baseball-Reference).
Barring any huge moves during Spring Training, the payroll for every team in the NL East projects to fall within a range of about $40 million – easily the smallest of any division in baseball.
It will also have the lowest ceiling (WSN – $154.8M) and highest floor (PHI – $113.4M) of any division.
How is this possible?
Across the league, the most competitive teams became competitive by spending handsomely to purchase/retain their players (LAD – $234.9M; BOS – $196.1M), developing a strong core of pre-arb and arbitration eligible players (CLE – $123.1M; HOU – $124.9M), or some combination of the two.
In the NL East, both of the top teams fall closer to the pre-free agency model – greatly reducing the price of their roster.
On the other end of the spectrum, most rebuilding teams have shed payroll as part of their plan (SDP – $55.2M; MIL – $67.6M).
In both Atlanta and Philadelphia, the organizations have focused on stockpiling young talent but have assumed a considerable amount of salary on short-term commitments. Each of the following players is set to make $10 million or more and is only under contract for the 2017 season.
Jeremy Hellickson ($17.2M)
Clay Buchholz ($13.5M)
Howie Kendrick ($10M)
Brandon Phillips ($14M)
Bartolo Colon ($12.5M)
Jaime Garcia ($12M)
That leaves the Marlins who only have two players making eight figures in 2017 (Giancarlo Stanton – $14.5M and Martin Prado – $11.5M) but a whole hoard of guys in the $5M-$9M range, many of whom will see pay raises in 2018.
While the NL East will likely see a broad spread when it comes to 2017 outcomes, as it stands, that can’t be blamed on any team refusing to spend money or buying their way into contention.
Scott Ferris covers the Braves as a Staff Writer for Outside Pitch MLB. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottHFerris