Braves choose to spread cash around

Braves choose to spread cash around

ATLANTA -- When Braves general manager Frank Wren said he would move one of his high-salaried starting pitchers to gain the financial flexibility needed to improve his offense, some fans began to wonder which big-name slugger might be on his way to Atlanta.

Now that Wren appears to be done with his offseason roster reconstruction process, many of those same fans find themselves questioning the immediate benefits gained from sending Javier Vazquez and his $11.5 million salary to the Yankees in exchange for Melky Cabrera and two Minor League pitchers.

In addition, those fans who have summed the estimated salaries that the Braves will dish out this summer, find themselves wondering why it appears the Braves might be spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million less than they did during the 2009 season.

When asked about the 2010 payroll, Braves president John Schuerholz said it will remain the same despite that fewer fans came to Turner Field in 2009.

"It won't be diminished at all," Schuerholz said. "In the face of the economy and in the face of the downturn that we and a lot of other clubs had to deal with in terms of attendance and such, we're not backing off. We're going to continue committing all that we can in what I think is a very reasonable manner to put the club together."

Calculations of salaries provided in 2009 confirm the Braves' payroll was about $95 million. Estimated costs that will be incurred during the summer appear to rest in the neighborhood of $85 million.

Still the Braves contend that their payroll once again rests near the $90 million figure that was enhanced in 2009 with the insurance dollars they received while Tim Hudson spent the first five months of the season rehabbing from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

Without those insurance dollars this year, the Braves plan to once again work with a payroll figure that sits about $90 million. As they make their preseason projections, they assign each unsigned member of their 40-man roster a salary of at least $400,000 -- the Major League minimum.

In addition, the Braves annually save a small portion of their allocated payroll in the event that it will be needed during the season to account for injuries or provide assistance at the Trade Deadline.

"Our focus is on putting the best team together, and Frank is doing that," Schuerholz said. "Every move is a move toward strengthening the team first. We have a very clear budget plan. He knows what it is, and he's working it. He's not constrained at all. You have to be creative from time to time. Frank and his guys continue to show their ability to do that."

With Vazquez out of the picture, the Braves added three offensive pieces -- Troy Glaus ($4 million), Eric Hinske ($1.5 million) and Cabrera ($2 million) -- at a combined cost of about $7.5 million.

Instead of fortifying his lineup with one key piece, Wren chose to strengthen it by addressing multiple areas of need.

Although Cabrera provides versatility in the outfield and Hinske is a capable bat off the bench, Glaus has the potential to be a bargain if he proves healthy enough to regain the power he possessed before last summer's injury-depleted season.

Already facing questions concerning Glaus' health, the Braves also find themselves taking questions about their two bullpen additions: closer Billy Wagner and top setup man Takashi Saito.

The 38-year-old Wagner missed the first four months of the 2009 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the 39-year-old Saito is trying to prove he is still capable of being as productive as he was in his more youthful days.

Although a majority of the money saved by dealing Vazquez was aimed at strengthening the offense, the Braves also spent a portion on altering the mix at the back end of their bullpen.

The younger closer-setup man duo of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez came at a combined cost of $9.55 million. Assuming Saito exercises an expected portion of his performance-based incentives, the Wagner-Saito duo will cost at least an extra $1 million.

"It's not about blending veteran guys and young guys or high-salaried guys with low-salaried guys," Schuerholz said. "It's just about what is the best mix that we can put together for what we know that our budgeted payroll number is."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.