What’s Gillick done this off-season? Where does the team stand? Both good questions. There’s still a ways to go before we know what this team will look like on opening day.
C: Wilson, Davis
Bench: Colbrunn, Bloomquist
Under contract: Cirillo
Arbitrartion questions: Winn, Guillen
Possible internal additions: Leone, Ugueto
Three big question marks in the lineup and a couple possibilities between them that could determine the outcome of this off-season.
Moyer, Pineiro, Meche
Arb questions: Garcia, Franklin (should he be counted on as a sure thing?)
Possible internal additions: Soriano (yay), Putz/Sweeney/many others
RHP Sasaki, Hasegawa, Mateo
Possible internal additions: Putz/Taylor/many others
If the M’s spend another million on this bullpen I’m going to scream.
But the point I want to make is that the team has a lot left to do, and while the initial signs are that Gillick’s making the same kind of choices we’ve yelled and screamed about before, there are other moves — Soriano into the rotation, for instance, swapping Franklin while his numbers are Cameron-assisted, doing a good job filling the infield — that could make this a productive off-season and produce a contender. I haven’t lost hope yet.
Thereâ€™s been some confusion about my posts here about what the Mariners are saying and what they mean, what the exact meaning of â€œbudgetâ€ and â€œpayrollâ€ are, and whether the Mâ€™s are really lying or just shifting their words around. So Iâ€™d like to go into detail on where exactly the issues are, on my particular disputes with the Mariners.
Part of the problem is that the local press and the Mariners have used both interchangeably at times. But we’ll get to that.
The Mariners Opening Day payroll was $86.9 m, as commonly defined as â€œsalaries plus pro-rated signing bonuses.â€ Even as early as November 2002, Howard Lincoln was pushing the team’s payroll, saying “We’re actually up $2 million to $92 million.”
The big piece I’m going to focus on this April 4th article by Bob Finnegan in the Seattle Times, where he puts out the team’s view (he is not alone in this, though, there are other references to this breakdown). First, though, a note about how payroll v. budget gets confused: “With reliever Giovanni Carrara signing for some $400,000 plus incentives, the Mariners pushed their payroll to $95.85 million, well beyond their original budget of $92 million.”
But you’ll see that this magical $96m figure isn’t true payroll in any sense. But onwards. The article includes includes a handy chart, which I’ll clip down a little:
Mariners’ 2003 payroll
Kazu Sasaki $8.5 million
Ichiro $6 million ($3M base)
Edgar Martinez $6 million ($4M base)
Gil Meche $375,000
Willie Bloomquist $300,000
Julio Mateo $300,000
Total salaries: $88.25 million
Buyouts: $2.1 million
Contingencies: $2.5 million
Pro-rated signing bonuses: $3.0 million
Total: $95.85 million
Ignore, for a minute, that there are discrepancies here compared to commonly-available salary information, and assume these are all correct. Iâ€™ll come back to the differences in a minute.
Please note already that you canâ€™t count Mâ€™s payroll as $92m. You have a couple of choices:
Commonly-calculated: $87 to $88m
Payroll including buyouts, signing bonuses for salary cap purposes: $93.35 (using Mâ€™s math from above)
Wacky Math Mâ€™s Payroll including Contingency Funds: $95.85m
We can see the Mariners count contingencies and buyouts against â€œpayrollâ€ even as the bonuses for Ichiro and Martinez are included in their salary numbers there. This makes this hard to compare already: they stick that $5m (and more) into salary, and pull the $3m in signing bonuses out as if theyâ€™re not salary.
Thereâ€™s my big argument â€“ thatâ€™s $5m+ to the Mariners when they argue straight, strict, common-definition payroll: they would say that salaries plus rated signing bonuses came to $91.25m or thereabouts, when everyone else would (and did) calculate the teamâ€™s number as much lower, at about $87m. This is the basic deception I get worked up about: at every turn, the Mariners talked about their payroll as being $92m, and got everyone else to do it â€“ Finnegan only a month later tosses it off casually while comparing them to the Devil Rays:
Tampa Bay has now dropped five players from its Opening Day team, including four pitchers. What is left is a $14 million payroll (Seattle’s is more than $92 million), with only a handful of players making more than minimum salary, including all the pitchers.
Here heâ€™s comparing Tampa Bayâ€™s low, normally-calculated payroll against the Mâ€™s inflated include-everything payroll (which still again, doesnâ€™t equal $92m)
Now on the buyouts â€“ the CBA counts buyouts against payroll (this is Article XXIII, 5(b)) (though theyâ€™re to be counted as â€˜signing bonusesâ€™ thatâ€™s just terminology). So for the moment, Iâ€™ll figure they indeed spent $2.1m on buyouts, and call that good.
But contingencies? Who counts money you havenâ€™t spent yet as a contingency? Plus, the Mâ€™s said that Garciaâ€™s arbitration win had wiped out their contingency fund, that there was no money there, zero, there would be no acquisitions that cost the team money (and there werenâ€™t) and they probably said that if anything happened like too many players making the All Star team, triggering contract incentives, that all the players would be marched down to the plasma center to sell blood, and their subsequent woozy performance would all be Freddyâ€™s fault.
Plus, the team claimed the contingency budget was $2.5m before Freddyâ€™s arb win. Howard Lincoln said after they lost to Garcia: â€œ”We budget for these things. The contingency fund will cover it, but it (the fund) will be smaller as a result.â€ After the win though, they still calculated contingencies as the full, once-announced $2.5m.
Say you figure they went back and found that money under the couch cushion. You still canâ€™t count that as money youâ€™re spending. Say I have $1,000 in my checking account and I decide to spend it on a computer. I put one together for $500, and it ends up meeting all my needs, so I donâ€™t spend that last $500. Instead, I spend it on beer. Am I lying if I say I spent $1,000 on my computer? Would the IRS allow me do depreciate a $1,000 computer? That $2.5 million is not payroll money. If you believe everything the team feeds you up to that point, you still have to draw the line there, and then theyâ€™ve stopped at $93.35m total payroll expenditure.
You may have thought just there that there are other bonuses not included in that table, that may push it up. And I say, no. The salaries listed in the times are consistently higher than those found at outside sources, and we can only assume that as with Edgar and Ichiro, the difference is because the Times chart includes possible bonuses (Sasaki, for instance, is listed there at $8.5m, but other sources have his salary at $8m, down to Meche, who is $375k v $325k).
And I understand that this is annoying nitpicking, and that few people out there care whether the Mariners are subverting common definitions of terms because it makes them look good â€“ I mean, I must be the only person who cares that by swapping in bonuses into salaries and holding out signing bonuses, theyâ€™re tweaking the way we compare their payroll to other teamsâ€™ payroll when we go to ESPN.com and look at the salary tables.
Mentions of $92 million payroll in the Seattle Times:
4/16/2003, Larry Stone
7/22/2003, Bob Finnegan, â€œPayroll already over $92 millionâ€
9/19/2003, Larry Stone , “The A’s, whose $50 million payroll is just over half of Seattle’s $92 million, are baseball’s biggest overachievers”
But! Redemption! Sort of!
On July 22nd, the Associated Press obtained (and released) the luxury-tax figures for teams, and the Mâ€™s had â€“ abracadabra â€“ a $92,268,063 payroll. And that was the CBA-calculated one or, as the AP article put it,
Payrolls are based on the average annual values of contracts, $7.6 million per team in benefits, money paid or received in trades and salary owed to released players.
So! Using a definition totally different than the one the Mâ€™s put forth, one instead spots the Mariners $7.6m in benefits, the salaries happened to come out to exactly what the team was pushing and the local guys were reporting. Now maybe, youâ€™re thinking, the reporters ran these articles with the $92m and what they really were refering to was the CBA number, even though theyâ€™d published articles (like Finneganâ€™s early one there) that calculated payroll entirely differently. Nope.
When they were reporting, every time they quoted another teamâ€™s payroll, they didnâ€™t quote the CBA-calculated figures for other teams: for instance, in the Tampa reference, they compare a pared-down $14m (which should, for CBA purposes, be much higher because it includes buyouts and benefits — $22m, at least) to the Mâ€™s $92m. Either the papers consistently compared one method that came up with high numbers to another that came up with low ones â€“ apples to oranges, if you would â€“ or they compared apples to what the team told them was an apple. And how could anyone have known with any certainty what that CBA number would be back in November? Why bother pushing the stories including contingency funds to the papers?
Either way, the papers screwed up hugely. The Mariners came out with a story at the end of last season: their payroll was $92 million, and they stuck to it. I don’t think you can find a quote where Lincoln or Armstrong or Gillick referred to the payroll as the commonly-calculated ~$88-8m, it was always the higher figures. Eventually the figure stuck, and everyone used it, no matter that it didnâ€™t make sense, that it wasnâ€™t what the payroll was, and certainly not what everyone else calculates payroll as. And at best, our local media was lazy in not using the same methods to compare the payrolls of teams, making the Mariners seem far more generous and spendy than they were, and at worst, they were complicit in pushing the team line in doing so.
For the Mariners, the best way to see this is that they wanted to push as high a figure as possible, and people bought it. And while some might argue you can’t blame them for trying, I think that’s wrong. The team can argue they’re investing in the team without confusing people about how much they’re spending, or by playing wacky games with funds they haven’t (and didn’t) actually spend.