As I came to grips with the bizarre Randy Wolf news last night, I quoted that the Mariners payroll was around $74 million, which would be about $10 million less than last season. Then this morning the Associated Press estimated it at $92 million, which would be about $8 million more than last season. The gap begs investigation.
First of all, upon closer inspection, my $74 million estimate is way too low. I made some mistakes. I used the 2014-2019 payroll commitments at Cot's Baseball contracts, and at the bottom of the 2014 column you will find the number $73,994,643. That's the number I used. However, I realized this morning that total does not include Fernando Rodney's salary, even though he is listed in the Mariners payroll commitments. Including Rodney's salary brings the projection up to $81 million.
Additionally, payroll commitments are slightly different than the payroll. Players under team control who haven't reached arbitration are not included in the Cot's payroll commitments. All of these players earn $500,000 essentially. The Mariners have 13 players with payroll commitments so they would need 12 players making minimum salary to round out a 25-man roster. That adds another $6 million to the overall payroll, bringing the estimate up to $87 million. I should have quoted this figure, not $74 million, to begin with. My apologies.
The AP payroll estimate also includes their estimates for player salaries. I took all the Mariners they listed and added them up. The total came to $88.6 million, though it is worth noting their projection includes 29 players. Removing 4 minimum-salary players saves $2 million, which brings the M's estimated payroll to $86.6 million, which is essentially the same number I got from Cot's contract data.
Still, even with $88.6 million in player salaries, the AP estimates that the Mariners have $92 million in payroll commitments. That's a gap of $3.4 million. The article (linked to above) warns that "cash transactions and buyouts are reflected in the team payroll figures, so they will differ from the sums of player salaries," and these anonymous expenses must be what drives the gap.
Where did that money go though? The Mariners finally shed all their dead weight in salaries. Chone Figgins and his $9 million annual salary was still on the books last year. Things like that would contribute to payroll.
I've only got two guesses. Joe Saunders had a mutual option that was declined at the start of free agency. Perhaps there was a buyout included in that option. Terms of the mutual option were never public. This happened at the start of free agency and was for a 2014 contract year so perhaps the AP calculating system includes some money attached to this transaction. In addition, perhaps Franklin Gutierrez still earned some money one way or another, even though he is on the restricted list and will not earn any money during the 2014 season. These are the best ideas I can come up with.
The AP estimate still seems a bit high to me because it assumes 30 players on the active roster the entire season. Players on the DL collect salary but it seems a bit extreme to assume 5 players will be on the DL the whole season.* However, at the end of the day, arguing over DL spots is splitting hairs. Maybe it's the difference between $91 million and $92 million.
*although maybe not since it looks like the Mariners will open up the season with 5 players on the DL (Danny Hultzen, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Brandon Maurer, Stephen Pryor)
In the end the Mariners actually expanded their payroll with Robinson Cano - or maybe they expanded it for Fernando Rodney. The payroll increase over last year is almost exactly the value of his salary, and he was the last player they signed to an MLB deal. The Mariners really wanted that magic plantain of his. Maybe it's true to the blue.