As I noted back in early November, the Astros were likely to exhaust all of their “cap space” and then some if they intended to retain the services of both George Springer and Michael Brantley. For a club looking to avoid exceeding the tax threshold for a second consecutive year with higher surcharges involved, the likelihood of a reunion with Springer was probably not in the cards from the start. That is why re-signing Brantley made more financial sense when viewed from the eyes of the front office. Unfortunately, the economics of a reunion with Springer was not possible based on those circumstances from the team’s mindset, although we can disagree with how clubs treat the tax threshold as a de facto “salary cap.”
Barring an unforeseen acquisition in the coming weeks, the Astros roster is pretty much set for the 2021 season. At least, it appears that way in early February with Spring Training scheduled to commence later this month. With only $14 million or so in salary space under the tax threshold, any acquisition will be more of a minor variety than anything else. The signing of Steven Souza Jr., for example, fits what James Click might try to do in the coming weeks if a fit is present. Outside Brantley’s new contract, the Astros spent the offseason looking for value on the fringes of the market. That sentiment applies to the signings of Ryne Stanek, Pedro Báez, and Jason Castro. Based on Click’s comments, the heavy lifting is probably done under the current circumstances. In other words, what we see now is what we’re going to see on Opening Day.
2021 Player Payroll
|McCullers Jr., Lance||$6,500,000|
|0-3 years players (9)||$6,300,000|
|Est. Player Benefits||$15,500,000|
|Projected 40-man CBT Payroll||$195,882,977|
|CB Tax Threshold||$210,000,000|
|Amount under threshold||$14,117,023|
(Note: Correa’s AAV figure is based on the average of two salary figures presented.)
Coming in at $195.8 million for the 2021 season, the Astros will have the fourth-largest payroll based on average annual value (AAV) in Major League Baseball. Only the Yankees ($199.3 million), Red Sox ($201.9 million), and Dodgers ($203.3 million) come in with a higher average annual value with their player salaries for the upcoming season. When Jim Crane proclaimed that they would spend at the appropriate time, he wasn’t lying. But not all of that salary will translate into production on the field as Verlander is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Or, you know, 17 percent of the payroll. That is no fault of his own, mind you, but the bitter reality of the situation. Thankfully for the Astros, there is enough young — and cheap — pitching depth to partially overcome Verlander’s loss, which we saw in effect last year.
For Click, there is enough room to add another player or two of some consequence before the season starts. Not enough for an above-average player, but perhaps a solid contributor in the bullpen or outfield. The goal is to maintain flexibility at the trade deadline as well. Correa’s upcoming arbitration case also has some bearing on the budget as there is a notable difference between the star shortstop’s figure of $12.5 million and the club’s request of $9.75 million. Once that case is resolved, the Astros will have more clarity on what they’re working with in terms of payroll flexibility.