“There are rich teams, and there are poor teams. Then there’s 50 feet of crap. And then there’s us.”
That’s the famous line from Moneyball, spoken by Brad Pitt playing Billy Beane, illustrating the meager size of the Oakland A’s payroll two decades ago. It’s still as true now as it was then, but pretty soon we’ll need to include another layer above us, as an individual player on another club is getting close to earning more than the A’s entire roster.
When Oakland traded Sean Manaea to the Padres on Sunday, they also shed his nearly $10 million salary. They had already slashed their budget toward the bottom of the league, between a ton of free agent losses and a few other star-for-prospects swaps, and now another significant chunk is gone.
Before the Manaea deal, the payroll was sitting around $54 million, give or take depending which details you wanted to include. Now it’s down as low as $44 million.
The highest-paid player in the majors, pitcher Max Scherzer of the New York Mets, will get $43.3 million this season.
The A’s barely avoided being passed by Scherzer’s salary alone, but it’s close, especially if you strictly consider the actual players on the 2022 team. Let’s take a closer look!
First up is the 26-man roster.
SS Elvis Andrus – $14.25m
OF Stephen Piscotty – $7.583m
RHP Frankie Montas – $5.025m
RHP Lou Trivino – $3.0m
UT Chad Pinder – $2.725m
OF Ramon Laureano – $2.45m
2B Tony Kemp – $2.25m
IF Jed Lowrie – $0.85m
C Stephen Vogt – $0.85m
RHP Deolis Guerra – $0.815m
16 more minimum salary spots – $11.2m
Add up that list, and remove the $7.25 million they’re getting from the Rangers to offset some of Andrus’ salary, and you get to around $43.75 million.
Then there are details. Laureano is suspended for the first 27 games, and that will cost him around $385,000. But his minimum-salary replacement will get a little over $100,000 to fill in during that time.
Guerra will begin the year on the injured list, and with the keywords forearm strain and surgery, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s out for the season. If he spends all summer on the IL, then his salary stays on the books and then add another $700,000 minimum-salary spot to replace him. And so on.
But leaving all that aside, and just working with the basic $43.75 million, there are still a few more debts to settle with players who are no longer on the team. The A’s owe buyouts on contract options for relievers Jake Diekman ($0.75m) and Andrew Chafin ($0.5m), which would take the total up to more like $45 million. They also owe $5 million in deferred money to reliever Trevor Rosenthal, as part of his 2021 salary, so if you want to count that then they’re really at $50 million.
That’s still an embarrassingly low number either way, and the dead money doesn’t help the team at all moving forward, but those are the gory specifics if you’re curious. The Opening Day payroll is somewhere between $43.75 million to $50 million, depending who you ask.
The nicest thing you can say is that at least it’s still above the highest-paid players. After Scherzer, the next names on the list are in the $35-37 million range, including Mike Trout (Angels), Anthony Rendon (Angels), Gerrit Cole (Yankees), Stephen Strasburg (Nationals), and also Corey Seager (Rangers) if you count his signing bonus this year, or Jacob deGrom (Mets) if you prorate the signing bonus across the deal.
Amazingly, Oakland still doesn’t have the lowest payroll in the league. That distinction currently belongs to the Pirates ($36.8m), and next are the Orioles ($41.2m), and Scherzer does have both of them beat. The A’s rank 28th out of the 30 teams.
But there’s one final historical comparison that really drives home how cheap the team has gotten. Back in 2002, when Pitt/Beane spoke of the 50 feet of crap, the tiny Oakland payroll he was referring to was $40 million. Two decades later, it’s down to pretty much the same number. If you use the basic $44 million total, then it’s the least they’ve spent in a full season since that 2002 club, beating out their $47 million from 2008.
They’re not lower than an individual player quite yet, but maybe we’d better update the quote to 100 feet of crap.