3. What does the payroll look like for 2008?

The Braves are now owned by Liberty Media, so will that mean the purse strings are loosened just a bit to give John Schuerholz some flexibiliy?

This is one of the most interesting questions we'll tackle, but there will be no way to know the exact answer. Don't expect General Manager John Schuerholz to have a press conference announcing what the payroll limit will be next season, so we'll have to instead gauge what is possible and wait to see the results of the activity this winter.

Let's first look at what is on the book for next year.

Player - 2008 Salary
Tim Hudson - 15,000,000
John Smoltz - 14,000,000
Chipper Jones - 11,000,000
Mike Hampton - 8,250,000
Edgar Renteria - 6,000,000
Brian McCann - 800,000
TOTAL (6 players) - 55,050,000
Notes: Those six players made a total of $41,750,000 in 2007. So that's an increase of 13,300,000 - which is almost the amount made by departing free agent Andruw Jones.

Player - Projected 2008 Salary -- 2007 Salary
Mark Teixeira - 12,000,000 -- 9,000,000
Mike Gonzalez - 3,000,000 -- 2,350,000
Rafael Soriano - 2,500,000 -- 1,200,00
Oscar Villarreal - 1,000,000 -- 860,000
Tyler Yates - 650,000 -- 412,500
Lance Cormier - 600,000 -- 405,0000
Pete Orr - 425,000 -- 400,000
Willie Harris - 550,000 -- 400,000
TOTAL ARBITRATION PROJECTION (8 players) -- 20,725,000

Player - Projected 2008 Salary -- 2007 Salary
Jeff Francoeur - 600,000 -- 427,500
Chad Paronto - 425,000 -- 420,000
Buddy Carlyle - 450,000 -- 400,000
Corky Miller - 395,000 -- 380,000
Chuck James - 425,000 -- 397,500
Matt Diaz - 425,000 -- 395,000
Yunel Escobar - 400,000 -- 380,000
Kelly Johnson - 425,000 -- 380,000
Peter Moylan - 400,000 -- 380,000
Willy Aybar - 390,000 -- 380,000
Manny Acosta -390,000 -- 380,000
Jeff Bennett - 390,000 -- 380,000
Blaine Boyer - 390,000 -- 380,000
Joey Devine - 390,000 -- 380,000
Brayan Pena - 390,000 -- 380,000
Martin Prado - 390,000 -- 380,000
Jo Jo Reyes - 390,000 -- 380,000
Royce Ring - 395,000 -- 380,000
Scott Thorman - 395,000 - 380,000

Player - Option - 2007 Salary
Octavio Dotel - 5,500,000(m) - 5,000,000
Note: Dotel can pick up that option, but if he does the Braves have the option of voiding the contract.

Player - 2007 Salary
Andruw Jones - 14,500,000
Bob Wickman - 6,500,000
Ron Mahay - 1,200,000
Julio Franco - 1,150,000
Chris Woodward - 850,000
TOTAL - 24,200,000

The long process of selling the Braves is finally over, and Liberty Media now has the keys to the Braves' vault. But since there has been no press conference with any Liberty executive, it does prove that President Terry McGuirk is, in fact, in charge of setting the payroll for the team.

Liberty cannot, and from all accounts does not want to lower the payroll. Therefore, the only question is how much the payroll will increase. Will it go from the low-$80-million dollar range to around $100 million, which is where is was before Time Warner stopped caring five years ago? Or will there simply be a moderate increase dependent on the needs of the team and the ability of John Schuerholz to make some moves?

It's probably best to assume the payroll will be closer to $90 million instead of $100 million. That's a moderate increase and enough to show a commitment yet not going overboard. While the fans would prefer a more extreme increase, it's best to be surprised by such a change instead of expecting one.

Now on the surface it looks like you could just subtract the $24.2 million from the free agents that are leaving the Braves from the 2007 payroll and know the amount Schuerholz will have to work with. And then on top of that adding the additional funds in a potential increase in the budget. However, the first group of players above shows a dramatic increase in the money going to the veteran players next season. The increase of $13.3 million with those players almost cancels out the loss of Andruw Jones' salary.

So then you can say that there is still close to $10 million dollars from the other free agents that are departing, and then the additional increase in the payroll. But the increases add up, and it's just not that dramatic. In fact, the salary of Andruw Jones is pretty much negated by the addition of Mark Teixeira salary. Then add to that the increases in the guaranteed contracts for next year and there's not as much flexibility as you might have first believed.

Let's take a look at a sample roster and the projected salaries, just to take a look at what might be possible.

Hudson - $15,000,000
Smoltz - $14,000,000
Hampton - $8,250,000
James - $425,000
Carlyle - $450,000

Gonzalez - $3,000,000
Soriano - $2,500,000
Moylan - $400,000
Ring - $395,000
Yates - $650,000
Villarreal – $1,000,000
Cormier - $600,000
Acosta - $390,000
Boyer - $390,000

McCann - $800,000

Teixeira – $12,000,000
Johnson - $425,000
Renteria - $6,000,000
Jones – $11,000,000
Escobar - $400,000
Orr - $425,000
Thorman - $395,000

Francoeur - $600,000
Diaz - $425,000
Harris - $550,000

The total for this sample roster is: $80,470,000.00

So if the Braves are going on anything like this sample roster, they will have approximately $9.5 million to deal with if the payroll is set at $90 million and $19.5 million to play with if the budget is closer to $100 million.

Of course, a trade involving Edgar Renteria and his $6 million dollar salary could provide additional flexibility, since his potential replacement Yunel Escobar would be making near the league minimum next season. Of course, the player acquired for Renteria could have somewhat of a salary, but for instance if it's a pitcher making $9 million dollars that would be an increase of only $3 million to the payroll.

And now you see why there was no way in the world Andruw Jones was returning next season to the Atlanta Braves. Even a salary at the amount he made in 2007 would have killed any flexibility for Schuerholz, even if the payroll was at $100 million next season.

The free agent market for starting pitchers, the Braves' biggest area of need, is thin. There does not seem to be a pitcher available on the free agent market that could command an outrageous salary.

The Braves could approach the free agent market, in looking for both another starter and perhaps a replacement for Andruw Jones, with the thought of simply 'splitting' Jones's $14.5 million dollar salary from 2007 between those two areas of need. That might attract both a pitcher (perhaps Tom Glavine?) and an outfielder (Mike Cameron?) at the combined price of what Jones made last season.

So we're dealing with an unknown quantity right now. We don't know, and who knows maybe John Schuerholz doesn't know either, where the payroll will be at next season. We might only know when we see the potential salaries add up this winter.

There is flexibility, but it's just unclear as to how much flexibility Schuerholz will have to improve this Atlanta roster.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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