Bill Shanks

Can the Braves keep up with the Phillies?

The new deal Cole Hamels is getting from Philadelphia brings up the big elephant in the room again. Can the Braves compete with a team in its own division that has the ability to make those types of financial commitments?

It’s also relevant because the Braves are trying to acquire their own ace pitcher, as talks with Milwaukee about Zack Greinke are expected to escalate with Ryan Dempster preferring to pitch for the Dodgers. The Braves know they need at least one young pitcher they can commit long-term to that can be a top of the rotation starter.

But that’s just one pitcher. The Phillies have long-term, expensive contracts with three outstanding starting pitchers.

Roy Halladay is locked up for 2013 at $20 million and there is an option for 2014 at the same amount. Cliff Lee will be paid $25 million in each of the next three years, and there’s a club option for 2016 at $27.5 million. Now Hamels will be paid $144 million over the next six years.

That’s a commitment of $286.5 million for three players.

The Braves are fortunate to have a ton of money coming off the books after this season, so the time is now to make a commitment to a young pitcher that can lead the staff for the next five or six years.

But if they lock up Greinke, or a pitcher like him, to a deal near $20 million dollars, will they be able to afford the rest of the roster if Liberty Media continues to keep the payroll between $90-$100 million?

The problem, of course, is the pending decisions on Michael Bourn and Brian McCann. Bourn is having an outstanding season, and he’s going to command huge money once he hits free agency. We already know the Nationals are planning to make a big push for Bourn, and with Shane Victorino likely leaving as a free agent, the Phillies could be after Bourn to be his replacement.

So can the Braves afford to give Bourn $12 million per season, if they also give someone like Greinke $20 million a year? It might be tough.

Then you have McCann, who has an option for next season but will certainly want some resolution to his long-term future this winter. We all know what Yadier Molina got from St. Louis ($15 mil per season), and with McCann rebounding this month, he’ll be in position to ask for as much or more than the Cardinals’ catcher.

Could McCann get $15 million, Bourn get $12 million and Greinke get $20 million? That’s $47 million per season for three players. That’s literally half the current payroll for three players.

Philadelphia is able to lock up Hamels because they sell out Citizen’s Bank Park almost every night and they are not locked into a bad television contract like Atlanta. But it’s still amazing the difference in what the Phillies are able to do compared to the Braves’ limited flexibility.

Ten years ago, the Phillies had a payroll of almost $58 million dollars. This year, the payroll is $172 million.

Atlanta’s payroll in 2002 was $93,470,367. This year it is $93,529,667. That’s an increase of $593.00.

Wow. Thanks a lot Liberty Media.

What doesn’t make sense is if Liberty is going to sell the Braves at any point in the next five to 10 years, it behooves the company to make investments to ensure the Braves can stay competitive with Philadelphia. Therefore, you would think even a 15% increase in the team payroll would be logical to ask for from Braves’ management.

But evidently, Liberty doesn’t care enough to see it that way. It’s not like they can react to what the Phillies are doing by giving the Braves more financial resources.

And sure, the Phillies have a huge payroll this year and are struggling, which proves that high payrolls do not guarantee success. But we know the injuries the Phillies have had this year, and this is their first bump in the road in the last decade.

The deal they gave to Hamels is trying to help ensure the Phillies can remain competitive in the National League. They know he’s a young pitcher that can be the core of the rotation for the next six years. It was an investment.

Can the Braves make similar investments? They may be able to make one, but will Liberty loosen the purse strings so that more talent can remain on this Atlanta roster? Braves fans can’t wait to find out the answer.

 

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com .  Follow Bill on twitter @BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com .

 

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