There is always a mathematics lesson to the budget of a sports team. The dollars are finite, and there are restrictive rules in place for fairness and parity in MLB’s collective bargaining agreement. The Nationals have been spending above their means for years now. They are near the bottom of TV revenue in terms of regional TV annual rights fees for their cut for MASN broadcasting their games, and they are continually passed in deals by smaller market teams including more recently the Phillies, Cardinals, Padres, and even the Tampa Bay Rays have a new deal. While the Braves complain about their TV deal, they still make more than the Nats plus they have a lucrative stadium naming rights deal with SunTrust Bank and a booming baseball district where they are pocketing large revenues.
For the past two seasons the Washington Nationals exceeded the CBT (competitive balance tax) cap and outspent the largest market teams including the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs. Sources have told us that the Washington Nationals plan on getting below the 2019 CBT cap this year which is $206 million. This comes at a time when Bryce Harper is weeks away from free agency.
The Nats off-season spending could hinge on Bryce Harper’s decision, and a few Nationals players under team control could be moved in cost-cutting measures. We are projecting the payroll at $153 million based on the players currently under team control. Further we expect the Nationals will not spend up to the $206 million in the off-season as they will give themselves a cushion in case they add players during the season.
The math says the Nationals are $57 million under the $206 million cap but certainly more than half of that amount could go to Bryce Harper if he re-signs with the team. Reasonably the Nats might only spend to $196 million to leave a buffer for mid-season acquistions which would give them $47 million to spend this off-season. If they keep Harper, they will almost certainly have to cut payroll by non-tendering or trading players as they must upgrade their starting rotation and add a frontline catcher as general manager Mike Rizzo detailed as their top priorities.
In order to keep Harper, do you really trade Adam Eaton as some people are speculating? Similarly, there could be some tough decisions to be made with veterans like Tanner Roark and Michael Taylor. Eaton is due a big raise in 2019 to $8.4 million but according to Cot’s Baseball his AAV is only $4.7 million so if you trade him you are saving over $8 million in cashflow, but for CBT purposes you are not even saving the equivalent of what you would pay for a good lefty first baseman bench bat these days. If you keep Harper, tough decision will need to be made. Sometimes they say, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!”