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Between the Bottom Lines: The 2011 Payroll and Its Discontents

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I can't imagine this is even possible, but if you missed the FayChat today, the Reds beat reporter for Cincinnati's Paper of Record speculated, among other things, that the club will go with Janish as the "everyday guy" next season, Cairo will likely return and payroll might reach $80MM.  But despite that spike in bank, Fay still thinks the money is "going to be tight." And not tight like "tight jumpsuit, Allan." Tight as in, "don't forget, this is the Reds."

At first blush, the austerity seems counter-intuitive. The Reds are coming off a successful year in which they increased attendance, reached the playoffs and have at least one major contract coming off the books in Aaron Harang. But on further reflection and armchair number-crushing, I realize that Dr. Fay's prognosis is probably correct.

With reasonable estimates for what Bruce, Cueto, Volquez and Votto might earn in arbitration and/or contract extensions, plus assigning basically league minimum for the rest of the pre-arbitration roster (with Yonder and Chapman as notable exceptions), I've got the Reds down for nearly $85MM if they pick up Arroyo and Gomes' options, decline Cabrera's, sign Hernandez for $4MM, Rhodes for $2.5MM and do nothing else in the way of getting outside help.

Keep in mind that this is a rough estimate and represents both money for which the Reds are definitely on the hook next year like the salaries of Cordero and Phillips, but also my somewhat educated guesses as to the salaries of both the arbitration-eligible players, Rhodes and Hernandez ($6.5MM for both these guys is aiming a little high). I didn't weigh any hypothetical trades, but the only remotely possible trades that would actually clear a significant amount of salary anyway would be of Rolen, Phillips, Arroyo or Cordero. With the exception of Arroyo, those all seem like very remote possibilities.

Which brings us to the subject of Arroyo, who represents by far the largest salary over which the Reds have any meaningful discretion. Arroyo has an $11MM option, which by all accounts is actually a $13MM option, given the innings he logged in 2010. His buyout is $2MM. So keeping Arroyo means deciding to add $11MM in additional salary to the payroll. Can the Reds afford this? They've given every indication that they intend to pick up the option, so I assume they've at least whipped out the abaci to see if it's possible.

The picture changes considerably if the Reds let Gomes and Hernandez walk. That could allow the club to sign Arroyo and field a payroll of less than $80MM, perhaps as low as $78MM. Which could provide enough space to swing a mid-level trade or signing to fill a gap. The burden under this scenario, of course, would be to replace the production of Hernandez and Gomes with some combination of signings, trades and/or in-house talent such that you're getting a better return next season than you would have by just keeping the band together.

Would going with Hanigan and Mesoraco at catcher and singing a Brad Hawpe to help out in LF increase the Reds' playoff chances? Until we know more about the Reds spending power, this is about the upper limit for what fans can expect in terms of hot stove excitement.

Adding Arroyo to the list of castaways would blow things open entirely. I'd put the Reds in the $65-70MM range if they let Gomes, Hernandez, Cabrera and Arroyo walk. This would be an ill-advised clubhouse move, and I don't think that's at all a negligible consideration. These are four veterans who seem to be pillars in the locker-room integral to the team chemistry. And they're four players that most fans seem to like.. Cabrera's post-no-no ump-baiting notwithstanding, these are some dynamic personalities that contributed positively to last year's run. Arroyo represents inning-eating stability, while Hernandez knows the young pitching staff well and remains and offensively and defensively productive catcher.

GMs can be loath to mess with a winner, especially if they have an strong manager who testifies to certain intangibles. But the Reds could make some noise with $15MM of payroll space. If you think guys Heisey, Frazier, Janish, Mesoraco and the young arms, earning mostly league minimum, could absorb much of the loss, then that extra cash in hand starts to look pretty appealing. Like millions of dollars.

I'll "show my work" at a later date when this is a little less speculative. But even if the $85MM figure is off the mark, I think it's clear that, taken with the arbitration raises, re-inking Arroyo severely limits the Reds ability to do anything this off-season other than make a few minor league or low-end signings or a Robert Manuel for Wlad Balentien-style trade.