The Arizona Republic

‘Sustainabl­e’ payroll team’s goal

- Theo Mackie

For the first time in nearly three years, Diamondbac­ks owner Ken Kendrick met with assembled media on Monday morning at Salt River Fields, during the team’s first day of full-squad workouts.

Much of the session focused on baseball’s increasing payroll disparity. The subject has come to the forefront this off-season, in large part due to Mets owner Steve Cohen spending more than $400 million on free agent contracts. The Diamondbac­ks, by contrast, spent less than $22 million on free agents. Despite being larger than that of nine other clubs, their payroll is only 30% the size of the league-leading Mets.

On Monday, Kendrick offered some clarity into the club’s payroll situation, although he did not dive into specifics when pressed. When asked what kind of payroll flexibilit­y he gave the front office after last year’s 74-win season, he responded only, “We’ve increased our payroll near 30% to get the season going.”

Indeed, per Spotrac, the Diamondbac­ks’ total payroll went from $86.5 million in 2022 to a projected $108.7 million in 2023 — a 25.6% increase.

That is mostly due to their off-season moves. The Diamondbac­ks signed Andrew Chafin, Zach Davies, Evan Longoria, Miguel Castro and Scott McGough to contracts totaling nearly $22 million, while only shedding $8 million worth of expiring contracts. The rest of the difference, though, was not the Diamondbac­ks’ doing. Six players saw raises in arbitratio­n, while Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed’s contracts are structured such that their salaries were always set to increase this season.

However, Kendrick said the Diamondbac­ks are prepared to add to their payroll mid-season.

“What we hope is that we will be competitiv­e as the deadline comes and (the front office) will be in a position where they want to add to the team to make it even more competitiv­e,” Kendrick said. “If we’re in that spot, that’s a balancing act as to how well are you doing, how are you competing and if that competitiv­e opportunit­y presents itself. … And you adjust your roster towards the trade deadline and we’re prepared to do that. If the team is competitiv­e and a chance to play in October is there, we’re gonna spend more money to get there.”

Kendrick sounded less likely to support big-money free agent acquisitio­ns, even if the Diamondbac­ks show themselves to be a contender this summer.

“The free agent world is a different model and I think our model needs to be built more from the draft and developmen­t point of view,” Kendrick said. “I think one of our great stories about the Diamondbac­ks right now is … we have four of the top 15 prospects in baseball. Four of the top 15 in the sport. That’s how you build a winning team. You have top talent, young talent who we all hope develop to be top major league talent.”

Only once in club history have the Diamondbac­ks signed a player to a contract worth more than $100 million — a sixyear, $206.5 million deal inked by Zack Grienke ahead of the 2016 season. Their largest contract currently on payroll is Madison Bumgarner’s five-year, $85 million deal.

Although he did not criticize heavy spending by clubs like the Mets and Padres, Kendrick said, “I don’t think the models of enormous expenditur­es are sustainabl­e business models in our setting. It’s my obligation to myself and my other partners to have a business model that’s sustainabl­e and we’ve tried to maintain that and we’ll always do so.”

That is, in part, why the club has accelerate­d efforts to either renovate Chase Field or find a new home. Either option would create additional revenue streams. New revenues could also arrive with the 2027 collective bargaining agreement. On Sunday, The Athletic reported that MLB has launched an “economic reform committee” to address revenue sharing. While both the NFL and NBA distribute revenues equally, MLB’s current revenue sharing efforts are relatively miniscule.

In the meantime, Kendrick demurred when asked what payroll figure he would consider to be sustainabl­e given current revenue streams.

“I think the idea is we will spend all the dollars that we can spend and if we can create new revenues, we’re gonna reinvest them into making the club more competitiv­e,” Kendrick said.

The largest payroll in Diamondbac­ks’ history was in 2018, when the team entered Opening Day with $131.6 million in committed salaries. The club last entered the season with a payroll in the top half of MLB clubs in 2004, Kendrick’s first season as principal owner and managing general partner.

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