The Norfolk Sharks budget for 2018 is at $120 million, putting themselves not only their fellow 2012 expansion teams, but four other Bull League teams: Detroit, Denver, Kingston and Toronto.
Though the budget was cut by $2 million from last year, it marks the first time that four older teams had their budgets outmatched by an expansion team. Previously, only small-market Detroit (which relocated from small-market Chicoutimi) had a budget smaller than Norfolk’s.
The numbers tell a story not only of Norfolk’s recent successes – four consecutive seasons above .500 – but also of the harsh effects of overspending on big contracts by larger market teams like Toronto.
The Nomads 2017 budget was $140 million, and for this year is has been slashed to $116 million, it’s lowest in at least a decade. Toronto has now completed seven consecutive seasons under .500, and the results have not justified their high payroll, which includes high priced pitching such as Knuckles Malone and Alex Medina, nor nearly $20 million spent on catchers.
While the Sharks have been in deficit spending for the past two seasons, there is ample justification for it. Attendance numbers were on an upward trend, even before the extended 100-game schedule begun last year, and many of their most talented players are favorable contracts, like last year’s MVP, Danny Sanchez, who has done amazingly well for Norfolk since signing as a free agent out of Montreal.
Sanchez has a slash line of .350/.481/.467 with 24 HR and 248 runs after just four years of his seven-year deal, compared to his .317 average and 21 home runs in 8 years with the Metros. The iron man shortstop has also not missed a single game since 2008. His $21 million per year is a steal compared to his production.
Miguel Ortega, another hot commodity for the Sharks, is in the sunset phase of his 2-year contract at $14.2 million per year. After it expires this year, his 2-year extension kicks in, which will see his pay drop to $8.5 million until the end of 2020, making it a very favorable deal for Norfolk.
A direct contrast to the Sharks would be the Nomads, who not only saw their budget cut by $24 million, but are hampered by big-dollar long-term deals with Medina and Malone, a core of the rotation that has been unable to produce wins on the back of a lack of run support from the lineup.
Left-hander Medina has six more seasons guaranteed, with another as a player option, all at $40 million, or just below it for the last two years. Meanwhile, Malone is currently a reasonably priced ace, at just $12.7 million for 2018, but will see his salary go up on a sliding scale to $28.6 million by 2021, where it will remain until 2026, when the team can exercise an option.
With over a third of the team budget tied up just two players, the Toronto Nomads have been desperate to make cuts and have been unable to play the free agent game at all this off-season, aside from looking at some players for minor league deals.
Toronto has already given extensions to two Freddy Chaidez and Chris Shong at values rumored to be less the amount reserved for arbitration, allowing the team to free up some money. But the club remains hopefully overspent this year and is not expected to be competitive in the 2018 draft.
The other three teams below Norfolk’s budget are there for different reasons, but it is no less of a surprise to see at least two of them there. Denver has been a consistently profitable club for ownership, turning $26 million in profit last year. All the same, the budget was cut from $128 million to $116 million. But with the 4th smallest payroll in the league, they have plenty of room to play with.
It is surprising, then, to see the Denver Danger have not added a single free agent this off-season, despite having about $30 million in budget room.
Kingston and Detroit are notoriously small market teams. Kingston is in a transition year, looking at a move to the opposite league, possibly to a larger market city, but saddled with high payroll and low revenue for the last few seasons. They are in their last year with veteran Francisco Erazo, which will free up $36 million after this season, with about an equal amount about to free up with the next three highest paid players, who are also all in their final contract year.
After 2018, Kingston will have loads of budget room, but hardly any veterans, though it is possible that the team will try to re-sign some of them, particular Erazo, who has showed no sign of slowing down at age 38.
Detroit is nothing if not consistent. After relocating from Chicoutimi last year, they saw a spike in spending as the club tried to improve their situation, but they have notoriously always been a smaller budget club. This year’s $118 million budget is their highest ever, but the team has not seen much success despite talented players like Ger Vaartjes on the roster.
For 2018, the Motorheads added two star pitchers, William Febres and Matthew Rendall, along with former Arizona slugger Nate Mair. Will it be enough to compete? Hard to say, as they sit in a division with Ohio and Chicago, and now the Minneapolis Ravens, after their move from Jacksonville placed them in the LL West.
If budget dollars translated to wins directly, the Sharks only competition in their AEL East division in 2018 will be the Anchorage Aces, who will be relocating from the west and landing in the Tampa area. Their budget now puts them ahead of all the other teams that will be their division rivals, meaning this could be their year if the Aces, led by their undefeated pitcher, Jose Soto, aren’t able to continue their 2017 momentum.