Adding two players with major-league experience to a roster whose season salary cap is $100,000 takes careful planning and a little luck.
For the Wingnuts, the planning took place early in the season, when they kept lower-paid players, giving them flexibility to add high-paid veterans later.
The luck came in the early-season, unplanned releases of veterans Chris Colton and Kennard Bibbs, lowering Wichita's payroll and making mid- and late-season additions even more plausible.
The cap room allowed the Wingnuts to add former big leaguers Raul Gonzalez and Carlos Rivera, among others, for the stretch run. Gonzalez and Rivera played in the Mexican League this season.
"Some teams build their team for the first half so they load up," Wingnuts manager Josh Robertson said. "GMs build their team for the first half so they can get that guaranteed playoff spot.
"Other teams wait and when the Mexican League season is over, they can compete with what the Mexican League guys are making."
Since the Wingnuts have used 53 players this season, Robertson and manager Kevin Hooper have paid constant attention to the payroll.
The $100,000 cap allows teams to spend an average of $917.43 a day for a 109-day season.
Since the Wingnuts were well beneath the salary cap for the first two-plus months, they're spending $998.92 per day and will still fall more than $2,000 short of the cap.
Last season, the Wingnuts spent $99,938.10 on 30 players. When they made a transaction, they paid the new player the same amount the replaced player was making.
"We had no wiggle room," Robertson said.
In the American Association, players are classified by years of service, ranging from rookie to veteran. Rookies make about $800 a month and veterans' salaries range from around $2,000 to $3,500 per month.
Only one-third of the salary of each team's highest-paid player and two-thirds of the salary of the second-highest paid player count toward the salary cap.
When Colton and Bibbs were released, the remaining veterans were Justin Dowdy and Mario Delgado, and since not all of their salaries counted toward the cap, the Wingnuts' payroll remained low.
It stayed low until the Wingnuts added players such as Jorge Cortes, Jorge Delgado, Gonzalez and Rivera.
"When you don't have two (of the allowed four) veteran salaries for the majority of the year, it's looking good on your cap," Robertson said. "So you can go pick up a couple of ex-major leaguers like Gonzalez and Rivera and you can pay them."
Planning for 2011 — American Association contracts are generally for one season with a team option for a second year.
Players most often sign new contracts before each season because they've accrued more service time and are eligible to be paid more.
The Wingnuts hold 2011 options on 21 of the 23 players currently on the roster. Relievers Dustin Cameron and Dustin Pease are playing out their options and can be free agents after the season.
"We'd love to re-sign them to contracts and have them back in Wichita, both of them," Robertson said.
Robertson said the team will pick up the options on the remaining 21 players, but the Wingnuts could still trade, release or allow them to play elsewhere.
The options on Rivera and Gonzalez will be picked up, but the Wingnuts will allow them to return to the Mexican League next season.
Robertson and Hooper are in contact with the American Association office, trying to determine if the Wingnuts will still own their rights after the 2011 Mexican League season and if they have to pass through waivers before returning to Mexico.
If they do, any other team in the league could claim them.
"It's the first time in my three years that we've pulled somebody from the Mexican League," Robertson said. "It's a learning experience for me. We obviously want to exercise everybody's option and see where that goes."
Hooper will be entering the final year of the two-year contract he signed before this season, but his return is uncertain because he has been offered a job managing a Class-A team in the Detroit Tigers organization.
It was in Hooper's contract that he could leave Wichita to manage a Double-A or Triple-A team, but Robertson said he won't force Hooper to stay.
"I'll never keep Hooper from bettering himself or his family," Robertson said. "If he has an opportunity that he just can't say 'No' to, he'd be a fool not to take it."
Final-game fundraiser— Tonight's 5:05 p.m. game, the season finale, is Fan Appreciation Night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
In addition to special events planned for that, $2 of every lower box and upper box ticket and $1 of every general admission ticket will be donated to the ALS association.