Can the Pirates afford McLouth and co. in 2012?

The biggest moves the Pirates made this off-season were the extensions of Nate McLouth, Paul Maholm, and Ryan Doumit. Each extension bought out at least one free agent year through the use of an option year. The same process was used with Ian Snell last year.

A quick look at the Payroll Commitments Chart shows us that if the Pirates were to pick up the options on all four of these players, they’d be spending almost $37 M in 2012 on four players. If we were to assume that the Pirates maintained their $54 M payroll each year (let’s hope that’s not the case), then that leaves $17 M to spend on the remaining 21 players on the 25-man roster, plus the other 15 players on the 40-man roster.

The big question is, will the Pirates actually commit that much money to four players? To analyze this question, let’s look at a projected roster for 2012.

In the roster below I have assumed the following:

  1. The Pirates pick up all four options.
  2. The Pirates go with a rotation of Maholm/Snell/Gorzelanny/Lincoln/Morris.
  3. Gorzy would be in his third arbitration year. I used Maholm’s contract as a guide.
  4. Andy Laroche would be in his second arbitration year. I used McLouth’s contract as a guide.
  5. Brandon Moss would be in his first arbitration year. I used what the Pirates offered to McLouth as a guide (before the extension).
  6. Sean Burnett would be in his third arbitration year. I used John Grabow as a guide.
  7. Ross Ohlendorf would be in his first arbitration year. I used Tyler Yates as a guide, and bumped the contract up a bit, since I’m projecting him to be the closer.
  8. I assumed Pedro Alvarez would be starting at 1B, Tabata and McCutchen in the OF, Shelby Ford at 2B, and Jarek Cunningham at SS. This is based on Baseball America’s projections, with a modification to fit Andy LaRoche in.
  9. My bullpen is Jeff Sues, Jimmy Barthmaier, Daniel McCutchen, Ronald Uviedo, Evan Meek, and Burnett. No chance of this being right, but I think the salary levels will be accurate.
  10. My bench is Neil Walker, Luis Cruz, Jamie Romak, Steven Lerud, and Moss. Again, probably no chance of this being right, but it’s the salaries I was focused on.
  11. For the other 15 guys on the 40-man roster, I used 5 players at each salary level. This will probably increase by that point, but not enough to make a significant impact.
  12. I’m hoping the real 2012 roster will contain one of these guys.

With that being said, here are the results:


The end result is a $61.775 M payroll, about $10 M more than the Pirates are currently projected to spend for the 2009 season. Now a quick glance by a pessimist would say “They’ll cut McLouth to get down to the low $50 M range”. I think there are other ways that make more sense.

The Pirates could non-tender Gorzelanny and go with Daniel McCutchen in the rotation (or another 0-3 player), and put a league minimum guy in the bullpen, which would save about $5 M.

I also assumed Moss would remain as a fourth outfielder, but if guys like Wes Freeman or Robbie Grossman pan out, the Pirates could use them. Pretty much any major league option right now (Moss, Steve Pearce, Nyjer Morgan) would be arbitration eligible for the 2012 season.

A lot can happen between 2009 and 2012 that could bring us a first baseman (maybe Dustin Ackley?). That would allow the Pirates to keep Alvarez at third, and avoid the $4.5 M projected salary for Andy LaRoche.

The one thing we can be certain about is this: the Pirates will have Alvarez, Tabata, Ford, and Andrew McCutchen in their lineup by this point. They will most likely have Morris and Lincoln in the rotation. Then there’s guys like Cunningham, Meek, Sues, Uviedo, and Daniel McCutchen who I think have a good shot of being part of the Pirates future.

What do all of those players have in common? The above 11 players all will be playing for close to the league minimum in 2012.

The Pirates may be looking at huge salaries for McLouth, Doumit, Maholm, and Snell in 2012, but the fact that the rest of the team will most likely be 0-3 players will keep the payroll low enough that the Pirates can pick up the options on their four veterans, and still maintain a payroll in the $50 M range.

Now I’m not a fan of keeping the payroll in the $50 M range forever, but if you’re a believer that the Pirates will maintain that payroll level, the above projection should be enough to tell you that keeping McLouth and company won’t be an issue for the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • The Jello Phone

    Kinda wished they would’ve sold high on McLouth this offseason and gone with Morgan/McCutch/Moss this year and hope for 2 of Grossman, Freeman, and Tabata to be ready in the next 2 years. Would’ve been interesting to see what kind of pitching they could’ve received for Nate.

    Also at the end of your post you typed “believe” instead of “believer”. I figured you can edit that if you’d like.

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