Reactions: Payroll Comments by Coonelly

A lot of reactions today to our interview on Monday with Frank Coonelly.  For the most part, the crowd is split.

Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast. Smizik killed a guy with a trident.

-Bob Smizik thinks the Pirates are taking a “if you come, we will build it” approach.  I took a look at the Field of Dreams reference, and how it actually applies to the Pirates.

-Dejan Kovacevic thinks that “attendance -> spend” is backwards.

-iSportsWeb calls it a backwards business model.  And yes, their car analogy was one of the analogies I was addressing in my post about bad analogies and baseball economics.

-That’s Church and Mondesi’s House pretty much echo Smizik’s thoughts.

-WTM posted his views, which are similar to the thoughts I had about the realities for small market teams.

-Kipper at Pittsburgh Sports Tavern has some comments in response to my article.  He also has a good comparison between the Pirates and the Steelers/Penguins.  The approach the Pirates are taking right now (build through the draft, make minor moves in free agency, let veteran players walk when their time is up) is the same approach the Penguins and Steelers take.  The difference is that we’ve seen the other two teams win (which is mostly due to a fair league structure, but also gives credit to the decision making).  We’ve yet to see this work for the Pirates.  Not that it won’t, but there’s a reason the Penguins and Steelers get a pass, while the Pirates are put under the microscope.  The Pens and Steelers have won some trust with their success.

One common theme I noticed from the people who were upset over this, outside of their focus on how bad the Pirates have been, is that they don’t think this should be the way things are done.  However, they’re not focusing on how things are actually done in baseball.  They’re also presenting Coonelly’s comments as a two step approach, with the increase in attendance being step one, and the increase in spending being step two.  There’s a step before all of that, and it involves the Pirates getting better.  In fact, that’s what was largely ignored from the end of Coonelly’s quote:

We need to take a meaningful step forward in terms of attendance to reach that payroll number while continuing to invest heavily in our future but I am convinced that the attendance will move quickly once we convince our fans that we are on the right track.

The focus on that last line, and the focus on how other teams in baseball operate, seems to be the difference between group one and the next group.  The first group is mis-interpreting what Coonelly said, whether intentional or unintentional, and portraying his comments as “we won’t be doing anything until you start showing up”.  They’re also ignoring the reality of baseball, especially for small market teams.

It almost seems like there’s three groups.  One group is pointing out the realities of small market baseball, and looking at everything Coonelly said, rather than ignoring key parts of the quote.  One group is focused on the way they think things should be, and are missing the key part about how the Pirates aren’t really saying “you act first” to the fans.  The final group I call the Brick Tamlans, running around shouting loud noises and holding a hand grenade, while saying things that don’t really make any sense at all in regards to the current topic.

I mentioned this earlier, but I think the wrong question was asked here.  The right question would be to ask the fans “would you go to more games if this current group was competitive”? I’d assume the answer would be yes. Then, the next question would go to the Pirates, in the form of “if the team was competitive and attendance increased, would you spend more to keep the team together”? I think we already know the answer, since Coonelly said they would need to see an attendance increase in order to increase spending.

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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, 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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  • Anonymous

    There are a large group of so-called fans who ” IN MY OWN BELIEF” have an agenda against the Nuttings that has nothing to do with baseball. I have no idea why they have this agenda but they are so un-reasonable in their rants that it has to go beyond baseball. No reasonable person who claims to follow baseball and the Pirates over the last two decades can deny the progress that this franchise has made in three short years. They have had 3 drafts and some of the best players they acquired last year have not even played a game of pro baseball yet.

    Every statement that is made by a Pirate official is put under a microscope and examined word for word to the point of stupidity.

    It is time for blogs and fans to ignore these people. There is nothing wrong with criticism of the Pirates as a true fan, all of us have things that we question or don’t like but this constant drumbeat of ” Hate Nutting ” is not constructive or adds to the enjoyment of being a fan. isn’t that why we are fans? To enjoy the game and follow our team instead of every day reading about ” Nutting is cheap or a liar”. I get enough of political rancor every day, I want to follow baseball to get away from all that noise.

    • Kipper

      There’s definitely people that have an agenda of dislike and hate towards Bob Nutting. I’ve been dealing with one the past couple of days. Even admitted it and what’s a shame is that outside of the agenda, he’s a good baseball mind. Unfortunately his mind has been influenced so much over the years by the constant negativity from the media and other negative “fans” that all can seem to do is focus on anything that could even look negative towards Ownership and Management…

      It’s stuff like that, that makes it impossible to ignore types like Bob Smizik who are focused and concentrated on blatant smear tactics and such. I hate seeing a good mind goto waste because the noise from that side is so much louder and influential. If I can yell enough to change a mind or 2 then I’m happy.

  • KraigK

    Thanks for Nutting, Frank. Would you expect anything less from the best management team in baseball?

  • Todd Smith

    Putting a winning team on the field and increasing attendance is a bad thing. Only in Pittsburgh.

  • Steve Zielinski

    About five years ago I did the math on this issue

    I found: Winning is positively and somewhat weakly correlated to aggregate payroll. The correlation would be stronger if it were not the case that it costs more per win to pay for superstar players making high salaries. These are the players who are one to three wins per year better than the average player. Thus teams like the Yankees will and do win every year with a payroll that more than doubles the average payroll. They get what they pay for.

    Put differently, given the labor market in baseball, teams that win consistently cost more than a team that wins one or two seasons before its payroll begins to exceed its budget constraint. The Marlins and the Rays are two obvious examples here. The correlation would also be stronger if it were not the case that some teams spend big but loose big. The Mets sometimes and the Orioles most of the time are examples here.

    Nonetheless, teams do get what they pay for. They will need to pay for draft picks, international free agents, a scouting and development staff or ML free agent prices to free agents or their own players if they want to consistently win.

    The Pirates, under Nutting, Coonelly and Huntington have implemented the business model that increases the probability that the team will eventually contend for a championship. If, once the on-field team begins to win and then to contend, the Pirates will be able to keep more of their players if attendance rises along with the on-field team’s winning percentage. At present, I see no reason to doubt Coonelly’s claim that the team won’t spend on the ML payroll when the team is winning and attendance has risen as a consequence of that winning.

    It is unfortunate, though, that the Pirates will never generate the kind of revenue the organization will need to keep all of their star players once those players reach their free agent years. Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, etc. ensure that that will be the case.

  • Anonymous

    I still think the comments are taken out of context. The question was will the get to and sustain 70-80 mill per. Which the honest answer to that is well not until attendance increases. I believe frank and Neal have both said that if the team is competitive they have the resources to add a key piece. But of course all anyone heard is we cant spend until

  • Anonymous


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