When Will the Pirates Shed the Cheap Label?

The biggest offensive upgrade for the Pittsburgh Pirates this off-season might end up being a guy who gets a lot of value from his defense. The Pirates won’t bring back one of their better pitchers from last year because they refuse to sign him for the money he’s projected to receive. Most of their off-season has involved low-key signings and trades, or the focus on bounce back players. And while other teams are spending money in free agency, the Pirates are taking a reserved approach, despite the fact that fans want to see them try to contend next year. All of this raises some serious questions about whether the Pirates are willing to spend what it takes to have a contending team.

But enough talk about last off-season. Let’s talk about this off-season.

So far, the two off-season approaches have been the same. Last year the big upgrade on offense was Russell Martin, who didn’t have much offense and was brought in for his defense behind the plate. This week we heard rumors that James Loney is emerging as the top choice for the Pirates. Loney does have some offensive value, but he gets a big boost in value due to his defense at first base. And with most people only focusing on offense, a guy like Loney doesn’t look as appealing as he should, just like Martin last year.

Last year the Pirates non-tendered Jeff Karstens. With his injury history, they didn’t feel he was worth the projected cost of $3.8 M, even though many people (myself included) disagreed. This year they refused to give A.J. Burnett a qualifying offer, stating that they can’t afford to pay the $14.1 M, even thought many people (myself included) feel that is an appropriate price that they should be able to pay.

Last year they made a bunch of smaller moves which ended up leading to bargains like Vin Mazzaro and Jeanmar Gomez. They also went after bounce back pitchers, which led to Francisco Liriano and Mark Melancon. They have made a few smaller moves this year (that’s mostly all they’ve done so far), and they have been targeting bounce back pitchers.

There’s one more similarity between last year and this year: the focus on payroll. There was a time when this site asked Frank Coonelly when the Pirates could afford a $70-80 M payroll. The response was that once the fans saw the Pirates on the right track, they would show up, and then payroll could increase. The Pirates showed they were on the right track the last few years. Attendance went up. Payroll increased to $75 M last year.

The response to all of this is that the goal posts have been moved. The payroll questions still come up, only now the target payroll is higher. A few years ago the Pirates could never win without a $70-80 M payroll. Now they can’t win without a $100 M payroll.

Part of the big increase is the belief that the new TV revenues will drive prices up $20 M. That was an early off-season belief, but more information is coming out that says teams won’t be adding all $20 M to payroll. In fact, teams might not even get all $20 M. The Rockies revealed their budget last week, noting that they expect to get $19 M in new revenues. Here is how they plan to spend that money:

**$5.5 M to the MLB credit line for past loans

**$5 M for player raises

**$3.5 M to cover projected revenue losses

**$4-5 M in new payroll ($11 M total increase projected)

In the past few years, payroll around the league has gone up, but not to an extreme amount. When we asked the $70-80 M question, the median payroll figure in the league was around $86-87 M. Last year it was $89-90 M. So if we take that $3-4 M increase, plus the $11 M increase in payroll that the Rockies project, we get about $15 M. That means that $85 M is the new $70 M, and $95 M is the new $80 M.

I won’t be surprised if the Pirates spend at least $85 M by the end of the year. Right now their projected payroll is above $66 M, which was their starting point last year. They ended up with $75 M by the end of the year. That means they only need to add $10 M to the current figure in order to project with an $85 M payroll by the end of the 2014 season.

I don’t analyze payroll too often on the site. I keep track of the 40-man payroll as a resource, and I’ll talk about what the Pirates might be able to spend when a new payroll page comes out. But I’m far more interested in tracking the quality of moves the Pirates are making, rather than the quantity in money that they are spending.

The idea behind payroll analysis makes sense. Better players make more money. If you have a higher payroll, that probably means you’ve got a lot of high paid players, which means you’ve got a lot of good players. The problem with this is that it’s lazy analysis and doesn’t look at the reality of a team with a lot of cost controlled players who are being paid much less than their market value.

Andrew McCutchen signed an extension a few years ago, which now looks like one of the most team-friendly deals in baseball. He will make $7.25 M next year, despite coming off an MVP season. Jacoby Ellsbury just signed a $22 M per year free agent deal. McCutchen was worth two and a half wins more than Ellsbury last year.

Starling Marte posted a 4.6 WAR in 2013, which was his first full season in the majors. Gerrit Cole looked like he was turning into the ace he was projected to become by the end of 2013. Justin Wilson and Tony Watson were two of the best left-handed relievers in baseball last year. Jordy Mercer posted a 1.4 WAR in about half a season as the starting shortstop for the Pirates. All of these players will make the league minimum in 2014 — around $500,000.

Francisco Liriano looked like an ace in 2013. Charlie Morton looked like a strong middle of the rotation starter. Combined they will make about $10 M in 2014, which is what Scott Feldman just received per year in a three-year deal with the Astros.

Russell Martin had a 4.1 WAR in 2013, making him more valuable than Brian McCann, who just received $17 M per year. Martin will be making half of that in 2014.

Pedro Alvarez has more home runs than any other NL hitter in the last two years, and is tied for the fifth most home runs in baseball during that span. He projects to make $4 M in 2014.

The Pirates have a lot of talent, and most of that talent is playing for well under their market value. Every team has players like this, but the Pirates have enough that they were contenders in 2013, despite the fears that “they weren’t spending enough to have a winning team”.

There also aren’t a lot of needs for the Pirates this off-season. They look to be filling the right field position internally until Gregory Polanco arrives. They need a first baseman to platoon with Gaby Sanchez. If A.J. Burnett doesn’t return, then they could use an extra starting pitcher. They also could use a backup middle infielder. They could address all of those needs and still be spending under $90 M by the end of the season.

So when will the Pirates shed the “cheap” label? I don’t think they ever will be able to get rid of that label. The goal posts for total payroll will continue to move. If the Pirates spend $90 M, then the new goal will be $100 M. If they spent $100 M, then the new goal will be $110. They’re also going to look for values, and they will pass on signing some players for market rate. That doesn’t make them cheap. That’s just a reality for small market teams.

The only thing that should matter is whether the Pirates are making good moves and putting a good team together. Some people might think that can only come from raising payroll, but payroll isn’t a good method to evaluate a team. A bad team can have a high payroll and a good team can have a lower payroll. The Pirates are a good team, and they don’t need to make a lot of off-season moves or add a lot of payroll to remain a good team. So they might keep the “cheap” label, but the people saying they’re too cheap to contend this year are probably the same people who were saying that last year. We saw how that worked out. Overall it’s more important that they remain contenders with smart moves, even if those moves don’t reach a specific payroll total.

Tim Williams

Author: 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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  • http://www.facebook.com/bob.martin.9003 Bob Martin

    As long as the Nuttings are supplying the funds then they will continue to run the franchise on the cheap. As salaries continue to grow the Pirates will either have to put up or shut up. My guess is from all the silence from them now they will just shut up.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      Yeh…and if Mark Cuban was owner we’d probably have a payroll of $150 mil.

      Urban Legends Mr Martin.

      Even if Nutting was to sell, there’s a VERY good chance the owner could be worse (see Mariners article today) AND the payroll wouldn’t go up that much, even IF it was a ‘savior’ like Cuban or Greenberg.

      I have zero problems with how BN runs this franchise.

      • emjayinTN

        foo: Agree 100% – the magic number for us “poor” Pirate fans is 97 – the regular season accounted for 94 wins, and 3 more in the Playoffs. After 21 years of frustration, I too feel very satisfied with how this franchise is being run. When you build with draft picks and reasonably priced FA’s, it is not the FO being cheap, it is the reality that our players have not reached the high dollar levels of MLB Service – the plan set into motion when this management team took over is running on all 12 cylinders. The infrastructure improvements of Pirate World in Bradenton and the deluxe facilitiy in the Dominican Republic and the key scouting and instructional personnel maintained since that time cost top dollar, especially when teams want to come and cherry pick our best and brightest.

      • https://profiles.google.com/116899082423235635777 Monsoon Harvard

        Why does no one ever remember that Mario Lemieux had a partnership together that offered to buy the Pirates several years ago and were turned down FLATLY by the Nuttings, even though Lemeiux & his rich partner could have easily been able to have a payroll like that of the Yankees?

        The media has done a tremendous job of purposely ignoring this. Nutting will never sell this team.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

          “even though Lemeiux & his rich partner could have easily been able to have a payroll like that of the Yankees?”

          Completely false. Before NHL added revenue sharing, and a salary floor/cap, the Penguins operated just like the Pirates. We’ve seen how Lemieux would have operated under MLB’s current rules.

        • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

          This has to be a joke. The revenue just isn’t there to support an additional $120M a year, every year, in payroll.

        • Sisyphus

          Probably for the same reason that nobody ever seems to remember that Mario and Company spent the years before the salary cap was instituted trading away every single big contract for a bunch of guys that you couldn’t name today if your life depended on it.

          • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

            You’re saying you don’t remember Kris Beech?

            • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

              I thought that Ramzi Abid sweater would be gold someday.

    • connolly21

      Damn right ,,, People say look at the dominican changes and spending on the Draft HELL they should have been doing that Years ago

  • Jeff

    Out of 30 major league teams, Bucs will always be in the 20-30 range in terms of payroll rank…..
    Just the realities of small revenue market……
    And the small local TV deal with Root does not help.

    • WTM

      You mean spending is related to revenue? Who ever heard of running a business like that!

      • babeadamsforthehall

        That’s funny Wilbur. The revenue is there. While there is no NEED to spend it just because it is there, there is NO NEED to continue to state in the press that the Pirates will not pay market rates for important parts of a potentially playoff contending team.

        If everyone is sick of hearing how cheap Nutting his, I suggest you tell NH to shut the &%&^ up.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

          That’s not an example of the Pirates being cheap. It’s just a reality for small market teams.

          • babeadamsforthehall

            Incorrect. The “reality” of small market teams varies from small market team to smalll market team. Our “reality” is self imposed.

            • WTM

              And you’re basing this on . . . what, exactly?

              • babeadamsforthehall

                Reality. Stop by sometime.

                • WTM

                  Um, yeah. So in other words, nothing.

          • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

            If one were to replace “small market” with “low revenue” the statement would become stronger. The Pirates are a “small market,” “low revenue” franchise. The Cardinals also are a “small market” franchise. But the Cardinals are a higher revenue team than their market size would suggest. The can thus spend more on player salaries as a consequence.

            That said, even the Yankees and Dodgers operate with “hard budget” constraints. However, their hard budget constraints are considerably more generous than the constraints the Pirates confront. The differences between the Pirates and teams like the Yankees and Dodgers only make Nutting appear cheap. It is likely that the Nutting Partnership spends as much of their personal money on the Pirates as the ownership groups in Los Angeles and New York. That amount: Somewhere around $0 per year, I would guess. Finally, the fact that MLB and the MLBPA produced a contract which suppressed the spending habits of the most aggressive team over the recent drafts tells us everything we need to know about the spending habits of that team. Which team? Nutting’s Pirates.

            • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

              I’ve thought about switching from “small market” to “low revenue”. It’s more accurate for the problem, plus it avoids people getting defensive about the city of Pittsburgh.

              • Jared

                Low revenue is much more accurate…since the Pirates local TV deal is, what, 29th out of 30 teams?

            • Jared

              This is almost 100% due to the CRAP local TV deal that the Pirates have. Looking at similar market teams the Pirates should be making at least two or three times as much on their deal as they are which would infuse probably another $10-20M to the team per year.

              • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

                The McClatchy regime lives…..

              • piraddict

                The geographic reach of the Cardinals media network is huge compared to the Pirates. They have fans from Nebraska, Iowa, southern Illionois, western Kenkucky, western Tennessee, Arkansas and most of Missuori. With the presence of the Cleveland Indians, Washington National, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies and the New York teams the Pirates media geography is pretty well hemmed in to Wesrern PA and northern WV. Media contracts are sized according to the potential audience. The Pirates have a relatively small audience so this is an uphill battle that will never be to the Pirates advantage. Instead of people complaining about the media contract maybe they should be actively recruiting more people to move to Pittsburgh. On the otherhand maybe not.

        • https://www.facebook.com/bruce.humbert Bruce Humbert

          Don’t want to repeat all the was posted in the “still talking to AJ…” comments – but ditto on time for NH to just shut up. I fully agree that Nutting is free to manage the money and team how he chooses. BUT if you want to make a lot of money off of your fans DON’T try and negotiate with players and agents via the media. Hurdle’s comments were stupid. And I would NEVER pick up another baseball for the Pirates if I was AJ after this circus – all of which is the Pirates doing.

          The Pirates had the LOWEST payroll in their division last year – and will likely do so again – that is there choice. But hopefully we will not see the local media [DK} slam the fans if they are drawing 18,000 fans next September when they are 20 games out of first.

          The spending I though made sense would have closed some holes and given them a chance of being a significantly BETTER team next year vs the team that opened the 2013 season. As things currently stand they may start the season as good as they were at the start of last year maybe slightly better – no AJ – no Byrd.

          • buster09

            Bruce,you ahave already repeatedly how ill informed you are in all aspects of the operation of a MLB franchise,from payroll to player acquisiton.I would suggest that rather than call Hurdle’s statements stupid, to telling the Huntindon to shut up,stop wasting people’s time with your ridiculousstatements yourself. Tired of your whining.

            • https://www.facebook.com/bruce.humbert Bruce Humbert

              Buster – As I said elsewhere you are free to have your own opinion – but they are just that opinions…

              Pray tell me what makes you think I am ill informed – some specific examples of my stupidity would be appreciated – I am open minded and willing to learn.

              BUT if I were NH, here’s how I would counter BH’s four points…

              1. Yes AJ has made great contributions and we would love to have him back – we have told him and his agents so and let them know what our top number is – I will not divulge that until such time as we have an agreement with him and have to. But we think it is a fair offer and consistent with our principles.

              2, We had discussions with Byrd and considered trying to work out a deal with him. BUT our doctors have told us that Travis Snider was playing for at least the last year with a serious injury that affected his swing and overall game. We believe Travis can be an effective outfielder for us and we are looking forward him getting back to form. We also believe that Jose Tabata is capable of being a contributor – either as our RF or in a platoon with Snider. We did not feel Byrd offered enough of an upside to these options for us to try and get in a bidding war.

              3. Letting Aoki go to KC – see above – similar reasoning applies

              4. Tendering Snider – ditto

              I obviously have a differ POV to those specifics – but if someone put them on the table, I respect their opinion and reasoning – reserving the right to point out they were wrong it things don’t work out the way the project.

      • jg941

        No, what you do with additional revenue is re-invest it. This isn’t a corporation where you pay the shareholders dividends – you either re-invest or put it in your pocket.

        What business are you in?

        • WTM

          Whether you re-invest the money or not, spending is still related to revenue. I didn’t say spending = revenue.

          If you’re implying the Pirates aren’t re-investing whatever revenue they’re not spending, what basis do you have for that?

      • cspera77

        This is the comment I HATE the most when it comes to all sports. Sports SHOULD NOT be considered a business. It is a past time, an event. The owners that buy teams should view these teams as luxuries to have fun with the same as someone who buys a Ferrari or a Yacht. You don’t buy these things to make you money or as an investment, you buy them as a toy. You also don’t buy a Ferrari if you can’t afford the gas, insurance and upkeep…all of which causes you to lose even more money on your original investment( the car ). No owner should buy a team if they hope to make money or are not ok with losing money they make elsewhere in order to compete. This is also why no owner should buy a team unless they are a serious fan only looking to win at all costs.

        • Andrew

          Outside Russian oligarchs, and Arab oil sheiks, no one does what you want. Lower level European domestic football leagues are littered with ruins of clubs that were run like the owners personal toys. Only a finite number of teams can win, thus if an owner attempts to win at all cost, they usually just get the costs.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

          Cars and yachts are in no way investments. They depreciate in value over time. So it’s impossible to buy a car as an investment, unless you’re just horrible at investing.

          You also can’t go broke by buying a car, unless you really couldn’t afford it in the first place. If you can afford it, then the maintenance shouldn’t make you go broke. It’s going to cost more money, but that’s true of anything you buy — whether it’s a house, car, or anything that requires upkeep over time.

          A sports team requires a huge initial investment. From there, if you start throwing money around and treat it like a toy, you will run out of money fast, go bankrupt, and be forced to sell. Maybe you’ll be able to get back the value you paid, but not all the personal money you sunk into the business.

          Fans don’t view sports as a business. They view it as entertainment. That doesn’t mean it’s not a business. The same goes with TV shows, movies, or other entertainment. When you’re on the ownership side, it’s all about the bottom line, simply because it’s your money that is at risk of being lost. The idea of a billionaire who spends whatever it takes to win, at the expense of his own personal fortune, is just fan fiction.

          As for your idea that only fans should buy teams, this is another fantasy. It’s what everyone says when they dream about the lottery. And there’s a reason why most people who win the lottery end up going broke down the line: they act the way you’re suggesting by throwing their money around and not caring about making smart investments.

        • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

          If one invests money in order to make money, then one has a business. It does not matter if one invests in sports or whatever. Profit-seeking and -taking — that makes an entity a business.

        • buster09

          cspera : just what planet are YOU living on ?

        • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

          cspera – Not an economics or finance major I presume? If you think for one moment that George Steinbrenner and his fellow owners would have just kept spending like drunken sailors without simultaneously driving up to value of the New York Yankees into multiple billions, you have zero idea of how the business world works.

          At this point in time, ownership in MLB – or any professional sports league that operates as a de facto monopoly – is basically a license to print money. Short term losses on the annual P/L are more than balanced out by long term gains on franchise value and the ability to leverage that long-term asset into other favorable cash positions.

          The only way to “kill” the financial benefits is a player strike or owner lockout. Thus, as owners learned in 1994, it is far preferable to get into insane bidding wars for marginal players than it is to collude to take an industry-wide hard line on player spending. Franchise value will continue to increase because a) there are only a limited number of franchises, and b) live sports are essentially the only entertainment that remains DVR-proof, thus the value of its content will continue to increase.

          That does not mean the Pirates can afford to spend like the Yankees or Dodgers. But it does mean that your assertion of ownership as a spendthrift “hobby” is ridiculous.

  • jaygray007

    It’s just such a tired narrative.

    Honestly, I get some sick enjoyment out of them being a smaller payroll team. It kind of enhances the fan experience for me. It makes speculating about offseason moves more fun to me. I’d rather dig in and see “oh man that Josh Johnson looks like he could be a good value pick this year!” than “hmmm i’m going to be really pissed if they don’t sign Ellsbury and Beltran this offseason.”

    And also, the sick truth of it is that it’s Nutting’s right to run his company how he wants. It’s not worth getting all upset about because there is nothing we can do about it. If you told me that i could either have a $80 million playoff team or $100 million playoff team, i’m goin CHEAP! We can’t even say that he hasn’t provided a quality product anymore… because he HAS! We’re not going to stop going to games. We’re not going to have rallies or walkouts… because that be insane because the team is actually good now. 2007 versions of ourselves would slap us if they heard us moaning about Nutting being cheap now. It’s tired.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      100% agree.

      But people DO need to complain about something!

  • Sec.143RowMSeat24

    It’s true they will never shed the cheap label, mostly because most people think, as you said, teams can’t compete without a large payroll even though that’s not true. They also will never shed the label when the GM comes out and says they can’t spend market rate for any player. That’s ridiculous.

  • mblthd

    It’s not how much you spend, but rather how wisely you spend it.

  • babeadamsforthehall

    You want to not be tired of hearing it?

    Maybe when we stop hearing NH come out to the press repeatedly saying that they are not going to pay an important part of their team market rate, thus trying to save a buck on the back of someone who was a loyal player, the calls of being cheap might subside a bit.

    Unfortunately, past history and current comments dictate that you will continue to hear the calls. And they are not unwarrented.

    • jaygray007

      Well, you don’t expect him to say “we will pay ALL OF THE MONEY to EVERYBODY” do you? Plus you left out the part of the NH quotes where he said that the reason they didn’t do the qualifying offer was to strengthen the rest of the team. He’s done nothing but indicate the money will spent, just not necessarily on the one player who we happen to have an emotional attachment to.

      If they go into the season with Gaby Sanchez as the full time 1B and Jeff Locke in the rotation, i think we’d have the right to be a little irritated. But it’s december 8th. It’s not even technically winter yet (although the Pennsylvania football franchises would disagree with that statement).

      Also, just asking… what makes AJ Burnett such a “loyal player”? Don’t get me wrong. i love me some AJ Burnett. Fantastic pitcher, and i hope he returns… But if anything, his actions usually indicate the opposite (and i’m totally okay with that!).

      • babeadamsforthehall

        AJ lost a lot of leverage by saying how much he wanted to return to Pittsburgh if he decides to keep playing. That seems to be a fairly loyal thing to do. And in response the Pirates lowball him.

        And I do not expect NH to say that he will give all of the money to everyone. I expect him to not say anything to the press regarding not paying anyone market rates.

        The Pirates may well end up spending more. Don’t get me wrong. But the gnashing of teeth about people complaining again about the Pirates being cheap is mostly the product of the Pirates loballing AJ and idiotic public statements like GO NEAL has been making.

        • mblthd

          Then there’s all the complaining about the gnashing of teeth about people complaining. Then comes the gnashing of teeth about the complaining about the gnashing of teeth about people complaining.

          Hopefully once an inexpensive left-handed hitting first baseman (Morrison? Duda? Gamel? Anyone but Loney, please!) starts raking in ST, all the noise will die down.

        • jaygray007

          Good point on the leverage thing, although all he would have to do is come out and say “just kidding” to undo that. Hopefully they already have a master return midseason plan all ready to go and are just keeping it secret or something.

          i don’t really agree that the things that Neal have been saying are idiotic because i think he’s a smart guy and a victim of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” with what he can say in statements, but i see a lot of your points for sure.

        • Piratefan13

          Lost leverage? Really? I would think he was creating leverage by saying he would only be willing to pItch for the Pirates (possibly forcing other teams to overpay to “persuade” him). Believe me babe, it is very rare that an athlete will go into a negotiation without some form of leverage whether earned or created. As much as we as fans want to believe, 99 times out of a 100 players will go somewhere that provides the best opportunity to provide for his/her family and lifestyle. Wouldn’t you? There are cases of players choosing to stay for less money but its very rare.

  • Andrew

    Remember when the Pirates paid above the market rate for pitching in Matt Morris, those were the days.

    • babeadamsforthehall

      Idiotic moves by idiotic GM’s are your reply? Thanks for the wisdom.

      • Andrew

        I reject the idea that teams must make additions via the free agent market; free agents generally under perform projections, and free agents signing with new teams under perform to a greater degree. The price of a win in the free agent market is set by the larger teams; Neil Huntington’s statements about not paying the market rate are a simple understanding of the market size in which the Pirates operate. Did he need to state this? I do not know but if Huntington was not accessible I am sure fans would complain that the front office is too secretive.

        Should have a qualifying offer been tendered to Burnett, possibly? However there is another side to the argument, $14.1 million, is a significant amount of payroll, (19% of 2013 final payroll) to tie up with one player. As great as Burnett was he is entering his age 37 season, even the healthiest pitchers have a 30% chance of ending up on the DL. Burnett chances were projected to be 46% last year; I assume they are close to that entering this season. Maybe the front office values Burnett at less than the market rate because of the risk profile. The chance that Burnett flames out is low but it is still better to diversify.

        At the point in which the Pirates acquired Marlon Byrd they were a 76-55 team, (72-59 Pythagorean), with only 13 Gerrit Cole starts and Liriano missing over a month. As Tim wrote there is a lot of talent to this team, are there holes? Yes, (The Cardinals reached the World Series with a black hole at short, Boston with a replacement level player at third.) The only sin the front office has committed is not signing big name players or fill identified holes by this point, however it is premature to evaluate an unfinished off season.

        I am not a Neil Huntington sycophant, the Jason Bay trade looks bad, but there seems to be a plan with a farm system that is likely to produce several waves of talent. Now would not be the time to tie up payroll with free agents sliding down the aging curve. The lack of an offer to Burnett is debatable but again, the outcome is uncertain and outsiders lack enough information to evaluate the process.

        I would like a signing to debate, but consternation over GM’s statements, and rumored interest in free agents is not something I want to discuss for a significant amount of time.

        • Jared

          AJ did hit the DL…and still managed to pitch just under 200 innings, strike out 200+ batters, and put up a 4.0 WAR. So, no, I do not think they are discounting it because of DL risk. Consider, if he missed 1/3 of the season due to injury he’d still end up with a WAR worthy of the 14.1M deal.

  • Jared

    One small issue: the Pirates would have a similar arrangement to the Rockies so, thus $27M-$8M for central fund= $19M and considering everything else equal then the Pirates would have to subtract $5.5M for past debt owed to MLB which would leave $13.5M. The payroll that you, Tim, have calculated for the Pirates thus far INCLUDES player raises, I do believe and therefore the Pirates would not have to subtract that $5M for player raises that is stated in the Rockies article. The Pirates also do not have to anticipate losses from not having the Yankees and/or Red Sox because, in fact, the Pirates actually have the Red Sox coming into town this year. That would actually indicate that the Pirates would probably have a SURPLUS rather than a loss, but we’ll stick with NOT subtracting that loss for now.

    That leaves a total of $13.5M of NEW money that the Pirates have over last year just based on the television contract alone. Now, add the fact that the Pirates payroll is at approximately $66M now, $9M less than where they ended last season…and what do we have? We have the Pirates with a $22.5M surplus that they can add to the already existing payroll and still actually profit some (again look at the revenue increases due to the Red Sox series). So, $66M+22.5M= $88.5M of comfortable payroll…and that is just based on the Rockies article…and, surprisingly the Rockies, who did not do well last year and didn’t go to the playoffs, actually were adding more to their payroll than just from the TV revenues, which means the Pirates could, likely, do the same thing.

    So, with all of the analysis it seems like the Pirates have approximately $20-23M that they can spend and be exactly where they were last year, due to increased, new, revenues. Yes, the Pirates are always, likely, to be in the 20s in terms of payroll and that is not an issue for me. I am more concerned with them actually spending an appropriate amount of revenue and spending it in the right places…I certainly do not see $20-23M worth of value in the FA market this offseason.

  • rburgh

    Just because the FO hasn’t spent any money to date, doesn’t mean that they will not spend it. This is anti-bargain time in the FA market. As far as I know, nobody else is in on AJ (and I read a lot of different sites). So there is no hurry to come to a deal with him.

    Which FA that has signed so far would you like the Pirates to have topped the offer for by, say, $2 MM per year? Morneau? Ellsbury? Beltran? Granderson? Napoli?

    The FA signing period is a time where fans of small-market teams need to relax and enjoy all the bad signings by teams in larger markets. Shopping cart teams rarely win without copious infusions of home-grown talent (Jeter, Rivera, Pettite for example). Small market teams can (and do) remain competitive year after year without high-profile FA signings.

    Loney isn’t great, but (a) he’s probably the best hitting 1B out there right now, (b) he can field, and (c) his career is checkered enough that the remaining competition for him is unlikely to break their banks to beat a competitive bid from the Pirates.

    Patience, folks!

  • jg941

    The one skip in your assumptions, Tim, was that you’re accepting that the net add should be $15, I.e. ‘$85 is the new $70, $95 is the new $80′, etc.

    That means that, if you think the Bucs started last season at $66 and ended at $75, then they should start next season at $81 (not $75) and end at around $90 (not $85).

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      Isn’t this what I said?

      The mid-point between $70-80 is 75.

      The mid-point between $85-95 is 90.

      So we’re saying the same thing. The only difference is you are focused on a specific number to keep them exactly where they were last year. I was pointing out what they need to spend to get into the new $70-80 M range. That new range starts at $85.

  • leadoff

    The biggest problem with the Pirates is that they are a major league baseball team playing in a minor league city, the fans are great and they can fill the stadium, but that is not near enough money to offset the fact that their revenue is still near the lowest in major league baseball and only a complete dummy thinks that the Pirates owner or any owner will take money out of his pocket to pay players, no owner in baseball takes money out of his pocket to buy players, revenue buys players and the Pirates do have low revenue, so IMO we should be happy we have a major league baseball team, with the current major league structure we might not have it long.
    We do have a lot of Pirate accountants in the blog crowd today, none of them know how much money the Pirates will need to run their entire organization. The Pirates still have to pay arbitration on negotiated deals from within, which could eat up all that new TV money, however much it might be.

    • Jared

      The current payroll estimate of Tim, the $66M that everyone is using, INCLUDES projected arbitration (and the arbitration projections are extremely accurate based on past projections). Therefore, it seems incorrect to say that the Pirates arbitration “could eat up all the new TV money.”

    • Piratefan13

      The other “unknown” is the new generation of revenue. The “X” generation (which I am a part) that has endured the entire 20 years of losing may be slow to increase spending on the team (tickets, concessions, memorabilia, etc.) but the younger generation may be more willing to increase spending quickly. I’m no economic major but I do understand trends, a winning baseball team combined with social media and sprinkle in the fact that Pittsburgh fans usually rank among the most devoted could increase spending which increases obviously revenue. Additionally, Andrew McCutchen’s popularity on the national stage helps with the spending of non-Pittsburgh fans. By no means am I saying that the Pirates will approach Yankees level revenue, but an increase in revenue to the mid to top of bottom third revenues in the league will do wonders.
      The issues that plague the Pirates now are the TV deal (Root sports will have a steal of a deal provided the Pirates continue to win and compete for playoff spots) and lack of national exposure(which should be trending up). But even with increased revenue I still think the Pirates should invest exactly the same as they have over the last few years. Building the team from within is still and will remain the best way to sustain competitiveness as a “low revenue” team. What I would hope would be the increased revenue would be used to make more deals like the one with McCutchen, buying out a few years of free agency therefore keeping core players for just a few years longer.
      Bottom line: I have never considered Nutting cheap from the time he took over as managing partner. As much as fans want to believe, you cannot spend to gain revenue in our market. Buying the top FA would have filled the seats only briefly, until the point the team was competing for last in the division due to far superior talent surrounding said “high dollar” FA. The though process of some fans and much of the media in this city over the last decade has been flawed and it is a bit ironic that some are beginning to now sing the praises of the FO they so readily ridiculed, but hey I guess the bandwagon is big enough for everyone.

      • Piratefan13

        “far inferior” talent rather than “superior”

  • MaineBucs

    As a long-time Pirate fan I recognize that the Yankees cannot spend like many of the teams in the majors. While its disappointing to see other teams add players in almost rapid fire motion, NH must carefully apply his budget to players who can fill holes and at reasonable cost.

    On one level, I’m almost glad that the Pirates can’t pay $16 mil per year for 2 years of an injury risk like Mike Napoli, or $60 mil for 4 years of Curtis Granderson. Frankly, the Red Sox, Mets, Yankees, Tigers and many other teams have it too easy. When they make a error in judgement and a bad signing, all they need to do is grin and go out an sign another player. And as many recognize, fans of teams like the Yankees feel entitled to winning, simply because they are the Yankees.

    With the winter meetings now approaching, and many of the big spending teams having satisfied their major needs, I am hoping that NH can now strategically move into the free agent market to pick up an improvement like Looney for 2 years at $7 – 8 mil/year with an option for a 3rd year at a similar amount and a $2 mil buy-out or so. I’m also rooting for AJ to come back into the fold, and if he doesn’t, for NH to try and spin some combo like Melanson, Bell and Heredia for a starting pitcher with promise. And if he can’t perhaps an old war horse like Colon still has something in the tank.

    Frankly, the team’s and organization’s growth (and the general manager’s growth) over the past 3 years has been great to witness. This is the best I have felt as a Pirate fan since the early 90′s, and in most respects, I feel even better, because I don’t think we’re about to fall off the end of the world like we did starting in 93.

  • Pie Rat

    When Mark Cuban buys the Bucs.

    • Piratefan13

      Its humorous to me as to how many fans think that some billionaire could buy the Pirates and spend like the Yankees. No billionaire (including Mark Cuban) has ever become a billionare by spending over revenue. A major fantasy.

  • City of ChampYinz

    I think the reason that a segment of the Pirate fan base gets frustrated by the lack of spending is the fact that this is the season where they actually had a chance to spend a little extra money to improve the team, whether that was at RF, 1B, SS, or with another starting pitcher.

    Tim laid it out pretty well when he talked about how much of a “deal” we are getting right now on our players still playing on their entry level contracts. There’s just no chance that we can spend in free agency in 2 years (going into the 2016 season), when Cutch will be making $13 million, Pedro will likely be making around the same through arbitration, and Marte will probably be in the 7 million dollar range.

    The time for the Pirates to strike was this offseason, so they could make a few extra FA signings to fortify the lineup while these homegrown players were still playing for us “on the cheap”.

    I get tired of hearing about Nutting needing to “run this franchise as a business…spending is driven by revenue.” As the owner of a professional sports team, you make your money when you sell the franchise. McClatchy bought the team for around $95 million, and I don’t think the exact figures of what Nutting paid for the team are available since he spent the better part of a decade buying up the shares, but even if he spent $120 million acquiring the team…this team is now valued by Forbes at $479 million!! The Nutting family is set to reap a financial windfall of over $300 million (and possibly over $350 million!) when they sell this team, and yet we are supposed to worry that they can’t afford to go “all-in” for a couple years here and possibly lose a few million in the process?

    And by “all-in”, I’m not advocating trading the prospects, since that is the pipeline that we need to keep this machine humming, but there’s no reason that we can’t be active in free agency to shore up this teams weaknesses while the NL seems to be in somewhat of a downturn.

    When you take that into consideration, there is just no reason that this franchise should not be able to raise payroll to the $95-$100 million mark for the next few years while this young core is playing “on the cheap”.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      “There’s just no chance that we can spend in free agency in 2 years (going into the 2016 season), when Cutch will be making $13 million, Pedro will likely be making around the same through arbitration, and Marte will probably be in the 7 million dollar range.”

      In two years (I’m guessing you’re skipping 2014 as year one, so that would make it 2016), the Pirates will have higher contracts. Starling Marte won’t be making $7 M, since he’ll be in year one of arbitration. Pedro Alvarez might be making the amount you suggest, since he will be in year three.

      On the flip side, this is what the rest of the team could look like:

      C – Tony Sanchez (Min)
      1B – ???
      2B – Jordy Mercer (Arb1)
      SS – Alen Hanson (Min)
      3B – Pedro Alvarez (Arb3)
      LF – Starling Marte (Arb1)
      CF – Andrew McCutchen ($13 M)
      RF – Gregory Polanco (Min)

      SP – Gerrit Cole (Min)
      SP – Jameson Taillon (Min)
      SP – Tyler Glasnow (Min)
      SP – Nick Kingham (Min)
      SP – ???

      Sure, McCutchen will be making a lot, and so will Alvarez. But they will have league minimum players in right field, shortstop, and most of the starting rotation. I don’t know if all of those starters will live up to their potential, but there are plenty of other starting pitchers in the system who could step up by then if they don’t (Clay Holmes, Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke, Casey Sadler, Joely Rodriguez, etc).

      When it comes to free agency, the Pirates don’t project to have a lot of holes by that point. They also project to have a lot of league minimum players, which means they will have payroll flexibility, even when McCutchen and Alvarez are making so much.

      Ideally, they won’t need to spend a lot on free agents because they will fill most of their needs internally.

      • City of ChampYinz

        Tim,

        Yes, I meant 2 years as in 2 offseasons from now, which would be heading into the 2016 season.

        Thanks for breaking that down, and looking at that makes it even more clear how important it is for the Pirates to hold on to the prospects they have in the system now if they want to remain competitive.

        My point remains that spending money now really doesn’t affect any of that. Not spending money now and having to make a big trade at the trading deadline in order to shore up one of these weaknesses, possibly by subtracting one or two of those prospects you have listed above.

        Worst case scenario, when one of the young guys is ready, the free agent you’ve signed can be traded for even more prospects.

        I’m not complaining…yet. There’s still time for Huntington to make a splash to improve this team, but with the recent surge in signings, the time to act is now. There’s still a few pieces out there that I think would be attractive, including Loney and Corey Hart at 1B. I’ve always been a Kendrys Morales fan, but I hate the fact he would cost our 1st round pick, but with the pick being toward the end of the first round, I might be willing to consider it if we were unable to land Loney or Hart. Stephen Drew at SS would certainly be an upgrade, but again would come at the cost of the 1st round pick.

        On the pitching side, I would do pretty much whatever it takes to bring back AJ Burnett. I think it was a big mistake not to tender him, if only to suppress the market for him if he does decide to return for 2014. All we can do now is take him at his word that it’s “Bucs or bust”, but I will be extremely upset if he ends up pitching in a different uniform in 2014. I’m in agreement with Tim that $14mil was definitely a reasonable number for him, especially when you consider how much of a steal we received his services for the past few seasons. There are a couple other guys them to take a look at, including Roy Halladay, Scott Baker, or even a possible reunion with Paul Maholm. One additional move I’d at least consider would be a deal with Matt Garza. Garza is one of the top pitchers on the market, so he won’t come cheap, but would create quite a rotation for the next couple seasons along with Cole, Taillon, Liriano (for 2014), and Morton. I think the Pirates could afford a deal in the $16-$17mil/year range. Personally, I’d really like them to take a look at Maholm, who I think would be a solid 5th starter on this staff.

        When will the Pirates finally shed the “cheap” label? When they finally open the wallet and prove otherwise. “At some point, you’ve gotta write the check.”

        • Jared

          Garza is worth a shot due to the fact that he would require no comp pick! But he would cost a lot of $$$.

          Morales is absolutely not worth giving up a pick…that would be crazy for a small market team to do, especially in this upcoming, incredibly deep draft!

      • Jared

        First, this would mean heading into the future the Pirates should be on firm financial footing. Second, it means that the Pirates should probably look to the future and work out a long-term deal with a starter or two in case something doesn’t work out with one of the guys you mentioned. I know you’ve advocated signing Morton and that definitely could be smart, especially dependent on how he performs this year. Third, the Pirates have enough financial flexibility and a good enough footing that they should be able to spend now to keep the present strong until even more reinforcements arrive. Fourth, this upcoming draft is very deep and is one where I would very much like to see the Pirates keep all their picks and further stock up. The top 65-70 prospects in this draft are all pretty solid and much more solid than in recent years past…yes, there are even better prospects at the top, but the depth is important for the Pirates purposes. Finally, the Pirates are extremely wealthy in the OF department…maybe that could be used to our advantage in the trade market.

    • Hank

      Completely agree……….and what happens when our homegrown guys are no longer “cheap”? If the franchise falls apart in 3 years due to cheap spending habits, the Nuttings should be run out of town.

      • jaygray007

        No. If the franchise falls apart in 3 years, NH will be run out of town because it’ll be his fault.

        He knows the parameters with which he has to work and it’s his job to keep the team healthy within those parameters. Remember, he signed up for this.

        I think he’ll be around in 4 years.

  • Jeff

    Tim
    “Cheap” trick to post about Nutting money…you got plenty of responses on a football Sunday!!! :)

  • Roberrto21

    The question should not be “are the Pirates cheap” but “are the Pirates smart” and operating the team within their constraints of revenue and sticking to the “Pirate Way” (emphasis on smart drafting, international signings and great player development). Is Seattle going to be a contender because they are going to be paying out $240m guaranteed to Cano? And will Cano, good as he’s been, really justify a contract of $24m per when he’s in years 8, 9 and 10 of that contract? Was it smart to pay Ellsbury $153 m when he has trouble staying healthy and on the field? Is Beltran going to be worth $15m/per when he’s in his year 38 and 39 seasons – surely not the same player he was when he was in his year 27 and 28 seasons. Is there 1 FA out there that the Pirates should have signed – it looks like they tried with Josh Johnson but he wanted to play on the West Coast. So it boils down to the Pirates not having signed AJ yet and we don’t know what the story really is, is it really the dollars or is it that AJ and his family are having a hard time deciding whether he should be away from his kids for another year or not – we just don’t know. And we don’t know what player moves the Pirates might make between now and the start of next season. So to say” “cheap” is just too simple. Were they “cheap” when they went out and got Morneau last year, or Byrd? Were the Cardinals “smart” to sign Peralta – or has his past play been an illusion built on PED?

  • jaygray007

    Can’t we at least all agree that it’s kind of cool that the Pirates are in that little A’s, Orioles, Rays niche or good teams with low-ish payroll?

  • Pie Rat

    I agree even Mark wouldn’t spend his fortunes just to win. Even if the would you couldn’t do it indefinitely. As some teams show you can spend almost 200 million and still not win. I think the Pirates could spend more than they do. Yes, understand it’s a business, but when these teams take public money for stadiums then there should be a balance between spending and winning.
    Most of the problem is with how baseball is set up. Teams like the Yanks and Dodgers run up market value by extremely overpaying players. It almost seems that teams like the Pirates exist so the big market teams have enough games to play.
    Teams like the Pirates almost need the stars to align for it to work out and then you have a bout a 3 year window before you have to rebuild again.
    The media tries to say that the baseball system works because every year a small market team contends. That’s because at least 20 of the teams have to take turns and even though some may have a winning season here and there. Most small market teams have a window as a contender about once every 20 years.

  • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

    I thought they went a long way toward shedding the “cheap” label when they acquired Morneau. But they’re undoing that progress this offseason.

    AJ Burnett has compiled a 7.0 WAR in two seasons with the Bucs. The services that provide forward-looking analysis suggest he’ll He’s project to about 3.2 WAR for next year, which is worth at minimum $17.6 million at last year’s market value, or between $18.5 and $21.4 million at 2014 market value.

    The reason why AJ is the crucible for any discussion on whether Nutting/The Pirates are “cheap” is because we’re only talking cash. No prospects at risk and none being blocked. It’s a one-year deal, so there’s no bankrupting the franchise due to a bad long-term contract. And AJ by any argument is simply the best unsigned FA pitcher out there.

    So if before whatever deadline NH has set for AJ to make his decision, AJ decides he does want to play one more year and for a figure less than his minimum projected market value, yet NH still balks at paying that price and instead goes for a much lesser pitcher, then there can’t be any argument but that the Pirates are cheap, not smart, and not particularly interested in competing for a championship in 2014. There’s no legitimate room to argue otherwise as this particular situation is about as black-and-white as it gets.

    The double-whammy of course is that you can’t even say NH is doing this to be smart because if NH was smart, it would be the Bucs, not the Nats, who stole Fister from the Tigers. NH could redeem himself with a similar deal to get a middle rotation pitcher without giving up a top 5 prospect, or do an AJ-type deal for Dempster with the BoSox eating salary. Short of that, if he signs someone like Pelfrey to keep payroll around $75 mill after AJ states he does want to come back, that would be a slap in the face to fans.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      “The double-whammy of course is that you can’t even say NH is doing this to be smart because if NH was smart, it would be the Bucs, not the Nats, who stole Fister from the Tigers.”

      By that logic, there is only one smart General Manager in baseball.

      The more likely explanation is that Detroit didn’t shop Fister around, and took the first bad trade offer they received.

      • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

        And why didn’t Neal have that bad trade offer ready instead of letting Rizzo have his way? Based on the moves of every GM this offseason to date, a case could easily be made that Rizzo actually IS the only smart GM at the moment :-)

        What was Einstein’s quote, “Genius is 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration”? Work the phones, man.

      • Jared

        The only issue I have with this statement, Tim, is that I believe I have read that the Pirates have/had, in fact, spoken to Detroit about Fister/Porcello…that would mean, to me, that they would have had some knowledge of the intent to trade.

        I will post the link if I can find it again.