Today I finished putting together the 2015 40-man payroll page, which will be updated throughout the off-season, and in to the regular season. Bookmark that link, as I’ll be updating the chart after every move throughout the off-season. The chart provides an estimate of the year-end 2015 payroll, which will definitely change throughout the off-season.
Right now the estimate is made up of three things. First we have the guaranteed salaries. Next are the projected arbitration increases. Finally there are the projected roster decisions. I didn’t include projected free agents, since that’s unpredictable. I mostly stuck with players who were out of options, or who didn’t play a huge role at the end of the season. For example, Jaff Decker wasn’t a September call-up and Jeanmar Gomez wasn’t added to the Wild Card roster, so I listed them as projected non-tenders.
I projected a 25-man roster when making this payroll chart, although this year was a little difficult. For example, the current catching combo is Chris Stewart and Tony Sanchez. I expect that to change, regardless of whether Russell Martin is brought back. Right now that accounts for $2 M in payroll. Any additions would remove at least $500,000 of that amount, with Sanchez or Stewart being removed from the list. I also left a few spots open. I didn’t project two starting pitching spots, and I didn’t project one of the backup infield spots. These will likely be filled by free agents.
The Pirates are currently projected for a $65,452,500 payroll in 2015. A lot can change with that figure. As an example, last year they had a projected $60,924,500 when I first made the chart around this time of year. The end of year payroll estimate was $81,394,476. Their Opening Day payroll projection in 2014 was slightly higher than their end of the year projection in 2013. If that trend continues, then they’ll have at least $16 M to spend this off-season, and likely more than that when you consider that the current projection has some money that would disappear with certain off-season moves. To get an idea of what can impact that figure, let’s look at some of the biggest contract issues.
The biggest topic this off-season is going to be Russell Martin. Right now the Pirates are at a projected $65 M, and I think Martin would cost at least $15 M per year, putting them in the $80 M range. If they signed Martin, they would probably have to go with reclamation projects for their remaining starting pitching roles. If they signed two reclamation projects to go with Martin, that would put them in the $95 M range. If they didn’t bring back Martin, they could afford a bit more for the starting pitchers, although their success with the reclamation approach says they should stick to this plan. Martin will be the biggest factor this off-season. For those wishing for a $90-100 M payroll, it would be likely if they brought him back.
Let me just say that there’s no reason the Pirates can’t spend in the $90-100 M range comfortably. Last year they tried going after A.J. Burnett and James Loney. If those deals would have been accepted, they would have been in the mid-80s on Opening Day, and likely in the low-90s by the end of the year. So they’ve shown the money is there if needed, and Martin is the type of player who warrants that need.
There is no way that the Pirates are going to keep Pedro Alvarez, Ike Davis, and Gaby Sanchez as first basemen. I have the trio making just under $14 M, and that would have one of Davis or Alvarez on the bench most of the time. I could see one of those two getting traded. As for Sanchez, I think his job is safe, although the Pirates could go a creative route and have Tony Sanchez take over the right-handed side of the platoon. This would only work if they brought back Russell Martin and Chris Stewart as the catchers. Overall, the Pirates will probably save at least $4 M by making a decision on two of their three first basemen. If they got creative with the right-handed side of the platoon, they could expand that potential savings to at least $7 M.
This is going to be a big year for the Pirates in free agency and on the trade market. They’re going to pursue Russell Martin, and if he signs elsewhere, they will need to find some sort of solution other than having Tony Sanchez and Chris Stewart as their catching combo. They will need to get at least one starting pitcher, and most likely two. The first base situation mentioned above will also clear some of the current projected payroll space. Beyond that, they could look to add relievers and bench players, although I think they will go with more minor league free agents or guys barely making over the league minimum in this regard.
The difference between the Opening Day payroll and the final payroll is always big. There’s no way to project all of the in-season moves, whether that comes in the form of trades, waiver claims, or the constant promotions and demotions from Triple-A. In 2012-13 the Pirates added about $7 M per season during the regular season. Last year the Pirates added about $6.5 M in-season. In previous years it has been as high as $11 M. The estimated number represents the Opening Day projections. You could probably add $5-10 M to that figure on Opening Day to guess what the final figure would be.
The estimated payroll is exactly that, an estimate. It doesn’t include every bonus, incentive, or exact salary figures for the league minimum guys. In the past, the estimate has been pretty accurate. In 2010 the end of the year figure was $1.36 M short of the actual results. In 2011 the estimate was off by $1.66 M. In 2012 the estimate was $1.91 M off the actual year-end payroll. The 2013 total was a little over half a million lower than the actual amount. So based on those four years, the estimate has a margin of error of $1.36 M on average.