One of the biggest topics among Pittsburgh Pirates fans is the team payroll. For some, it’s an unavoidable topic due to their market size, but not the main part of the conversation. For others, it’s the conversation, to the point that it seems like all you need to build a winner is spending X amount. Either way, the topic of payroll is news when it comes to the Pirates. Dejan Kovacevic has the latest updates on his site, DKonPittsburghSports.com. He spoke to Frank Coonelly, who says that the Pirates can and Coonelly “suspects will” top $90 M this year.

I’ll get to the 2015 estimates in a second. As for the categories above, I’m more in the former category. I discuss payroll on the site a lot, but that’s because I’m feeding into a market that craves the information. It’s a business decision to keep track of the 40-man payroll all year, or provide future payroll charts, just to have that reference for Pirates fans. In short, it helps me raise my payroll, which I’m sure John Dreker appreciates.

But personally, I hate the topic. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, and sometimes you have to consider payroll when discussing certain things. For example, the Pirates can afford Russell Martin for five years and $82 M. But they can’t really “afford” him, because that’s going to eat a huge chunk of their payroll each year, potentially leave them with a ton of wasted payroll for two seasons at the end of the deal, and these are things that smaller markets can’t do while expecting to compete. That’s a case where you have to consider the payroll as part of the total evaluation.

Then you’ve got the opposite situation, like the reclamation projects the Pirates have had the last few years. As I pointed out earlier in the off-season, they’ve paid, on average, $5.85 M for 32 starts of a 3.21 ERA over the last three years. Or, in total, they’ve paid just under $30 M for 164 starts (5.125 full seasons at 32 starts a season), and got a 3.21 ERA from those combined seasons. That’s why they’ve made the playoffs two years in a row with payrolls that finished in the $70-80+ M range. They’ve gotten massive values from their pitching.

Both situations (Martin’s new contract and the reclamation projects) should be evaluated with the same question: Are they smart baseball moves? That should be number one, and not “will this lead to a bigger payroll?” Of course, payroll does factor in here. But if you’ve got a situation like the reclamation projects, where the Pirates are going “cheap” and still finding success, then it doesn’t matter at all that they’re being “cheap”. The correct word to use would be “frugal”. Or “smart”. Because the Pirates just paid under $30 M for just over five seasons worth of a 3.21 ERA, and one team will pay Jon Lester over $20 M a season for six years this off-season, hoping to get his career 3.58 ERA/3.67 xFIP.

Unfortunately, this is not how things work in Pittsburgh. It’s all about payroll, and spending up to a certain point. A few years ago, it was wondering whether the Pirates would ever spend $70-80 M. We quoted Frank Coonelly back in 2011, saying they could get to that point, although a few things had to happen first. They needed to start winning, the fans needed to increase attendance following the winning, and then they’d be in that range. All of that happened, and they just spent in the $70-80+ M range two years in a row. Now, those comments by Coonelly have been applied to a $90-100 M payroll. And when they spend $90-100 M, it will be over $100 M, or over $110 M, or whatever the Brewers and Reds spent the last two years, because payroll certainly helped them to be better than the Pirates in that time.

And that brings me to the latest update on the subject from DK. Coonelly’s comments that the Pirates will probably top $90 M shouldn’t be a surprise at all. DK points out that the team has steadily increased payroll the last few years, increasing a little over $9 M per year on average in each of the last four seasons. That includes about an $8 M increase from 2013 to 2014, where the total payroll ended up at $82.1 M, according to DK’s sources. We had it at $81.4 M, although our estimates usually have a margin of error of about a million dollars, and have been under million in each of the last two seasons. So if you add $8-9 M from where they were last year, you get $90 M.

Then there’s the fact that they’ve been looking to add a pitcher, and already offered $15.3 M to Francisco Liriano, when many were saying he’d be a guarantee to accept a qualifying offer. If he would have accepted, they’d currently be at about $87 M in payroll. And just because he declined, doesn’t mean they’re done. Neal Huntington indicated when they signed A.J. Burnett that they’d be going after Liriano and Edinson Volquez, although they might have trouble getting both with Burnett in the fold (I have a feeling that’s due to rotation spots, rather than payroll).

In short, the $90 M figure shouldn’t be a surprise. The only way it would be a surprise is if you were totally ignoring the last two seasons (and plenty of people were ignoring the increases, while talking about how the Pirates haven’t increased payroll), or you’re assuming that the Pirates are done for the off-season before the end of November, which has never been the case.

Going back to how you view payroll, the $90-100 M figure is what I expected them to be in this year, just based on what they spent last year, plus what they didn’t spend (they left some money on the table at various times, after missing out on A.J. Burnett in the pre-season, and David Price at the trade deadline). That figure shouldn’t be surprising, and it shouldn’t be noteworthy. I don’t think DK was making it noteworthy, other than the fact that this is somehow a big topic for the Pirates. The real topic should be how they spend the money, and whether they’re making smart moves. If you’re only focusing on payroll, then you’re focusing on the wrong thing.

Links and Notes

**I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! And if Black Friday deals are your thing, then best of luck out there in the madness today. I noticed this year that my Black Friday deals were way more grown up. Not too long ago it was all about a new TV and a new video game system. Tomorrow? Discounted cat food, a new Christmas tree, and hopefully avoiding shopping for coffee tables at IKEA for like six hours with my girlfriend. I kind of miss the exciting days of the TV deals.

**It’s a day early, but Small Business Saturday is coming up, in which you should support your favorite small businesses (buisni?). I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but I happen to know one small business that is doing a pre-sale on 2015 Prospect Guides right now — covering every player in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system heading into the 2015 season — and would appreciate you celebrating that day with an order. Or maybe you want to sign up for DK’s site, buy Charlie’s book, or support some other independent site that you happen to enjoy. Either way, it supports small business and independent writers, which is something I’m all for. After all, it’s kind of like supporting the Pirates against the big media outlets like the Yankees and Red Sox. Don’t be a Yankees or Red Sox fan. Buy the Prospect Guide.

**Winter Leagues: Joely Rodriguez Makes Debut, Stolmy Pimentel Throws Gem

**MLB Minimum Salary to Increase in 2015

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58 COMMENTS

  1. Like it or not, the amount the team spends on players is always going to be a topic for conversation. It has been ever since the Pirates knew they weren’t going to be able to extend Bonds. Matter of fact it was a topic of conversation even before that. It was in 1997 when they contended for the playoffs with a $9 million payroll. It was as much about what they spent as what they almost accomplished with that payroll. It’s a topic of conversation when people discuss the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers. It’s a consideration when talking about how the new mega TV deals are going to effect what team X is going to be able to spend on payroll. It’s a topic in Tampa when they have to trade a Price, or when their GM and Manager leave.
    Despite the good work that teams like the Pirates, Royals, Rays and even the Cards do with player drafting and development the issue ALWAYS comes back to a teams ability to retain their good players and how that will effect the rest of the roster. In baseball everything comes back to payroll. You don’t want payroll to be part of the topic about a baseball team ? Get a salary cap. Until then it can and should be a part of the conversation right along side drafting, trading and development.

  2. Pirates should look into grabbing up C-1b Ryan Lavarnway who was designated for assignment by the Redsox. He can hit, and is a right handed batter who would be useful off the bench, and he is not expensive at this point. He could develop into a good offensive weapon.

    • It’d be pretty great if he fell to us… Catching being at such a premium , there are still many clubs ahead of us in the waiver process that are worse off for catching than the Buc’s.

  3. Tim, I am watching the John Holdzkom Inside Pirates Baseball and I am wondering, is it to early to jump on Holdzkom and give him a contract? I don’t think he has proved he can throw strikes yet. Should we give him a year or sign him to a contract?

  4. With the proposed amount of salary cap would it be possible if not make sense for the Pirates to sign both Liriano as well as McCarthy. It would give them a very legitimate rotation to add to a solid pen and a great lineup.

    Potential Rotation and Pen

    Liriano
    Cole
    McCarthy
    Burnette
    Worley

    Locke
    Melancon
    Watson
    Holdzkom
    Liz
    Pimentel
    Hughes

    C:Cervelli
    1B: Alvarez
    2B: Walker
    3B: Harrison
    SS: Mercer
    LF: Marte
    RF: Polanco
    CF: McCutchen
    Snider
    Sanchez
    Stewart
    Elmore/Sellers
    Lambo
    Id call that a good team and one ready to push for the division, Thoughts?

    • If they got McCarthy AND Liriano I think most would be pretty excited about that rotation from top to bottom. The more I look at the gap between Glasnow ( still a full year away at least), Taillon (will be shut down early even if effective so won’t be much help in 2015), and Kingham (less so), two starters would feel much better than one.

    • If they go for two more SP’s, it’ll be because they sign Liriano and Volquez. I think they like the idea of continuity in the rotation, hence the signing of Burnett.

      They have good working relations w these two and have had success getting them both to pitch better than before they joined the organization. Same goes for AJ.

  5. I really think we need to add another power arm to the mix. I realize we have the likes of Jameson Taillon ,Nick Kingham,and Tyler Glasnow all within a year and a half from reaching the big leagues but no prospect is a guarantee. I just think we need to stack this rotation full of young controllable power arms. I see an opportunity for a trade in Miami. They have a need to bring in a left handed power bat to pair with Stanton . Nathan Eovaldi is said to be available for the right package. I’m wondering what that package would look like?

    • Eovaldi would be nice, but I am having a tough time seeing how we match up with the Marlins. They are looking for a left-handed bat, and even if they liked Pedro, I think he is pretty much penciled in as our fingers-crossed option at 1B with the weak market of first-baseman out there. This is where it would be nice if Josh Bell was a little further along as that would have made Pedro more expendable.

  6. There are a lot of people out there who are just negative people, if the Pirates had a 200m payroll they would find something else to ” bich” about.
    When the Pirates where setting the record for losing people just wanted to go over .500 now that they had two WC finishes they won’t settle for nothing less than a World Series title.
    Whatever happened to just enjoying a game just for the fun of it?
    In the “Song” it says ” and if they lose it’s a shame”. Now if they lose it’s because Nutting is cheap

  7. First of all, I hope we don’t spend too much on someone else like we did with Wandy and got very little in return last year. (of course, I guess you sometimes have to get the bad with the good.)

    I am still surprised that Edison is still out there. As I said before “Edison, we like you, but don’t love you so take $15-16 mill for two years and lets get this done.” With the comments he made, I thought this would be done by now.

    Tim, will contracts like this now wait until after the rule 5 draft? Or does that not make any difference?

    Also, are their any more even rumors about the FA pitcher from New York? Were his comments about following the catcher just talk or do you think he would like it here and do well? Remember, I am new at this and don’t know anything about him.

    And, hope you and everyone else have had a great holiday week.

  8. Tim do you think the Pirates will ever get into the Cuban market? Seems like a lot of talent coming out from Cuba these days.

    • I’d never say never, but it just doesn’t seem like their style to guarantee a lot of dollars to someone who hasn’t played in the majors yet. I wonder if continued success from guys like Abreu will change that line of thinking.

      • even with Abreu success they will not take the risk..unless we have some new owner…that’s the reason some owner’s “partners” sold..they could not see winning a “WS” in their lifetime..”save a penny waste a dollar”

        • I don’t think it depends on the owner. The owner sets the budget. The GM decides how he’s going to spend that budget. Why would the owner care how the GM spends money if it falls under the budget?

          • As an owner the “GM” represents me and my business goal. So a GM decisions creates or murks my reputation..As a “manager” I pride my self to be surrounded with the best employees.(you are as good as your weakest kink).

      • even with Abreu success they will not take the risk..unless we have some new owner…that’s the reason some owner’s “partners” sold..they could not see winning a “WS” in their lifetime..”save a penny waste a dollar”

    • if you mean “Abreu” $ no…if you mean someone for about a 1m yes..they wont take a risk on a “known asset” let alone on an “unknown asset” they want to save 5 cents ..while DOLLARS walk out the window

      • Not sure why you would see things that way…. In the context of baseball we discuss $750,000.00 , for example, as tho the coins in our pocket add up to the sum total. Are you also bothered at how much professional athletes are paid in salary and bonuses as well?

        • I used to be ..in the 80’s …now the owners bother me more trying to save 100k while they are making 20 m in profits..while everybody think they are starving and they are going to go out of business ..mlb revenues have gone from 7m in 2012 to 9.5b in 2014 (36 %) in 2 years and our payroll 2013 74m and 2014 81m AS you can see here ( http://www.bloomberg.com/infographics/2013-10-23/mlb-team-values.html ) all teams received in 2012 110m in “MLB advanced media” thats before we sell a ticket or a hot dog…does not include any “local” team revenue..so when we are close but we miss going to the championship because we did not spend an extra 5m or 10 m I get frustrated..a 28m cash investment now is turning 20m $ profit per year and the taem went from an estimated value of 98m to 500m… another 400m $ in profits,,for the owners…ohh can you fell how trilled i am…

  9. Tim. You put it well. Payroll IMO, is a difficult discussion for anyone because there simply is not enough financial info available.

    • you can start with the financial sites (bloomberg..Forbes and the business of baseball ) i got about 50 links relevant to the Buc’s current ownership and their revenue history..profits…the only loss came in 2003 ..when they traded A-RAM..because “benson got hurt” every year they have posted “profits”..in 2013 21m which IMHO could have been used to make a good team into a “WS” team

  10. I do appreciate the higher payroll for the site and I too hate the topic of payroll because there is so much more to it than a number, but that is what a lot of people hang on. I’ll stick to covering the minors, draft, international signings, AFL and winter ball, all of which I am thankful for.

    • my view on payroll..it should be at least the ..”share revenue $”..so if each team gets X amount of $..that should be the least of payroll dollars of “any” mlb team..no excuse to spend 34 or 80 mill..if you are getting 100 mil+..

      • You may be the least realistic fan in the history of sports. Its a business, and even the most “WIN WIN WIN” fan realizes at some level that a team that is able to consistently win and bring in revenue while making a profit will continue doing so. No well run business in any area operates under the “we gotta win and if we have to sacrifice making money to do so, so be it”.

  11. Holding with the Thanksgiving theme, I am thankful the Pirates are run by a group of highly intelligent men who are implementing a system to identify talent others may undervalue and work with these players to bring it out. For me, it’s not about the $$$ being spent, it’s about the process of keeping the team viable over time. For I believe, the more playoff appearances the Pirates make, the more apt they are to win the WS.
    And Tim, good job on the shameless self-plug in the last paragraph. I’m only too happy to support your business.

    • well i’m thankfull i don’t let the Nutting “fleese me”..when they spend “all the share revenue (111 mill in 2013..15%+ more in 214) on a “ws” capable team and be willing to “break even” it’s all “lip service” ….yeah ..but have we won the central ..or a championship..let alone the “goal” of a WS.. well none of it ..we need to spend a couple of “bucs” and we spend “cents”..so in all purpose we wasted our time ..if the goal was to win a “WS”..now if the goal is to put “butts” in the seats the goal was perfect…dangle a carrot in front of a starved horse or “donkey”

      • Will Sanchez, embrace the joy of the Pirates upturn in performance. They’re in the early stages of an organizational renaissance. One day you’ll realize if you fixate on how others spend their money, no matter how they spend it, it will never match your expectation. Thus you’ll never be pleased.

        • No..nothing short of a “WS”.will do..when I know that tthe owners (70% Nuttings close to making 30 mill this year..

          • At what profit level for Nutting guarantees a WS title? Please share w him so you both will know.

            Newsflash! Owners want profits and wins! And if you were an Owner, you would to!

            • yes I understand is a “business” it’s not longer a “sport”…but when MLB gives you 100 + mill and your fans are starved for a “winning team”..so we milk the FANS..our reward for supporting the team and record attendance..record profits…a 20 % ave increase in tickets….any mlb team can spend at least 111 m shared $(2013 figures) on salary before they touch one cent of ticket-local revenues..so please spare me the local..small market revenues..because..we are 100 thousand lest that the cards and they spend what 30 % more and they still make $..it all about how “GREEDY” the owners are…20 -30 m this past season in operating revenue and another 30 or so in “CAPITAL GAINS” so it would not hurt them any to spend an go for championship team…at least they can really say “our goal is a world series”..if they don’t spend the $ ..to go from a good team to a championship team..all the words is just “lip service”
              the A’s , Tampa, orioles,royals all have less “local”revenue than us… the REDS tv contract is 10m thats 8 m less than ours..and they spend more..so “SO IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DESIRE TO WIN” our owners don’t want to win…they just you to buy a ticket ..spend your $ so they can make more $..if they own “kennywood” it would be about the $ not the history or anything else…the NUTTINGS 5 m original investment have turn into a 300m asset and they still want more…yes i love “MY team” but “I HATE THE OWNERS” just for the mere fact that they don’t want to “win” ohh yes after 50 years a’m still “BUC fan”

              • Your argument would hold more water if the team was languishing. By all accounts they were willing to trade some of their best prospects for Price last season and take on his $20mm salary this season in attempt to win now. To me this shows they are committed to winning and will spend if it makes sense. But I doubt anything they do will be enough for you.

                • Hear say..the fact was that all they did was get some waiver wire guys..that does not say “we are committed to winning” not signing Fa (assets) during the off season cost them prospects….we needed a 1b since 2012 as of this day ..we have not solved the problem yet..

  12. The correct word to use would be “frugal”. Or “smart”. Because the Pirates just paid under $30 M for just over five seasons worth of a 3.21 ERA, and one team will pay Jon Lester over $20 M a season for six years this off-season, hoping to get his career 3.58 ERA/3.67 xFIP.

    I agree with this 100%. Don’t spend just to spend, spend wisely.

    • Let’s remember that “wisely” doesn’t imply “a wing and a prayer”, especially when some of the names being bandied about don’t even have wings.

      One of the key traits of the reclamation projects to date is that for the most part, they’ve all been relatively healthy specimens. Once you start talking Brett Anderson, Gavin Floyd, Brandon Morrow and similar broken parts that can’t even give you 100 innings most years, you’re starting to stretch the premise.

      It’s one thing to fix an issue with a delivery for a guy who’s a workhorse. It’s quite another to try to keep injury-prone pitchers from being injury-prone.

      • The only injured dude I remember them going hard for was Josh Johnson (they offered more than the Padres). I’d say liriano would probsbly count too. Burnett and Volquez were certainly healthy specimens.

        So they have done it, but yeah, not that often.

        • I’m not talking about the Bucs FO as much as I am talking about folks here who keep bringing those names up.

    • yeah ..but have we won the central ..or a championship..let alone the “goal” of a WS.. well none of it ..we need to spend a couple of “bucs” and we spend “cents”..so in all purpose we wasted our time ..if the goal was to win a “WS”..now if the goal is to put “butts” in the seats the goal was perfect…dangle a carrot in front of a starved horse or “donkey”

      • One of only 4 teams to make it to the postseason each of the last two years. So yeah, there’s a lot of big spenders sitting at home while the Pirates play in October (however briefly).

          • Nothing about making the playoffs is a token. In order to win the contest, you have to make the dance. Being a consistent contender is a prerequisite to winning a WS, and GOD FORBID we havent won a WS in 1 of the 2 years we have made the playoffs in the last 20+ years. Spending more money does not equate to winning a WS in any given year.

            • no ..do not spend like the Yankees..but spend a dollar..not just a nickel..IMHO if you are 28 no contract should be more than 3 years ..pay the going rate..”DO NOT ALIENATE players telling them they have to take a discount to play for us..if you have to pay 1 mill xtra to get “the player you think will get you there ..don’t count your pennies..”go for it”..the goal is to win a “WS”..every year…if saving 8m gets you to the dance..but you don’t win..you may as well had a payroll of 34m like Houston..but ahhh that don’t put cust in the “seats”..but they would be making arount 70m in profits….i want a winner at all cost…its about time the owners spend their profits…if you look at the Cards “model”..they have made themselves successful with a tv market just like ours..they just have a reputation of been a “winner” an not a “20 year looser”..

              • If you think STL and PIT have the same market issue you are choosing to be dumb. You would be the fan screaming if we had STL ticket prices and vendor prices (a huge reason they can spend more). They have a better TV deal than we do and they get a huge bump from shoving their crappy beer into any and all ads.

                In short, STL has much higher tickets prices and a better TV deal that gives them significantly more revenue than PIT. Their TV market is not similar to PIT, even if you try to argue only in area the market touches. PIT has a market that gets trapped by CIN, CLE, PHI, WSH. Pure geography gives STL a large advantage over PIT in how many people the market reaches before running into another team. STL only has to fight with CHC and KC, and both of those teams are much farther away than any of the teams PIT has.

  13. I actually love the payroll side of being a Bucco fan. I am hyper- aware of the payroll , how it’s financed and how it is used. I can never wrap my head around the never ending battle required to defend ownership and management for how much is spent and how it is allocated. For the guys who refuse to remove the fingers from their ears and tuck their tongue back, that will read this piece and say, “Ya, but it ‘d be nice to see em sign Lester and Scherzer … and Headley would be a good back up…” “The Pirates ain’t broke , don’t let em fool ya.” I try not to object loudly when I am not informed on a topic , tho I know I can also be guilty.. My advice here is since we are powerless to how they decide to allocate however much is deemed available… Let us be proud of not being the opulent , wasteful , boastful, arrogant and entitled big market pigs. Proud that tho we are bottom fed we are not hungry because we ate their lunch. Our management cannot afford mistakes. Perhaps thats why they are so pensive in free agency. Can’t blame them for preferring to gamble on a piece from the worlds best farm system they just grew from nothing. The word is value. The reality is the upper two thirds of the market doesn’t hold much. I have 5 children and my wife and I work as we continue education… NH has run this franchise to victory tighter than I balance and budget my own household. #BUCNATIONPROUD

  14. Perfectly put ,Tim. My wife and I exchange one gift for Christmas. You are in some elite company. The past three years Santa brought me Keith Richards’ autobiography , Bob Dylan’s memoir’s and a collectors original , signed copy of Kurt Vonnegut Cat’s Cradle, circa 1963. So Richards, Dylan, Vonnegut and….. Williams. Sounds about right mid winter for a burnt out baseball nerd in Pa .

  15. How is it Tim that 90% of the time you say exactly what I am thinking but have a hard time articulating, good job. And yes we had a very happy thanksgiving with much moaning and groaning afterward. And finally no black Friday shopping for me, getting mauled by angry folks on the way to the sales rack is not my idea of fun. Have a great day !

    • It seems to me that signing both Liriano and Volquez to three year contracts, would cost us just about the same as it would have cost us for 5 years of Martin. But this is where the Pirates have used common sense. If you sign both Liriano and Volquez with the current guys, you have the option of making a run at the central with a pretty good starting rotation, while the young guys are getting the time they need. If one of the young guns makes it this summer you can still trade one of Liriano or Volquez in the offseason and gain control and money plus something in return. That is smart business.

      • Plus by the time Liriano and Volquez contracts were running out,it would be time to extend Cole, Polanco, and possibly Mercer and Harrison. We are pretty much set up in a good timing range with our young players. Now all we have to do is hope most of them prove the quality we feel they will.

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