At the end of last week, the Pittsburgh Pirates came to terms with all of their arbitration eligible players, avoiding any arbitration hearings this year. The moves also have the benefit of giving a pretty clear picture of where the payroll is at for the 2016 season. This is a first for this off-season, as any other projections included arbitration estimates, which weren’t exact (the Pirates ended up coming in about $1 M lower after the deals were signed).
We still don’t know the details of Chris Stewart’s extension, which means we don’t know his actual 2016 salary. John Jaso was signed to a two-year, $8 M deal, and without details, I just broke that down as $4 M per year. And the guys with 0-3 years of service time don’t have exact payroll figures, but those shouldn’t change much from the projections. I don’t anticipate any of these three situations impacting the payroll to a large degree, which means the current $96,777,583 projection looks pretty solid.
There have been some figures floating around this off-season that the Pirates will spend north of $100 M this year, with the $105 M figure being the most popular. That would leave a little over $8 M in the payroll budget right now. With the current projection looking sound, I wanted to take a look at factors that might impact the payroll from now until the end of the 2016 season.
I have to mention this first, because it’s the only thing the current projection doesn’t include. The $105 M figure, or any figure north of $100 M, leaves out details as to whether the Pirates would be spending that going in to the season, or by the end of the season. And that detail is important.
Last year, I had the Pirates projected for $91.6 M on Opening Day, and had them finishing with a $101.9 M projection by the end of the season. They ended up adding a projected $10 M in payroll throughout the year, and that matches previous seasons where they have added $7-10 M per year in-season.
So if the $105 M is a final figure, then the Pirates would likely finish in their current projected range, leaving money to be spent in-season and at the deadline. This would represent a small increase in payroll from 2015, but not as big of an increase as they’ve seen in previous years. They went from $59 M in 2012 to $74 M in 2013. Then they jumped to $81 M in 2014, followed by the $101 M in 2015. So a $4 M jump from 2015 to 2016 would seem very low compared to the jump in previous years.
If the $105 M figure represents where they might end up by the end of the off-season, then they’ve still got plenty of money to work with. This would also result in an increase in payroll of over $10 M after the in-season moves are factored in. That’s more in line with previous increases.
I don’t know which figure is correct, and we’ll only know that when the off-season is over and the Opening Day payroll projection is in.
The Pirates have their left-handed first baseman in John Jaso, but the right side of the platoon raises some questions. Heading into the off-season, Neal Huntington talked about finding a left-hander to platoon with Michael Morse. The Pirates added Morse at the deadline last year for Jose Tabata, getting money from the Dodgers in the process. They’re paying him about $4.5 M this year, which is the same amount Tabata would have received.
Normally it would have been easy to say that the first base platoon would be Jaso and Morse. However, the Pirates made another move this off-season, sending Trey Supak and Keon Broxton to Milwaukee for Jason Rogers. While Rogers has played third base and the outfield in the past, he’s pretty much only an option at first base, unless the Pirates want to totally sacrifice defense for his bat.
Rogers has an option remaining, so he could be sent down to Triple-A if the Pirates wanted to go with Morse and Jaso. But it would be weird for the Pirates to do that after trading two of their top 50 prospects to get Rogers. Not to mention, Rogers would have no place to play in Indianapolis, with Josh Bell playing first base, and the rest of the infield looking crowded.
I’d bank on Rogers making the team. It’s hard to say what this means for Morse. The Pirates could try to deal him away, saving an extra $4.5 M, which could be put to better use elsewhere. They could also go with both options, and sacrifice defense at one bench spot in favor of better offense. That wouldn’t be the worst plan, and the fact that they have Sean Rodriguez as an all-defense super utility player makes this possible.
If Morse is dealt, that could impact their potential to add to the payroll before the off-season is completed.
Prior to last week, I still thought there would be a possibility that Mark Melancon would be traded this off-season. The Pirates were adding a ton of right-handed relief options who were hard throwers. That signaled the possibility that they were loading up in preparation to replace Melancon.
But then Neal Huntington talked about how their bullpen was being set up to boost the rotation, and it now seems that they’ll keep a strong combo of Melancon and Tony Watson in the late innings, while also using all of their external additions as multiple long relievers capable of taking over early for the back of the rotation.
For that reason, I’d expect the Pirates to add a few more bullpen arms, although I doubt they’ll add anyone else of significant cost. The one exception could be a second left-handed reliever. Right now their only options at lefty relief are minor league free agent deals, which doesn’t give them a ton of depth behind Tony Watson.
This is another situation where the future plans are unknown. I could see a scenario where the Pirates spend on an established lefty reliever, or trade for one like they did last year. Then again, this is an organization that doesn’t seem to care about lefty/righty designations, as long as you can get both sides out. So maybe they ignore the second lefty spot in favor of an additional right-hander who can pitch to left-handers, and who can go multiple innings.
The only way I see them spending money here is by adding an established lefty, which I wouldn’t totally rule out.
The current rotation has Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano at the top. Jon Niese, Jeff Locke, and Ryan Vogelsong are starting the year in the other three spots. Juan Nicasio and Kyle Lobstein as depth options. Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon lead a group of prospects who could help by mid-season, with the list also including Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams.
By the end of the year, the rotation could look great. But at the start of the year, it currently leaves a bit to be desired.
I have no problem with Niese, as I think there’s a good chance the Pirates get him back to his 2011-14 numbers. I don’t know how Jeff Locke’s mechanical changes will help him, but if they make him more consistent and get him to his best point, then you’re talking about a strong number four starter.
Vogelsong is the move that is puzzling. He seems like a great fit for the bullpen with the current plan of going for guys who can throw multiple innings. Yet the Pirates seem set with him in the rotation. And looking at where they are with the payroll, it seems they could have afforded a better starter, or could still afford a better starter.
I wouldn’t rule out a starter, even though many are considering the off-season to be complete. We’ve heard multiple rumors connecting the Pirates to guys like Mat Latos and Justin Masterson, even after Vogelsong was added. And while the off-season moves are usually wrapping up this time of year, this particular off-season has been slow around the league, leaving several talented pitchers and interesting bounce back candidates remaining as free agents.
It would be disappointing if Vogelsong is in the rotation with the Pirates just shy of $97 M in payroll. We’ll see how that plays out over the next month, and whether the Pirates stay with what they’ve got, or add another arm. I still wouldn’t rule out the latter, especially since the rotation depth at the start of the year seems weaker than recent years.
**Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Top Prospects: #15 – Cole Tucker. We resume the top 20 countdown, and will be rolling out a player per day during the week from here on out. If you buy your copy of the Prospect Guide, you’ll get all of the reports, along with our grades, and the reports of the 21-50 prospects and every other player in the system. It’s the most information you can find on the Pirates’ system, and the cheapest price you can find for a prospect book this time of year, especially with the Top Prospect and Annual discounts.
**Pirates Are Ranked Near the Top in Defense. The Pirates keep getting top ratings in almost every position and overall category.
**Pirates Sign Catcher Nate Irving. A minor league depth move, which makes sense when you consider how many catchers the organization needs in Spring Training.