Neal Huntington Discusses Spending Extra Payroll, Intent to Add at the Deadline

PITTSBURGH – As I calculate it, the Pirates have a current projected payroll of a little over $96 M. That figure removes money from what the Pirates saved from Jung Ho Kang’s 2017 salary ($2.75 M, assuming he will miss the entire year) and Starling Marte’s time on the restricted list (just under $2.2 M).

If you add those two figures back in, the Pirates would be at $101.3 M right now. Adding them back gives some perspective, as it shows what the Pirates were planning on spending with both of those players on the team.

The Opening Day payroll was $98.9 M, which removed Kang’s figure. The Pirates also released Jared Hughes, and prior to that move, the payroll was projected for around $101 M. If you add Kang back to that number, then a payroll with Hughes, Kang, and Marte for the full season would be at around $103 M.

So the Pirates have money to spend. We don’t know the exact figure that they intended to spend before it was known that Kang would probably be out for the year, or before Marte was suspended, or before Hughes had a bad Spring Training. But it would be a safe guess to put them at $101 M, at the least, especially since they started the season around that level in 2016.

If that’s the case, the Pirates currently have at least $5 M in unspent money this year, and possibly more when you consider that they usually spend more money throughout the year than their Opening Day projection.

Yesterday, Neal Huntington told reporters, including our own Alan Saunders, that the team intends to put this money back into the club “when the option becomes available.”

“As soon as that option becomes available, we’ll gladly pour the money back into the club,” Huntington said. “April trades are essentially non-existent. May trades are hard to come by. As we get closer to the deadline, that is the intent: to utilize the dollars that created. … That money is sitting there, waiting to be used at the appropriate time.”

The Pirates are not off to a good start for their season, currently sitting four games below .500. They are a better team than this if all is going well. Unfortunately for them, hardly anything is going well this season. The current speculation isn’t that they will add at the deadline, but that they will subtract by trading players who have expiring contracts, or only a year or two remaining beyond 2017. Huntington left their approach up in the air for now, but said their current intent is to add.

“We’ll obviously measure where we are when we get closer to July,” Huntington said. “As we sit here now, our intent is to do what we’ve done the last six years, which is to add to this club, to put ourselves in contention to play meaningful baseball in September and for the fourth time, playoff baseball in October.”

That part is true about the Pirates adding every year. They weren’t strong contenders in 2011, but they added Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. They added every year after that, including the 2016 season, when they traded for Ivan Nova. That deadline was a bit different, since they both added Nova and subtracted Mark Melancon, getting Felipe Rivero for the future. It’s possible that this approach could fit the Pirates in 2017, especially if they’re looking to sell and get what they can for departing guys, while also looking to build early for the 2018 season.

“We’ll continue to monitor the situation,” Huntington said. “Our intent is to be in a position to add. If there’s a year where we’re not in a position to add, then we take a look at the players that are going to leave us at the end of the year in free agency. What’s our best return there? Some cases, it’s to hold them.

“A year ago, we held a number of guys that were leaving via free agency or potentially leaving via free agency because we wanted to give this team a chance to compete. We made one trade Melancon for Rivero. We added Nova. We traded Liriano. We may be in a buy and sell situation. But each situation is unique. I don’t know that anything changes our intent to be in a position to help this club win every year.”

One thing to consider is the current makeup of the team. I wrote at the end of last week about the position-by-position breakdown for the short-term and long-term. The Pirates have options at each position for the next few years, and prospects at most positions for the long-term. As far as adding to the team, they could certainly pick some spots to try and reduce the amount of spaces they are relying on prospects to fill. But that’s going to be difficult to decide which young players they go with, and which spots need outside help.

“We’re going to have to continue to have to fold young guys into it,” Huntington said. “We’ll supplement those with some veteran additions whether via trade or free agency. As our young players continue to grow and develop, we need to have the next wave behind. That’s why what’s happening in Bradenton is important for the future Pirates. That’s why what’s happening as we prepare for the draft is important for future Pirates. Whether it’s direct because they come up and play a meaningful role for us or it’s indirect, because we were able to use some good players in our system to trade for established Major Leaguers.”

The Pirates have used plenty of prospects to trade for MLB players, with the most recent big example being Tito Polo and Stephen Tarpley for Nova. I’d expect to see more of that going forward.

As for spending, it will be interesting to see how this is done in 2017, especially if the team is in a position where it would make more sense to sell, thus subtracting payroll in the process. They did that last year, and subtracted future payroll in the Francisco Liriano trade, then spent that money on guys like David Freese and Ivan Nova.

I’d be less concerned about the 2017 payroll reaching a magic figure — especially if they’re out of the mix — and more concerned on how they spend the money going forward. It really doesn’t matter if they’re spending $98 M or $101 M in 2017. But if they cut millions of dollars in future payroll, then you’d hope they will add that payroll back in the future. Fortunately, they’ve already had that scenario in the last year, and spent the money they saved. I’d expect a similar approach in 2017 if the current season goes the way it is going.

  • I like one point NH touched upon, and that’s regarding spending the money when the right opportunity arises. I’ve heard plenty of people bitching that the Bucs didn’t spend any money this offseason (which is untrue outright), without realizing that they were likely holding out on spending too much because they were saving space on the payroll for Quintana (remember, they were actively pursuing that trade). At the point where it was obvious the trade wasn’t going to happen and many free agents have been signed, what do they propose the Bucs do? Spend money for the hell of it? And to those complaining that they failed to replace Marte: purely nonsensical. He’s not even out the whole year, and in order to replace his production, the Bucs would have to land a starting major league OF, which would cost prospects. That makes no sense. And the internal options to replace him are far better than any free agent outfielder available (Pagan is maybe the exception, but he was pursued earlier, to no avail).

  • WillyMoGarcia33
    May 22, 2017 3:55 pm

    My curiosity at the moment, is what is leading to their apparent disdain for Hanson? Moroff and Bostick were plugged straight into the lineup upon their call ups. Ngoepe is showing the holes in his offense, but still gets a start here and there. It doesn’t even feel like their utilizing Hanson for his speed, he only has 2 SB’s. I was pulling my hair out till Gosselin got optioned, and I’ve been teetering with Jaso (though he has been better as of late: 286/444/619 in last 14 days). With Hanson, it feels as if they almost want nothing to do with him, but won’t do anything with him.

  • Who did Pirates add in 2014?

  • I would love to see us sneak in and go big on international signing and incur the penalty. We essentially never go over the $300k threshold anyways, so not seeing a large downside to reinvest into our farm system. (too bad we couldn’t buy someone like Luis Robert from Cuba)

    • That would have been a good idea except they now have a hard cap and no penalties. Which means their cap is their cap they can not go above it. They could trade for and add up to 75% of their original pool but that’s it.

  • And it is May 20 when that happens. Are you suggesting that Adams is an upgrade to anything or even a suitable replacement? Look at his stats for 2015, 2016. If NH acquired him the masses would be screaming mad.

    • Yes absolutely Matt Adams is an upgrade. The Braves lost a major piece and their GM took action right away to help out. We’ve lost multiple major pieces this year and our GM has done nothing. Do something to improve the club.

      • Let’s see, Kang’s problems were anticipated. We resigned Freese. Marte is out and we had in internal replacement in Frazier who happens to be hitting better then 360? What repacment would you offer there? Tallion was diagnosed with cancer less than 2 weeks ago. Who is the replacement for your number 2 starter????

        • WillyMoGarcia33
          May 23, 2017 9:36 am

          Tommy Millone. I mean, that’s who the big spending, move making, Mets went with with all their injuries. 0-2 with 10.50 ERA with Mets so far, looks to be working out.

    • Adams as well as Loney are competent replacements (not close to Freeman but definitely pro players) what did we do when we lost Marte? we brought upa 1B who had not played OF on four years. We have only two real OFs on the roster right now. I think it would have been pretty easy get a solid replacement for a a low A player. We chose not to do it.

      • WillyMoGarcia33
        May 22, 2017 3:26 pm


        Osuna innings in OF over last 3 years:
        2017 (prior to call up): 26 innings
        2016: 337 innings
        2015: 712.1 innings

        Matt Adams is below average 1B defensively. And Loney is hitting 218 in AAA. Not really sure how that compares.

        • Loney has track record of performing (heck the Bucs coveted the guy for many years). Adams is a really good hitter and likely better defender then anyone we have playing right now (Jaso, Bell and Osuna). The Pirates moved Osuna to 1B because he a terrible. At points earlier after the Marte situation we had Jaso in right and Osuna in LF. All of that made us yearn for Frasier who I love to play in the outfield even though 30 days ago we all agreed he was terrible OF.

          • So you are saying that because we coveted a guy in 2012 and 2013 that they makes him a legit replacement 5 years later????

      • WillyMoGarcia33
        May 22, 2017 3:30 pm

        Not to mention, Adams had 1 start since April 27th, mainly used primarily as a pinch hitter. Doesn’t seem he was exactly a key piece of their team.

      • I dont see it that way. Clubs dont offer replacements for low A players, at least not often. We have some of those guys in the system already. (Frazier) What replacment would be better than him? With Fresse at 3B and Harrision at 2B you have to play him in the OF to get his bat.

  • Huntington – “April trades are non-existent. May trades are hard to come by” Braves lose Freddie Freeman and trade for Matt Adams the next day.

  • Actually, I like the way 2018 shapes up. Minus Cutch, Kang (speculating), Nicasio, Bastardo, Stewart, Jaso we free up a ton of money and have quality minor league replacements allowing us to make a splash on some impact players.

    • do you actually believe this team will ever make a splash in FA? If they did it would be the first time in NH and BN era

      • pierogieking
        May 22, 2017 3:33 pm

        Depends on what you mean by splash? If you mean sexy big names, then no way. If you mean a lesser known name that could make a big impact, def could see it.

        • Anyone can make an impact but getting an expected high impact 15-25 million guy that will not happen. Getting a quality player for 7 million coming off a couple injury prone or bad years maybe.

          • I think it could happen in a trades or a number of the signings that you note.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    May 22, 2017 1:48 pm

    This team would be foolish to try to add at the deadline this year, if that means trading prospects. I’d prefer they start making the right decisions long term and let go of all the dead wood – Bastardo, Stewart, Jaso, Gosselin, etc. – and give more opportunities to the likes of Moroff, Weiss, Diaz, etc.

    • I agree unless you can acquire a player who the Pirates can control past this year

    • Maybe we can trade to get back the players we dumped last year

      • Pedro can be had. Everyone probably could be Morton would be the toughest. Franky looks like a hot mess again.

    • Best comment in this thread IMO. We are not perennial contenders at this point and a rebuild needed. Why would we consider being a buyer at deadline on this team. We can lose 85-90 with what we already have. Our window closed for now. Move Watson and McCutchen at deadline. Kang probably will never return. If someone offers a ridiculous amount of talent for Cole, take it.

  • Tony Watson I can see traded somewhere around the deadline. Rivero would then be put in the closer role.

    • I am hoping they trade Watson as soon as possible but I think you are right he will not finish the year as a Pirate.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    May 22, 2017 1:47 pm

    How about spending in the International free agent market, and at least be part of the conversation for the top 25-50 prospects each year? Even the White Sox are more aggressive – going after the 19 year old Cuban who looks like a stud….

  • The later you make the deal, the farther the $5million goes because they are only paying a prorated portion of any 2017 contracts, so looking at overall salary does no good. The issue becomes acquiring anyone with more than 1 season on their contract, and how it fits next years budget, but $5 million is could go quite a way at the deadline if they are shrewd

  • I dont think it will be limited to $4 or 5 million. They always seem to budget for July and August deals. If they can get a controllable player in a deal they may full well go to $110 total. You have Cutch coming off the books next year in all likelihood so a larger contract for someone for the remainder of this year and using Cutch’s $ in 2018 to pay them is a distinct possibility.

    • Cutch and Watson both off the books next year. that’s 20 million. They need to find a SS.

      • Probably not going to find a worth while SS in the FA pool.

      • Spotrac lists 2018 FA by position there will be an all out bidding war for Cozart and nothing glamorous after that maybe some creative bargains who could be platooned with Mercer while Newmans future gets hashed out.

      • I think Bastardo and Nicasio are gone as well.

        • Wasn’t the Mets suppose to be paying part of bastinkos contract? Are we counting that extra money? If we started with 110 million payroll last year and are at around 100 million this year, can we honestly say with a straight face the team spent Liriano money for Freeze and Nova without asking what happen to the other 10 million we chose not to spend (Joyce, Melansen, Rod and others) this year? At this point adding to this team would seem silly. They did not take all the money saved from trades last year and put it back into the team, I doubt they do it this year. Its BNs team and he can do what he pleases but I think the lack of crowds this year will reflect the distrust that is now starting to fester once again in the fan base

      • Look at the farm. We aren’t trading for a shortstop, there is none better than Mercer available for that price.

    • I agree with you but among controllable who will be available? We went through this with Quintana, dodgers with Dozier.

    • I could see payroll around $110 million by year’s end but I would think that they would only add payroll if they were firmly in contention at the deadline. If not, I’d expect them to sell. I would think McCutchen, Watson, and a few more would be gone. We will see soon enough

  • Are there any good SS’s out there that we could get for $5 mil? How about a power hitting CF’er (since ‘both’ of ours have disappeared)?

    No? Then we might as well hang on to the $$$$.

    Of course, $5 mil doesn’t buy much these days (think Hudson or Jaso).

    • You have to think no matter what Watson will be gone. That will probably be another 2 million or so.

  • Could get Jon Kemmer from Houston for next to nothing. Take a chance on a power hitting, corner outfield playing local kid.

    • He is 26 and not in BA’s top 30.

      Not sure why you’d want him?

      • Pure homerism. Local guy nice guy and family. Hits a ton.

        • Derek Law is your guy but I’m pretty sure he’s tightly controlled along with Ian Happ and Alex Kiriloff. Neil Walker could be had easiest not sure where he’d play.

  • piraterican21
    May 22, 2017 12:52 pm

    It will be great if the team spend that money on the international market. But sadly this is an area that it has been somewhat neglected.

  • Skeptical of what $4m will get for the mlb team this year over and above what is in place – if it can fill in a hole great. If a high upside player falls to them in the draft I’d rather use the money to lock up the pick.

    • With $5M to spend over roughly half a season they could probably add a piece that would help the team, but I’d rather they put that $5M in the bank and use it next year if we are not serious contenders this year.

    • I could be wrong, but I believe the draft $ are already set. If they are set, then they are already budgeted. These $ if not spent, would go to something else. Next years payroll, pay down debt club, etc….

      • I was under the impression that the slot was set but it is possible to exceed and unless it is known that the pirates have budgeted to only to go up to the slot then you’re right. But I was under the impression that the higher upside targets always took more than the slot any budgeting would be dynamic only determinable when they get up to pick.

        • Bill Harvey
          May 22, 2017 2:21 pm

          Teams can still spend whatever they want on draft picks, but the escalating punishment for going over a teams total bonus pool allotment, +5%, usually has been keeping teams pretty close to their total bonus pool.

          • If they go $1-$2m over pool I’m assuming it was worthwhile

            • they lose draft picks if they go more than 5% over.

              • Checking this out the 5%s add up fast to a lot of picks. It seems like the Cubs have made a practice going over but staying under 5. This is pretty deflating for the 12 slot college players are probably a lock.

                • The Bucs have also made it a practice of going over their allotted pool. But never by more than 5%. At that point the punishment is way too great.

            • Bill Harvey
              May 22, 2017 4:20 pm

              Simply put, no. If they go more than 5% over their total bonus pool money, they face a 100% fine on the amount over and they start losing draft picks. 5% of $10 million is only $500k.

        • The total the Bucs will spend on draft picks is set in stone. The only variable is how much money will go to each particular pick.