Injury Impact to the Pirates’ Payroll

It’s no secret—injuries have significantly derailed the Pirates’ season. Many weren’t overly hopeful about the team’s chances this year, but many predicted at least a strong chance to finish above .500, as the team was largely the same as last season and it’s a feat they achieved then.

While the club knew about and could prepare for a few significant injuries before the season—such as Gregory Polanco—it would be hard for any team to plan for the bevy of injuries that have hit the Pirates since Opening Day. Finding replacements for Chad Kuhl, Edgar Santana, and Polanco is one thing, but 22 players, including the club’s most important players like Corey Dickerson, Jameson Taillon, and Chris Archer? There’s no depth chart in the league with that many major league caliber players at the ready, and no payroll able to sustain it either.

Speaking of which, the Pirates’ chances haven’t been the only thing affected by injuries—payroll has as well.

More often than not, injuries artificially raise a payroll figure. Since players continue to get paid while they are on the IL—any length, it doesn’t make a difference—teams end up paying two players for one spot. Whether it’s a temporary stopgap from Triple-A, or a player from outside the organization, payroll is going to go up; how much depends on how long any given player is out for.

So, how much has the Pirates payroll been affected this season? To determine that, a baseline must first be set. In order to do this, I came up with a roster for the beginning of the season as if players were healthy and ready to go. While I didn’t include Polanco, Kuhl, or Santana—as their availability for the season was already known—everyone else was fair game. Here’s the roster I settled on:

Starters: Bell, Cervelli, Chisenhall, Dickerson, Frazier, González, Kang, Marte

Bench: Cabrera, Diaz, Moran, Newman, Stallings

Rotation: Archer, Lyles, Musgrove, Taillon, Williams

Bullpen: Burdi, Crick, Kela, Kingham, Liriano, Rodríguez, Vázquez

Reserve List: Brault, Brubaker, Escobar, Feliz, Holmes, Keller, Kramer, Liranzo, Martin, Neverauskas, Osuna, Reyes, Slegers, Tucker

10-day IL: Polanco

60-day IL: Kuhl, Santana

Other*: Agrazal, Barrett, Koehler

*The Pirates, having tendered contracts to Dario Agrazal and Jake Barrett, were responsible for their salaries, despite designating both for assignment. Also, despite a non-guaranteed minor league deal, Tom Koehler has an option for 2020, so his buyout is factored in.

That’s 45 players as a starting point, but what about the payroll? Well, according to my payroll calculations, that theoretical figure would be $74,901,100. From that starting point, let’s analyze the moves made due to injury, and how they impact payroll on a move-to-move basis. Keep in mind, when tracking payroll in-season, I look at every move as if it will be the last. So, when I say that a certain move had a certain impact on payroll, that’s looking forward to the end of the season. Also, all transactions and payroll figures are as of 6/4.

First, let’s look at the injuries before the season even started:

Lonnie Chisenhall placed on 10-day IL, select contract of JB Shuck, designate Aaron Slegers for assignment: +$700,000

Chisenhall was hit in the hand during the second-to-last game before the season, and the Pirates didn’t commit to Shuck as his replacement until the last second. Otherwise, his $700,000 salary would have never been on the books. Also, the Pirates had to designate Slegers to clear a spot, but like Agrazal and Barrett, they were still responsible for his salary.

Jordan Lyles placed on 10-day IL, replaced by Steven Brault: +$484,100

This was very similar to the Chisenhall situation, in that Brault wouldn’t have made the roster if Lyles didn’t need to build up his pitch count before the season. This meant the difference between a minor league and major league salary for Brault and the Pirates.

Elias Diaz placed on 10-day IL, replaced by Pablo Reyes: +$475,100

I was hesitant to not include Diaz and his virus with the injuries that were already known, as it was more apparent he was going to miss time as Spring Training went on, but I ultimately added Reyes as a replacement. You can quibble with who this final bench spot would have went to, but it wouldn’t make a huge difference payroll wise.

Jose Osuna placed on 10-day IL: +$483,100

The Pirates were burnt by the CBA—Article XIX (C)(2)(b) to be exact—which states:

(2) Notwithstanding Section C(1) above, a Player who is injured and not able to play may be assigned to a Minor League club:

(b) During the period immediately following the filing of Major League Reserve Lists and before the 15th day prior to the start of the next championship season

Basically, even though Osuna had little-to-no chance of opening the season in the majors, since he hadn’t been optioned on or before the 16th day prior to the season, he had to open the season on the Major League Injured List, meaning he’d be paid a major league salary.

Dovydas Neverauskas placed on 10-day IL: +$478,600

See Osuna

In total, payroll was inflated by $2,620,900 due to all of these players going on the Injured List, bringing the starting figure to $77,522,000.

It seems the injuries to start the season were a sign of things to come. Here’s is a rundown of all the injuries during the season, and how they affected the payroll:

Corey Dickerson placed on 10-day IL, Jordan Lyles activated from 10-day IL: $0

Since both players were earning major league salaries already, so these moves didn’t result in a change to payroll.

Kyle Crick placed on 10-day IL, recall Jason Martin: +$487,777

Martin received a nice pay bump, earning more in his 25 days on the big-league roster ($74,597) than his entire first year salary on the 40-man roster would have been ($45,300).

Kevin Newman placed on 10-day IL, recall Kevin Kramer: +$429,630

Beware of pitching machines folks. Despite never leaving the bench, Kramer made roughly $15,000 in 5 days.

Option Kevin Kramer, activate Kyle Crick from 10-day IL: ($417,141)

Dovydas Neverauskas activated from 10-day IL, optioned to AAA: ($429,711)

Basically a paper move, but Neverauskas went from his major league salary back to a minor league salary because of it.

Starling Marte placed on 10-day IL, recall Cole Tucker: +$446,673

Here’s our first real stunner. Like Martin, Tucker is making a nice salary compared to his $45,300 minor league allotment.

Erik González placed on 60-day IL, select contract of Bryan Reynolds: +$486,371

One man’s clavicle surgery is another man’s 40-man roster spot and astronomical pay raise. Reynolds is obviously making the most of the opportunity as well.

Jacob Stallings placed on 10-day IL, activate Elias Diaz from 10-day IL: $0

Again, two major league salaries mean no change to payroll.

Option Steven Brault, activate Gregory Polanco from 10-day IL: ($419,033)

Polanco coming back much earlier than originally anticipated finally lost Brault the spot he never really had…

Nick Burdi placed on 10-day IL, recall Steven Brault: +$416,430

until he gained it right back the very next day after Burdi’s ugly injury.

Chris Archer placed on 10-day IL, recall Michael Feliz: +$398,387

Feliz’s situation is interesting. In his agreement with the team to avoid arbitration, Feliz received a split-contract. This is probably a more common practice than we know of, but it more than likely just goes unreported. Basically, if Feliz is in the minors, he makes a prorated $375,000 salary, while a spot in the majors pays him $850,000.

Option Jason Martin, activate Starling Marte from 10-day IL: ($382,171)

Fortunately, González didn’t cost the team much in the long run, as the time off seemed to reinvigorate Marte.

Jose Osuna activated from 10-day IL, optioned to AAA: ($389,597)

See Neverauskas

Option Pablo Reyes, activate Kevin Newman from 10-day IL: ($380,591)

Word is Newman will be using a tee for the foreseeable future.

Jameson Taillon placed on 10-day IL, select contract of Tyler Lyons,

Designate JB Shuck for assignment, recall Dovydas Neverauskas: +$827,991

Elbow troubles not only forced Pittsburgh into a collective breath holding contest, but also into a string of roster moves. Lyons was added to the roster to take Taillon’s place, and despite the fact it was probably higher, this only assumes a major league minimum salary since an official one was never announced. In order to clear a spot on the roster for Lyons, Shuck had to be designated. Since he ended up clearing waivers and accepting his assignment, the Pirates are still on the hook for his entire salary. He had the option to refuse the assignment, but he would have given up the money in that scenario. Finally, Neverauskas was brought back to fill the spot voided by Shuck.

Keone Kela placed on 10-day IL, select contract of Montana DuRapau,

Designate Tyler Lyons for assignment, recall Clay Holmes: +$789,368

Much like Taillon, Kela was replaced by a player not on the 40-man roster. Much like Shuck, Lyons had the opportunity to refuse his assignment, but chose the guaranteed salary instead.

In case anyone is curious, here’s Article XX(D)(2) and (3):

(2) Any Player whose contract is assigned outright to a Minor League club for the second time or any subsequent time in his career may elect, in lieu of accepting such assignment, to become a free agent

(3) A Player who becomes a free agent under this Article XX(D) shall immediately be eligible to negotiate and contract with any Club without any restrictions or qualifications, and shall not be entitled to receive termination pay

Option Dovydas Neverauskas, acquire Chris Stratton from Giants, Nick Burdi transferred to 60-day IL: +$67,392 

At first, I didn’t have the acquisition of Stratton on this list, but it probably makes sense to have him. Without Burdi’s injury there wouldn’t have been a spot for him and the team was desperate for pitching.

Jung Ho Kang placed on 10-day IL, select contract of Jake Elmore, Jameson Taillon transferred to 60-day IL: +$417,742

The team is tied to Elmore’s contract at this point after selecting him from Triple-A.

Option Clay Holmes, activate Chris Archer from 10-day IL: ($344,703)

It turns out that maybe Archer should have stayed out a bit longer.

Trevor Williams placed on 10-day IL, recall Clay Holmes: +$339,708

Jacob Stallings activated from 10-day IL, outrighted to AAA: $0

This was an odd situation, as it was never announced that Stallings was designated or placed on any kind of waivers; either way, he accepted his assignment, so there’s no change to payroll.

Option Michael Feliz, select contract of Rookie Davis, Lonnie Chisenhall transferred to 60-day IL: +$55,054

Another move I was unsure of including, as it was not necessitated by injury, merely possible because of it.

Chris Stratton placed on 10-day IL, recall Dovydas Neverauskas: +$329,359

Francisco Cervelli placed on 7-day IL, select contract of Jacob Stallings,

Designate Jake Elmore for assignment, recall Jose Osuna: +$329,859

Stallings time off the roster wasn’t long, as he had to be added back as a backup catcher, unfortunately due to another concussion for Cervelli. After clearing waivers and accepting his assignment, the Pirates are on the hook for the rest of Elmore’s contract.

Option Dovydas Neverauskas, select contract of Alex McRae, Corey Dickerson transferred to 60-day IL: +$51,755

Yet another move made possible by an initially unforeseen long stint on the IL.

In-Season Total: $3,110,549

Grand Total: $5,731,449


Of course, these numbers aren’t representative of the total change in payroll during the season, as I only analyzed moves necessitated by or made because of injury. Also, some may be able to quibble with whether moves were actually due to injury or not, but I think this gives a good snapshot of showing just how a single transaction can affect payroll on a day-to-day basis, and how just injuries themselves can really affect it.

Forget the captions—I used almost 350 words summarizing the injury transactions. In fact, the optioning of Richard Rodríguez on May 17th was the first move of the season that wasn’t necessitated by injury. That’s just the kind of season it’s been for the Pirates.

The fact that they’ve been able to weather the storm and perform the way they have is impressive, but I don’t think this is the “spending to win” that many fans have in mind.

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A longtime Pirates Prospects reader, Ethan has been covering payroll, transactions, and rules in-depth since 2018 and dabbling in these topics for as long as he can remember. He started writing about the Pirates at The Point of Pittsburgh before moving over to Pirates Prospects at the start of the 2019 season.

Always a lover of numbers and finding an answer, Ethan much prefers diving into these topics over what’s actually happening on the field. These under and often incorrectly covered topics are truly his passion, and he does his best to educate fans on subjects they may not always understand, but are important nonetheless.

When he’s not updating his beloved spreadsheets, Ethan works full-time as an accountant, while being a dad to two young daughters and watching too many movies and TV shows at night.

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