Looking ahead to the 2015 payroll (and where Russell Martin could fit)

It’s a little early to already be looking ahead to next season, but this seems to be a pretty interesting topic these days. With Russell Martin hitting .290 with a .413 on-base percentage, while also throwing out 39% of base stealers and playing all-around solid baseball, more and more Pirate fans are joining the “Re-Sign Russell Martin” movement.

As always, it will come down to one thing: money. Let’s take a look at what the Pirates expect to take off their payroll, as well as what they’ll be adding in terms of salary increases, to see if they could fit Martin into the budget. Keep in mind that we don’t have the Pirates’ exact figures.


Here are the salaries that are coming off the payroll after this season:

Russell Martin: $8.5 million
Wandy Rodriguez: $7.5 million
Francisco Liriano: $6 million
Edinson Volquez: $5 million
Clint Barmes: $2 million

Increase — Guaranteed Contracts

Here are the players with guaranteed contracts for 2015:

Charlie Morton: $4 million increase ($4 mil to $8)
Andrew McCutchen: $2.75 million increase ($7.25 mil to $10)
Jose Tabata: $1 million increase ($3 mil to $4)
Starling Marte: $0.5 million increase ($500K to $1)

Increase — Arbitration Eligible Contracts

Here are the players set for arbitration in 2015:

Gaby Sanchez (Arb-3)
Jayson Nix (Arb-3)
Neil Walker (Arb-2)
Pedro Alvarez (Arb-2)
Ike Davis (Arb-2)
Mark Melancon (Arb-2)
Travis Snider (Arb-2)
Chris Stewart (Arb-2)
Vin Mazzaro (Arb-2)
Ernesto Frieri (Arb-2)
Vance Worley (Arb-1)
Tony Watson (Arb-1)
Jeanmar Gomez (Arb-1)
Josh Harrison (Arb-1)

The arbitration system is … very arbitrary. It’s hard to predict exactly how much of a raise each players will see — unless you’re Matt Swartz over at MLB Trade Rumors, who’s built a very accurate model for projecting such things. Still, you can put a guess on it and go from there.

Also, you have to consider other roster adjustments — i.e. non-tender candidates… I see no reason to tender a contract to Jayson Nix; Vin Mazzaro can’t even make the roster but is earning $950K this year, so he’s an easy non-tender candidate; Ernesto Frieri, assuming he isn’t claimed after being DFA’d a few days ago, is another one.

With that in mind, let’s play the guessing game. Of that list of players, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are the two big names. However, arbitrators look at playing time as a big factor, and both of those guys are seeing fewer plate appearances these days — Walker’s physical health (appendectomy in June and now back spasms in August) and Alvarez’s mental health (yips) have them sidelined right now. This goes in the team’s favor a bit, though Walker is still having a great year (arbitrators love homers) and will get another nice raise.

Players who should see a moderate increase in salary ($1-2 million): Harrison and Watson as first year arb. guys coming off All-Star appearances, Melancon for being dominant again.

Players who don’t deserve it but will get a raise: Ike and Gaby.

Players who will see slight raises: Worley (possibly more than “slight” if he keeps it up), Snider, Stewart, Gomez.

Again, this is very arbitrary and we’ll have to just see what happens. But if you take that group of guys and make some guesses, you could see their collective salaries increase by about $12 million next season. Feel free to make your own estimates and let us know.

Subtractions from 2014: $29 million

Increases for 2015: approx. $20 million (guaranteed + estimated arbitration)

By this math, the Pirates’ could add around $9 million and sustain the same payroll budget they have right now.

This, of course, is a very rough guess due to the arbitration estimates. Still, it gives an idea of what the Pirates have to work with. As it stands right now, there would be a few holes: catcher, starting pitcher, backup infielder. Going in reverse order: it’s not hard to add a cheap backup infielder as we’ve seen them do in the last few days (Morel/Nix/Martinez type) and the Pirates love collecting them… Barmes’ reign is probably over; regardless of who fills the role, it will come on the cheap. Liriano & Volquez are hitting the free agent market, but the emergence of Vance Worley could leave a Cole – Morton – Locke – Worley – ??? rotation, with one spot to fill. And finally, catcher — the reason for this article. What will it take to get Russell Martin back?

Say they let Volquez/Liriano walk, fill the void with a Stolmy Pimentel or Brandon Cumpton type until Nick Kingham or Jameson Taillon (or even Adrian Sampson, who was promoted to Indy today) are ready to join the rotation. That means all $9 million-plus could be dedicated to Russ. A better way to do this is to look at the payroll a year or two down the line (since he’ll be looking for a multi-year deal, not just one) but that’s even harder to predict with salaries and moving parts. So will stick with the one year outlook for now.

Anyway, the emphasis there on the “plus.” It will take more than that annually to sign him, and it means the Pirates would have to add payroll.

In the past, Frank Coonelly has spoken about how the Pirates could sustain a payroll increase based on a pair of factors — 1) a more competitive team and 2) a better attendance record. It’s fairly obvious that they are a competitive team now. And the fans are showing up, too. Coonelly himself is publicizing the fact that they’re on pace to set the franchise’s all-time attendance record. They’ve averaged more than 33,000 fans per game during this homestand. They’re selling out all weekend games and seeing better weekday crowds. They’ll continue to get better attendance the rest of the season if the team stays in the race. The fans are certainly doing their part.

Basically, ticket sales have never been higher. Revenue is coming in. Not to mention the new TV deals that are kicking in, plus all the additional advertising revenue the Pirates are probably getting this season.

Bottom line: this club can seemingly stand to increase its payroll. And yes, with all that money coming off the books, there’s already room to work with. But I, along with many other Pirate fans, want to see them go above it and re-sign Russ.

This isn’t adding payroll just to add payroll. This is bringing back a guy who is currently enjoying one of his best offensive seasons to date, consistently works well on defense, has value to his teammates that goes beyond the stat sheet, and is clearly well-liked and well-respected.

Is it wise to go multiple years for a catcher on the wrong side of 30? Maybe not. But if there is a time to open the checkbook, this may be it. There are basically no other solid free agent catchers available. Is anyone thrilled with the thought of Tony Sanchez in 2015? This is a contending team, and it’s obvious what Martin has meant to them.

“The Pirates are cheap” phrase is thrown around a lot. Not always in the right situation. But if the Pirates go low on Martin, or miss out when another team gives him a fair price, then yeah, they’re being cheap. I can see a big market team like the Dodgers throwing a ton of money at him, something the Pirates simply won’t have a chance at matching. Huntington’s quote over the weekend (here and here) wasn’t inspiring. But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t hand him a fair offer. Tim Williams wrote today that if there’s one guy they should be willing to truly pay market value for, it’s Russ. I also liked this response from Dejan Kovacevic in his Tuesday chat on his new site:


Brenna: What odds do you have on the Pirates resigning Russell Martin?

DK: My odds remain squarely on the they’d-damned-well-better sentiment. I didn’t like any of what I heard from Neal Huntington on this topic over the weekend, especially that nonsense about how Tony Sanchez might be a suitable replacement. I also found it puzzling, in all honesty, that the GM has a policy of not discussing such things during the season but went on to actually paint a negative picture of how much the market might be willing to pay Martin.

There’s no way out of this one. I’ve tried hard to give credit and blame in the right places on this job, and the overwhelming share of the criticism of Bob Nutting is beyond absurd. But this one will be on the owner. He needs to step up here. Martin must stay.


You can argue that the Pirates haven’t shown full commitment towards winning yet. But this upcoming decision on Martin will be the biggest sign of commitment yet. Can’t wait to see what happens.

Go Bucs

8 thoughts on “Looking ahead to the 2015 payroll (and where Russell Martin could fit)”

  1. David Todd has hit the nail on the head… not signing Russell Martin at this point would be a massive step backward for a borderline-playoff team that has a narrow window for post-season opportunities. $10.5mil/yr. for 2 or 3 years is realistic, and hardly breaks the bank, as the solid FFTF article above demonstrates in spades.

    OBN & GMNH dodged a bullet in 2014 thanks to Josh Harrison, without whom the Pirates would likely be sub-.500 right now. Yes, the PBC front office choked coming into 2014, and JH bailed them out.

    Without Martin in 2015, the Pirates would need another J-Hay miracle to reach the playoffs.
    With Martin in 2015, the Pirates would be the odds-on favorite in the very tough NL Central.


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