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

Could the Pirates follow the Braves’ extension model?

Starling Marte Andrew McCutchen

This month, the Atlanta Braves have locked up four of their core players with long-term contract extensions: Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrelton Simmons. It’s a pretty sound strategy to keep the Braves together and in contention for the near future.

It might be time for the Pirates to explore some similar options. They signed Andrew McCutchen in March of 2012 (6 years, $51.5 million – absolute steal) and just locked up Charlie Morton (3 years, $21 million) this past December. There could be extension talks this spring, like with Cutch two years ago. They could also wait until the next offseason before some of these guys get to arbitration. Keep in mind that there will be a lot of money coming off the books next winter – Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin, Jason Grilli, Wandy Rodriguez, etc. due for free agency. The team’s revenue should continue to grow as well, with the new TV deals and record attendance expected at PNC Park in 2014.

Ownership has been getting a lot of heat for not spending money this offseason. Bob Nutting reinforced yesterday the importance of internal development. Well, here’s a way to spend money and keep your young, home-grown players around for quite some time. Let’s see if the Pirates can extend any of these guys…

Pedro Alvarez

Age: 27
Service Time: 3.085

A Scott Boras client, Alvarez will be tough to extend. He’s had two powerful seasons in a row, including a league-leading 36 homers and Silver Slugger award in 2013. Will he get any better than he is now? Problem is, there’s nothing behind him in the minor league system with no immediate internal replacements on the way.

He’s under team control through the 2016 season, so the Pirates could take him to arbitration the next two years and hope he doesn’t get too expensive. Or, they could try something like a four-year deal – buying out the two arb. years + two free agent years – keeping him here through his age-31 season.

Comparable extensions at 3B:
Pablo Sandoval, 2012, 3 years/$17.15 million, 3.047 years of service [Link]
Ryan Zimmerman, 2009, 5 years/$45 million, 3.051 years of service [Link]

Neil Walker

Age: 28
Service Time: 3.166

Walker has said that he wants to keep his career going here in his hometown. Like Alvarez, he won’t be a free agent until after the 2016 season. Unlike Alvarez, there might be a replacement within the system: Alen Hanson could come up in a few years, though it’s unclear if he’ll turn out to be a shortstop or second baseman.

The Pittsburgh Kid got a nice salary boost up to $5.75 million for 2014. Looking at Phillips’ first extension posted below, could Walker take something in the neighborhood of $30 million – broken down $6 M, $7 M, $8 M, $9 M for four seasons?

Comparable extension at 2B:
Brandon Phillips, 2008, 4 years/$27 million, 3.022 years of service [Link]

Starling Marte

Age: 25
Service Time: 1.070

Marte is probably the most intriguing option here, and maybe the easiest to lock up. He’s not arb. eligible until after 2015, but it may make sense to extend him as soon as possible. If Marte keeps posting 4+ WAR seasons, he’ll get expensive really quickly. As Charlie wrote at Bucs Dugout today, the Simmons-Braves deal shows that there is value in defense; Marte has that, and pairs it with a better bat. It’d be great to keep him in an outfield with McCutchen for a long time.

Comparable extensions OF:
Ryan Braun, 2008, 8 years/$45 million, 1.008 years of service [Link]
Chris Young, 2008, 5 years/$28 million, 1.059 years of service [Link]

Gerrit Cole

Age: 23
Service Time: 0.111

As a Boras client with an absurd amount of talent, Cole will be tough to sign whether it’s tomorrow, next year, or five years down the line. If Cole turns into the pitcher that people think he will, then he’ll have plenty of cash waiting for him in the future. When you see guys like Homer Bailey get six-years, $105 million, you can only imagine what Cole would command if he pans out. You could give him a deal he can’t deny right now, but even that may not get it done.

Who would you like to see signed to a long-term deal? Let us know.

Go Bucs

Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty

Credit where credit is due: Pirates Unsung Heroes of 2013

Pirates’ Chairman of the Board Bob Nutting

You know about Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, A.J. Burnett, and the other high-profile players who helped the Pirates to their first postseason appearance in two decades. But what about the role players – and even other members of the organization? They also deserve a little glory for their hard work and success this year. Here’s some recognition for those who don’t get enough credit.

Tony Watson

When you think about the 2013 “Shark Tank” bullpen, you’ll remember closer Jason Grilli and setup man Mark Melancon. While the two All-Stars led the way, there was another key arm who carved the path to victories: Tony Watson. The 28-year-old lefty struggled at the beginning of the season, but bounced back and finished ridiculously well. If you were told that Watson’s ERA was 4.61 on June 1st and he finished the year at 2.39, you definitely wouldn’t have believed it. But that’s exactly what happened.

In his last 42 appearances of the regular season, Watson posted some ridiculous stats: 1.02 ERA, 6:1 K/BB ratio, .166 opponent batting average. He finished the year with 21 consecutive scoreless outings.

Justin Wilson

Watson wasn’t the only solid southpaw in the bullpen; don’t forget about Justin Wilson. The 26-year-old lefty quietly succeeded in his first full MLB season, posting an excellent 2.08 ERA over 73.2 innings. He showed off his strength by averaging 96 mph on his fastball and ramping it up near 100 at times. Wilson can also be a starter, though his ability to be a power lefty out of the ‘pen is a tremendous asset.

Jeanmar Gomez

Acquired for minor leaguer Quincy Latimore last winter, Gomez was a huge question mark but turned into a great buy-low pickup for the Bucs. Put it this way: Gomez was a serviceable arm all season out of the bullpen, while Latimore ended up with the Washington Wild Things. Yes, those Washington Wild Things.

Vin Mazzaro

Similar to Gomez, Mazzaro was a guy with a couple questionable seasons in the American League under his belt. However, he ended up pitching very well in various roles out of the Shark Tank. Mazzaro posted a 2.81 ERA in 73.2 innings.

Brandon Cumpton

In terms of the major league team, Cumpton entered 2013 as an afterthought. Many Bucco fans had never even heard of him. But when the Bucs needed an extra arm in June, Cumpton came up and exhibited the organization’s great pitching depth. Though not considered a top prospect, the 24-year-old pitched well over multiple spot starts, including seven innings of shutout ball against St. Louis in game 2 of the July 30th doubleheader. While he only made six appearances (five starts), he never allowed more than three runs in an outing (2.05 ERA) and kept the Pirates in each ballgame. A young pitcher like Cumpton deserves credit for that.

Jeff Locke

Yes, Locke made the All-Star team, but he will likely be remembered for how he fell back to earth. But he still deserves a ton credit for giving the Pirates an excellent chance to win every fifth day in the first half. In 15 starts between April 23rd and July 8th, Locke gave up more than three earned runs just once; he gave up two runs or less in 12 of those outings.

Charlie Morton

A lot of fans didn’t seem too confident in Charlie when he first returned from Tommy John surgery. However, he kept getting better and better, becoming one of the team’s best starters down the stretch. Morton had a string of six consecutive starts between August 7th and September 2nd where he pitched at least six innings and gave up no more than two runs. Don’t forget the “Electric Stuff”:

Charlie Morton electric stuff

He might not be the pitcher you think about when remembering the Pirates’ staff, but Morton is a solid back-of-the-rotation starter.

Dan Fox

Fox is the man behind the Pirates’ analytics department, which implemented the use of defensive shifts this season. The tactic helped save plenty of runs in 2013, transforming the Bucs into one of the best defensive teams in the majors. Kudos to Fox for introducing the shifts, as well as to Clint Hurdle and his staff for embracing the technique.

Neal Huntington

Neal Huntington, the architect behind this ballclub, might deserve more credit than anyone. His offseason moves – signing Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano, trading Joel Hanrahan, etc. – were questioned by many, myself included. But man, did they pay off; NH’s plan has tremendously improved the product on the field (and it goes beyond those three aforementioned moves). For someone who was on the hot seat after 2012’s collapse, Huntington did an unbelievable job this season.

Bob Nutting

In the final years of the infamous losing streak, Nutting was one of the most mocked men in Pittsburgh – how he was too cheap, how he would never own a winning team, as well as the occasional joke about Seven Springs. But as Dejan Kovacevic brought to everyone’s attention in a great column a few weeks ago, Nutting deserves plenty of credit for the team’s success in 2013. After they collapsed at the end of last season, the Pirates’ Chairman of the Board went out looking for answers; consider these few paragraphs:


“Nutting is far more a delegator than dictator, but he knew what he had to do. As one high-ranking member of the front office described it to me a few days ago, he “blew the doors and walls off the place.”

Meaning 115 Federal.

Meaning bringing everyone to the same table.

Meaning having people who couldn’t stand each other look eye to eye and exchange meaningful ideas toward that common goal.”


Nutting was serious about turning things around, and guess what? Things ended up turning out pretty well. Kudos to Nutting for doing his part.

Go Bucs

Proud to be a Pirates Fan

pittsburgh pirates 2013

The National League Championship Series starts Friday night in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the Pirates will not be there.

If I had told you back in March that the Pittsburgh Pirates would fall just one win short of the NLCS, you would’ve smiled and laughed and called me crazy. But most of all, you would’ve realized how awesome that would be for this franchise.

That’s what this season was all about. It was awesome.

The Bucs won at least 82 games for the first time since 1992 – the infamous losing streak was snapped and didn’t hit 21. That’s special.

This team won 94 games in the regular season, beat the Reds in the Wild Card game, and pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to the brink of elimination in the NLDS. The Pittsburgh Pirates were in the postseason.

It was a group full of hardworkers – they never gave up. The “Battlin’ Bucs” moniker fit them better than ever. There was so much to remember this team for…

The Zoltan, the Shark Tank, one of the best players in baseball, five All-Stars, unsung heroes. Don’t Stop Believin’. Popping champagnetwice. Blackouts. Packing PNC all year long… We’ll never forget the 2013 Pirates.

Huge credit to Neal Huntington, Frank Coonelly, Bob Nutting, Clint Hurdle, and all the Bucco brass who believed in this baseball team. Without their commitment and faith, we wouldn’t be rooting on a winning team right now.

But this is just the beginning. The Pirates have a future in front of them. A few stars entering their primes, a few veterans coming back, a few youngsters on the rise. They also have one of the best farm systems in Major League Baseball.

It’s hard not to get excited about this baseball team right now. Even though they have been eliminated from the playoffs, I couldn’t be any more proud of the Pirates. The city of Pittsburgh believes in this team again. Can’t wait for 2014.

172 days until Opening Day.

Go Bucs

The 10 Types of Pirates Tweeters

Pirates Twitter

Many things are on the rise in 2013; among them: Twitter and the Pittsburgh Pirates. There are now over 500 million registered Twitter users, including thousands of avid Bucco fans.

Over the course of a six-month season, you’ll find some interesting people on the social network site. While they all ultimately share the same passion for the ballclub, some express their opinions in different ways.

Here are ten types of Pirates tweeters you may come across…

The Collapse Guy

Nearly everyone has a “collapse guy” on their timeline. If not, they may see him on their TL after @BestFansPirates retweets him. He presses the “Tweet” button often during losing streaks. He claims to be a huge fan, yet has limited faith in his favorite team.

Example Tweet:

Pirates Tweeter Collapse Guy

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The Guy who makes fun of Collapse Guys

Since the Pirates have done a good job of shrugging off losing and avoiding a collapse, these guys have been around much more often. They’re quick to point out the team’s success, typically sending a subtweet to Collapse Guy and adding a hint of sarcasm.

Example Tweet:

Pirates Tweeter Anti Collapse Guy

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The Optimist

Even in tough times, The Optimist will try to cheer up his Twitter followers. This guy loves the Bucs through thick and thin, somehow keeping his cool through all of it.

Example Tweet:

Pirates Tweeter The Optimist

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The Guy who attacks The Optimist

If there’s an overly optimistic tweet on your timeline, a pessimist may come in and speak his mind.

Example Tweet:

Pirates Tweeter Anti Optimist

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The Know-It-All

Like the guy who attacks collapse guys, The Know-It-All is not afraid to send out a subtweet or two. He is apparently better than any other Pirate fan because his opinion is superior.

Example Tweet:

Pirates Tweeter Know It All

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The Yinzer

Similar to Collapse Guy, The Yinzer hates losing streaks. He’ll somehow find a way to compare the Steelers’ 16-game season to the Pirates’ 162-game schedule, as if that’s a logical line of thinking.

Example Tweet:

Pirates Tweeter Angry Yinzer

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The Ownership Hater

The Ownership Hater will despise Bob Nutting forever and always. According to this guy, anything that financially happens within the organization, for better or for worse, is always Nutting’s fault.

Example Tweet:

Pirates Tweeter Ownership Hater

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The Twitter GM

This guy likes to think he has a handle on the organization and isn’t afraid to tweet his mind’s pending roster moves.

Example Tweet:

Pirates Tweeter Twitter GM

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The Bandwagon Fan

If you win, they will come… or something like that. The Pirates’ success has brought droves of Pittsburghers to PNC Park this summer, and it’s not uncommon to see a new fan on your timeline.

Example Tweet:

Pirates Tweeter Bandwagon FAn

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The Nitpicker

Even when the Bucs win or do something well, this guy will find something to complain about.

Example Tweet:

Pirates Tweeter Nitpicker

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Note: there is some overlap here. Sometimes The Yinzer will also be The Collapse Guy; The Know-It-All can also be an Optimist; etc. Just be aware of what you’re getting in to on the Twitter machine.