$70 Million Payroll: Fact or Fiction?

During the “Ask Management Q&A” at Friday night PirateFest, team president Frank Coonelly answered a question regarded the Bucs’ payroll for the 2013 season. In the process, he mentioned that the club could approach a payroll of about $70 million, which would be the largest in franchise history. According to USA Today’s Salary Database, the Pirates had a total payroll of $63,431,999 last season.

Since Neal Huntington & Co.’s first full season in 2008, the Pirates payrolls have looked like this:

Year Payroll Highest Paid Player
2008 $48,689,783 Matt Morris
2009 $48,693,000 Jack Wilson
2010 $34,943,000 Paul Maholm
2011 $45,047,000 Paul Maholm, Chris Snyder
2012 $63,431,999 A.J. Burnett

(Figures from the USA Today Salary Database.)

They have increased the amount of money dished out by nearly $30 million in the past two years alone. Another payroll increase would be a big step for the franchise, but keep in mind that spending more money does not always mean winning (see: Miami Marlins, 2012).

However, the large market teams in baseball, such as the Dodgers, continue to embrace the idea that you can simply buy championships. The Dodgers have been the big spenders of this offseason; their Opening Day payroll is estimated to end up around $225 million. The salaries of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Zack Greinke will turn out to be a total of $80 million, which is expected to be significantly higher than the entire Pirates payroll.

The Buccos find themselves in a predicament here. It’s difficult to fill out a roster each season while a) remaining competitive with the big market teams and b) staying inside the budget. The free agent market is insane this offseason. Although they scooped up Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano, neither player came on the cheap. Trades put the team in a tough spot as well, as you have to give to receive. You either need to deal prospects with future potential or current players with some value in order to receive anything decent in return. All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan, projected to make about $7 million in 2013, was just dealt to Boston for Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands, and two prospects. Since free agency and trading include high risk for a team like the Pirates, more pressure is placed on scouting and drafting. However, MLB now limits draft spending, so the Bucs are in trouble in that department, too.

Going back to what Coonelly said at PirateFest, is a $70 million payroll out of the question? Tim Williams at Pirates Prospects currently estimates it to be around $66 million. We’ll agree with Tim and say that Coonelly’s prediction will fall short. The additions of Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, and the re-signing of Jason Grilli come at high prices; all three also represent some risk. Even though the Pirates owe large amounts of money to these three players in 2013, their payroll shouldn’t skyrocket too much – mainly due to the Joel Hanrahan salary dump. With these expensive additions, the Bucs had to deal Hanrahan for a few guys who will make league-minimum salary. Sands and Melancon could still be very valuable players, but they just come at a much cheaper price; that’s how the Pirates have to form their club. Garrett Jones, another Pirate that is due a big raise in arbitration, could be traded soon as well, even if it doesn’t make sense. At the end of the day, the Bucs can’t keep up with the Dodgers and Yankees of the league in terms of high-paying star power, but they may still build a formidable ballclub.

We saw last season that the Pirates can hang with the best teams out there, despite having one of the lowest payrolls. While a payroll increase would most likely be a nice boost, there is no guarantee of a winning product. Still, they will probably have to keep pumping more and more money into the franchise as teams around the league continue to pay ridiculous numbers to their players.

#FTFTrivia Answer 11/29/12

Tonight we asked…

[tweet https://twitter.com/ForbesToFederal/status/274294230510354432]

and the answer to tonight’s #FTFTrivia is…

Eight catchers

Those eight catchers were Michael McKenry, Ryan Doumit, Chris Snyder, Dusty Brown, Jason Jaramillo, Eric Fryer, Matt Pagnozzi, and Wyatt Toregas. This is significant because the Pirates have just reached an agreement with catcher Russell Martin.

Congratulations to tonight’s winners: @freezoid400, @mjportash, @BMVenslosky, @_DrewBrown, @Irate_Fan7, @TSchusyy, @bmur13, @NuttingHostage, and @s7pinney.

Thanks to all who participated, and tune in next time for another edition of #FTFTrivia.

Go Bucs

Photo: WEBN-TV/Creative Commons

Checking in on some former Buccos

Here’s a look at how some ex-Pirates are faring this season:

Nate McLouth was recently called up by the Baltimore Orioles. He tore it up for their Triple-A club, the Norfolk Tides, and earned a spot on their big league roster. Nate has hit .250 with four doubles and a triple in 14 games for the O’s

Brad Lincoln has an ERA of 6.55 in eight games for the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s been tagged for eight runs in his last four outings.

Adam LaRoche has enjoyed a solid season for the first place Washington Nationals. In 114 games, he has 23 HR and 77 RBI while hitting .260.

Sean Burnett is also contributing big time in the nation’s capital. The lefty reliever has a 1.94 ERA in 55 appearances for the Nats.

– In 54 games for the Mets, Ronny Cedeno is hitting .287 with 3 homers and 21 runs batted in. He missed time due to injury in April (left intercostal strain) and May (strained left calf).

– In his first season with the Minnesota Twins, Ryan Doumit has hit a solid .292 with 14 long balls. The injury-prone catcher has played in 101 of Minnesota’s 120 games, and has only been bothered by a right calf strain this season. He inked a two-year extension with the Twins in June.

Steve Pearce has landed in Houston after playing 28 games for the Orioles. He’s hit .283 in 16 games for the Astros.

Chris Snyder is also with the lowly Astros. Snyder is hitting an abysmal .181 this season.

Xavier Paul has been clutch for the enemy Cincinnati Reds as of late. He sparked a walk-off win on Sunday by hitting a leadoff pinch-hit triple. Paul has managed a .342 batting average in 38 at-bats for the Redlegs.

Offseason Thus Far

To date, the offseason produced by the Pirates front office has featured a variety of moves. The rumor mill started up when it was announced that the team decided to decline the options of Ryan Doumit, Chris Snyder, Ronny Cedeno, and Paul Maholm. It was somewhat surprising to see them let go both catchers, even though they both possessed costly options. These moves left holes at catcher, shortstop, and a spot in the rotation.To fill the void at catcher, the Pirates picked up veteran Rod Barajas on November 10th for 1yr/4mil. Barajas should provide solid defense and steady offense, even though his career is on the decline. He will be the starter with light-hitting Mike McKenry backing him up.

Next, the Buccos acquired Clint Barmes for 2 yrs/10.5mil. Some considered this to be a very generous contract for the slick fielding shortstop, but I will take it as long as he stays healthy and makes consistent contributions both offensively and defensively.

Heading into the Winter Meetings in Dallas, it was said that the Pirates were not expected to make any splashes but they could lay potential groundwork for future deals. However, they reached out to former Bucco Nate McLouth by offering him a 1yr/1.75mil deal. Nate will most likely be the fourth outfielder, replacing Xavier Paul, who was released in late November. The same day, the Pirates acquired LHP Erik Bedard. Although he has a heavy injury history, Bedard could be a potential “ace” of the rotation if he can stay off the disabled list. Also, the price was right at $4.5 mil for 1 year.

As the deadline to tender players approached, the Buccos were left with a few important decisions. Ultimately, they decided to tender all players (Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, Jeff Karstens, Evan Meek, Charlie Morton, and Chris Resop) except for Jose Veras, who they dealt to Milwaukee for Casey McGehee. Despite a rough season in 2011, McGehee is a solid backup plan in case Pedro Alvarez flounders again. He could also see time at first base if need be.

The Pirates have also made a plethora of other minor moves, such as signing Jake Fox and Nick Evans, acquiring Yamaico Navarro via trade, and selecting Gustavo Nunez in the Rule 5 draft. We will see where these players turn out in the organization, as only time will tell. Spring training is just a few months away.

Go Bucs