Oct 6, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates current owner Bob Nutting (left) talks with Pirates former owner Kevin McClatchey (right) before the Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at PNC Park. Pittsburgh won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A Question for Pittsburgh Pirates Fans: Does Payroll Really Matter?

Pirate fans seem to be divided down the middle regarding one burning question.  Does payroll really matter?

Some devoted fans simply cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that Nutting is making record profits and not dumping all of it back into payroll.  While others simply do not care about the profits as long as the team is winning.

Which are you?  And you can’t say both.

I personally could care less what Nutting makes as long as we’re winning.  If we’re losing then that can change with lightening speed.  But as of now, I don’t feel there is too much to complain about.  News flash “We’re pretty good”.

Not to mention payroll doesn’t automatically equal victories.  As everyone knows by now, there were 4 teams in the bottom ten in payroll that made the playoffs last year while only 3 in the top ten did the same.

Tampa Bay has made the playoffs 4 out of the last 6 years without having an opening day payroll eclipse $74 million.  They made the World Series once during that stretch. The Oakland A’s have made the playoffs 7 times in the last 14 years with entering into only one season with a payroll higher than $70m.

You don’t have to spend on free agents to have great ball clubs.  (It certainly helps!)  But countless teams have proven that in the past, and the Pirates will prove that again in 2014.  But the notion that has been put out there that the Pirates haven’t spent any money is simply not true.

They have spent a record $54.1 million from 2008-2012 on the amateur draft (that number could have been a bit higher if Mark Appel signed with us.  Have fun playing for the Astros Mark) and their payroll has increased every year over the last 4 seasons.

In fact, since Neal Huntington has taken over, both spending and team performance has increased steadily.  Look at the regular season wins and opening day payrolls over the last four year…. It’s easy to see the trend:

2010 = 57 wins       Payroll = $35m

2011 = 72  wins      Payroll = $42.5m

2012 = 79  wins      Payroll = $54.3m

2013 = 90  wins      Payroll = $67m

2014 = ??  wins      Payroll = $74.5m

(With the exception of 2014, these numbers are based on the USA today opening day salaries that are put out every year.  The 2014 Payroll is based on ESPN.com’s projection minus the $5.5m received from Houston for W. Rodriguez)

So the old argument promoted by the likes of Mark Madden and his devoted set of disciples that the Pirates aren’t spending money is wrong on so many levels.  (like he usually is when it comes to the Pirates) They continue to increase spending and let’s not forget that if Burnett accepted, the payroll would be $86.5m.  But let’s not go there.  That horse has been beaten thoroughly and without remorse.  Let’s put it to sleep already.

I’m sure all Pirate fans agree that it would be nice to land a big time free agent every once in a while if it helps the club.  But the fact is, that won’t guarantee anything.  And let’s be honest.  Allot of those free agents don’t pan out and most, if not all, are not worth the money they command.

One thing we can all agree on was that last year was the most fun it has been to watch the Pirates play baseball in over 20 seasons.  And we have Neal Huntington and company to thank for that.  So instead of focusing on what we DON’T have.  I’m planning on spending the rest of the offseason relishing in what we DO have.

In the field we have the reigning MVP.  The reigning NL HR champ.  An all-star caliber 2nd baseman.  An all-star caliber left fielder.  One the finest defensive catchers in the league.  An up and coming shortstop that swings a great bat, and the 13th best prospect in the entire major leagues joining us in right field to complete arguably the best outfield trio in the majors come July.

We have depth at the starting pitcher position that includes the wonder kid Garret Cole, a reborn Charlie Morton (this version has a changeup), the NL comeback player of the year in Liraino, one of the most consistent pitchers in NL Central history in Wandy Rodriguez, a 2013 all-star in Jeff Locke, and an MLB ranked 16th best prospect joining us soon in Jameson Taillon.

We have every single shark back in the shark tank and we have new sharks like Stormy Pimental, Dan Schlereth, and Duke Welker waiting to play.  And let’s not forget about the old sharks like Jared Hughes that are hungry for a chance at redemption.

I’m sure there are fans all across the league that would trade their team’s roster for ours in the blink of an eye and wouldn’t care one bit if the payroll decreased because of it.  You’d think after 20 losing seasons Pirate fans would be ripping their hair out with excitement because of the promise that 2014 brings.

Who cares about payroll when we won 94 games last year and were 5 wins away from the World Series?

I know the argument is why not make the roster better where you can with Free Agents?  But right field upgrades were not an option at all.  Would you really pay top dollar for someone in right field when you have Polanco waiting to play in July?  And our pitching situation is solid, so why over spend there either?

To me, the one area where they “Cueto’d the ball” this year was at first base.  But there is still time.  And I think Gaby Sanchez and Chris McGuiness may be slightly upset with all of the talk about the position.  They have both been punishing baseballs with reckless abandon this spring.  They are a combined 8 for 18 (.444) with 4 runs scored, 4 doubles, and 4 RBI’s.  I know it’s spring training…..but just sayin.

Oh, and we’re 6-1 in the spring so far by the way too.  I know, I know.  But just sayin.

So what will it take to stop hearing about payroll?  Another trip to the playoffs?  The NL Championship?  A World Series win?  Two World Series wins?

I don’t think we’ll ever stop hearing about it to tell you the truth.  If they win again this year, it will temporarily go away.  If we lose this year, it will be trumpeted from the roof tops as the reason why.  There is no answer.

I just know that for me, instead of worrying about it, come March 31st, I plan on putting some beers on ice, firing up the grill, getting comfortable, and watching an extremly loaded Bucs team make another run at the title.  

And there’s no way you can’t put a price tag on that. 

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  • ResistanceIsUseless

    What? Do you get paid by Fox News or MSNBC in your day job? It’s not fair to say we can’t take a middle position.

    That said, I’ve been accused of being a “Nutting apologist” before. I don’t really see myself that way. However, I get what Neil Huntington is doing. OTOH, I hope the team will extend players where it makes sense to do so and pick up free agents when it has a hole and internal options don’t look like they will do the job.

    My preference would have been to bring Burnett back and wish the team would have issued a qualifying offer to him. At the same time, I can understand the calculations that went into the decisions they made about him. With Burnett gone, in the pitching department, I’m hoping Ray Searage can work some magic with Volquez or that Locke, McPherson, Pimentel, Cumpton, or someone else will perform well as a starter. (I notice there seems to be plenty of depth there.) Of course, I hope Taillon arrives in June and does at least as well as Cole did last year.

    Many will disagree, I’m sure, but Tabata and Snider should be able to hold down RF well enough. Hopefully improved health will lead to an upswing for both. If Polanco continues to develop, he can step in if they falter. So, it seems to me that getting a free agent there – or even trying to sign Byrd – made little sense, unless if you just want to see the team spend. Even if you do want the team to spend for the sake of spending, who were you going to sign to a reasonable contract? (Sorry, but 2 years of Byrd for $16 million isn’t my idea of reasonable when he’s going to be 38 at the end of that contract and most of his career he’s been good, but never great.)

    First base is more questionable, but with the free agent options available this year – and the draft pick loss that would go with signing several of them – I understand a decision to avoid most of them. It’s a shame we couldn’t get Loney, but the team would have had a difficult time prying him away from the weather – and lower taxes – in Florida. Hopefully Sanchez continues to rake against lefties and Lambo does well.

    One thing many folks seem to ignore, assuming the reports are true that the team was willing to spend a another $10-15 million: If the team has a weakness, management should be in a financially good position to make a mid-season acquisition, whether by trade or by signing a free agent after the amateur draft is over and the draft pick won’t be an issue.

    As for the Nuttings: I don’t know them. Maybe they’re greedy slimeballs. Maybe they’re great people who are cautious with their money. If it’s the latter, I can’t blame them. I can understand how they’d want to operate the team at least at break even. It doesn’t help that – while there are passionate fans – Pittsburgh really doesn’t seem to be a great baseball city, at least in terms of attendance. Unfortunately, I’m not just meaning the last 20 years; I’m old enough to remember the late 70′s – even with good to great teams, attendance wasn’t that good, compared to other teams (for example in 1979, when the Pirates won it all, their attendance was 10th out of 12 NL teams). As long as I’ve followed the team, the prevailing attitude has seemed to be that ownership is cheap and doesn’t deserve the fans money, even though this is the fourth primary owner the team has had in the 30-odd years I’ve been a fan. However, even when the team spent money (Dave Parker stands out in my memory), the fans didn’t come to the games in droves. (And some that did show up were throwing things at Parker.)

    • Tony Canella

      Great post. I think your views of the reality of this offseason are very insightful. Unfortunatetly, it hasn’t worked out the way all of us fans and NH included would have liked. But that has nothing to do with the pre-determined intent to not spend any money.

      Just mis-calculations on NH’s part. I’m sure he’d do things differently if he had the chance.

      Thanks for the post.

    • ResistanceIsUseless

      Thanks for the compliment, although I don’t think I’ve said anything original here.

      Also, thanks for (apparently) taking that first paragaph humorously – that’s how I meant it, but upon looking back I realize that might not have been obvious!

  • Jack

    For a another look about payroll’s impact, may I recommend the fine film, “Moneyball?” It’s available on Netflix streaming.

    (PS: I enjoyed reading your well written essay, Resistance. Agree, especially, with your candid assessment about Pittsburgh’s not being a terrific baseball city. The stats showing attendance are definite proof. Also some fans are truly rotten apples. They also snarled at the great Roberto Clemente who was intensely loyal to the team and city. Some of this seemed racist; my father-in-law utterly hated Donn Clendenon who held a master’s degree and who in the off-season worked with needy kids. He thought that “n….r” was “uppity.”)

    • ResistanceIsUseless

      Jack, Thanks for the kind words. While I’m sure racism isn’t gone yet, I believe things are better than in Clemente’s time … although I’m not quite old enough to remember him, so shouldn’t comment too strongly there.