Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Payroll To Near $100 Million?


Yes, Pittsburgh Pirates principal owner Bob Nutting is Ebenezer Scrooge. (I know, Christmas is over but A Christmas Carol is a timeless novel so references to it must be as well, right?) However, after back-t0-back playoff appearances and a gradually increasing payroll since the bottoming-out year of 2010 — the 2013 and 2014 Opening Day payrolls were nearly identical at around $79 million — fans are wondering which Scrooge, exactly. Is Mr. Nutting truly the penny-pinching miser who keeps the coal bucket out of reach of his freezing employees, and essentially kicks the cane from underneath Tiny Tim’s arms? (Consider the fan base as Tiny Tim, if you please.) Or is Mr. Nutting the spry philanthropist who awakens Christmas morning and springs for the plumpest turkey in all the land, and puts Tiny Tim on his lap?

Until the end of the record-breaking losing streak in 2013, most fans would assimilate Bob Nutting with the former Scrooge. His track record since taking over the team as principal owner in 2007 begs the unenviable comparison. Even if it causes your blood to curdle like sour milk, recall the 2007 draft when the Pirates bypassed the pricier, but athletically superior, Matt Wieters. Instead, the front office selected relief pitcher Daniel Moskos fourth. One imagines Mr. Nutting counting his gold coins by candlelight as Moskos warm-ups in the bullpen for a middle-inning relief stint. The fan base rightfully seethed.

But a front-office shake-up occurred in September of 2007. Current president of baseball operations, Frank Coonelly, and general manager, Neil Hungtington, came aboard. This begged the question, was Mr. Nutting haunted by the ghost of Christmas future and foresaw enraged Pirates fans storming Nutting-owned Seven Springs with hot dog guns and tee-shirt sling shots? However, since the new regime arrived the fog of malaise has gradually lifted. Sure, the early days were rocky; nearly the entire major league team roster was dealt for unproven players with cost control. And, in the early years of “The Plan”, the payroll was trimmed to…well…let’s just say that Giancarlo Stanton could afford a pretty good weekend in Vegas with the amount in question.

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Opening Day 2015 is just months away. The 40-man payroll, as it sits today, is projected to be barely north of $90 million. But news dropped about a week ago that the Pirates won a bidding war, paying a $5,002,015 posting fee, meaning the team acquired 30 days-worth of exclusive negotiations with slugger Jung-ho Kang of the Korean Baseball Organization. If the Pirates do sign Kang, the $5 million commitment is spent. Also, Kang is reportedly seeking a three-to-four year deal at $4 to 5 million per season. Add that amount to the payroll and the commitment is approaching $100 million. That plump, round number seems like a landmark figure — as though it’s been at the pinnacle of a mountain while the fan base has stared up from the foothills. These are strange days, indeed.

For a moment, forget Jung-ho Kang’s gaudy numbers — .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs in 501 plate appearances. (Also try to forget that Kang achieved those numbers in hitter-friendly parks against lesser pitchers who probably have Fat Head wall decals of MLB hurlers on their bedroom walls.) Also, try to forget the possible domino effect on the major league roster that signing Kang may have. (Does Jordy Mercer become dispensable? Pedro Alvarez? Is Kang a backup plan for the soon-to-be departing Neil Walker?) The Pittsburgh Pirates — those historic tightwads — have OUTBID dueling suitors for something…for anything, actually. Think about it. Other teams’ front offices are massaging their aching foreheads because they were one-upped by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Of course, there are no guarantees that the 2015 Opening Day payroll will reach the vaunted $100 million benchmark. A lot can happen in the upcoming months. Players may be traded, the 40-man may be shuffled, and free agents may be added. Heck, Jung-ho Kang may not even be signed; he would resume his career in the Korean Baseball Organization. But, in a way, that’s beside the point. As it sits at the beginning of 2015, owner Bob Nutting has the table set for a splendid and opulent feast that fans, hopefully, will gobble-up come October.

Next: Pirates Submit Winning Bid for Jung-ho Kang