Shut up about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ payroll already


Shut up about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ payroll.

Pirates fans passionately debate, take umbrage at, or otherwise fume about the payroll figure regardless if the infield at PNC Park is being prepped for Opening Day action, or covered in winter’s first snowfall. But opinions about the payroll — whether complimentary, or, usually, unflattering — are largely as relevant as opinions about umbrellas. Who cares if an umbrella is constructed from Porthault brand luxury linens on an ivory shaft, or synthetic nylon fabric on a stick sold at Kmart? Either will keep your face dry.

Start talking about wins. Wins are all that matter. Wins are the bottom line — even more bottom than the payroll.

Even after two consecutive winning seasons, and two consecutive post season berths, the Pirates’ front office is still fending off pockets of derision about a perceived lack of spending on the major league club. Perhaps you’ll recognize the criticism as similar to the following: “They’re raking it in from TV deals and pocketing it,” or “It’s time they open up the purse strings for a big-time free agent,” or “I heard Bob Nutting is putting in another ski lift at Seven Springs instead of re-upping on Neil Walker.”

And to them I say — Criminy! That’s sooo original.

The 25-man roster could be filled with beer league players and Ronny Cedeno clones so long as they win…win, win, win.

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The Pirates’ front office should be lauded for their achievements while spending paltry amounts by MLB standards. Despite an anticipated increase in payroll to the $90+ mil range in 2015, those chintzy Bucs will still be wallowing in the bottom third, or so, of the payroll rankings. But they’ve recently been at the top on the wins list — 94 wins (5th most in MLB) in 2013 while ranking 25th in payroll at $74.6 mil, and 88 wins (8th most) in 2014 while ranking 27th in payroll at $78.1 mil. Get more for your money; so goes the credo. And the Pirates did. The scorn should be reserved for those high-rolling teams who make it rain in the off-season, but fall victim to drought when the games begin.

Bleacher Report has recently ranked the Pirates the second most overachieving team in relation to their payroll, before the Cleveland Indians and after the Miami Marlins. Cited are four key players under contract for a reasonable price: Neil Walker at $8 mil, Josh Harrison at $2.8 mil, Starling Marte at $1 mil, and Gerrit Cole at $500,000. David Schoenfield , a senior writer for ESPN, has also showered accolades on the 2015 Pirates squad. He predicts the Pirates to finish the season with the third best record in baseball, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (2nd) and the Washington Nationals. To compare, the Dodgers are projected to have a $217.57 mil payroll, and the Nationals a $146.52 mil payroll. Figures are according to MLBtr. Schoenfield writes that the Pirates will meet success because “They have talent, depth, defense, a smart front office and a smart field staff.” High praise for a team so often smeared by lame Twitter comedians and Internet wise guys.

“Bob (Don’t Spend) Nutting”, or “Nutting is the Wolf of Federal Street,” you jest? Sorry. Open mic night is over. But open season on the NL Central is about to begin.

Okay. So the Pittsburgh Pirates spend a sum of money the Yankees keep in their rainy day jar. (The Yankees were third on Bleacher Report’s payroll underachieving team.) How do they field a winner? The answer is multifaceted.

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  • MLB Playoffs: Five things the Pirates need to do to qualify in 2018City of Champions
  • Neal Huntington took over as Pirates GM in 2007, after the 15th losing season. The rebuilding process quickly began. The nature of the process all but requires a few years of losing. The Pirates lost increasingly more games until the bottoming-out year of 2010. In those times, Huntington was blasted for lackluster returns in trades. Recall the return for Jason BayCraig Hansen, Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, and Brandon Moss. Moss later became productive outside of Pittsburgh, and the other pieces were duds. Of course, slugger Jose Bautista was later flipped for Robinzon Diaz.

    Ol’ “Bad Deal” Neal initially looked the dunce.

    But trades certainly aren’t the only way to build a team, especially one on a budget. Several homegrown players have become  productive, or core, pieces of the recent winning Pirates teams: Neil Walker. Andrew McCutchen. Jared Hughes. Starling Marte. Tony Watson. Jordy Mercer. Gregory Polanco, and Gerrit Cole. Not all were drafted, or signed, by Huntington, but all were developed — or at least largely developed —  under him.

    Since 2009, several acquisitions in Huntington’s trades now have their jerseys hanging on hooks at sports memorabilia stores in Western Pennsylvania. To name a few: Former All-Star Jeff Locke. Former All-Star Josh Harrison (a throw-in from the Chicago Cubs in a trade for Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow). Former All-Star Mark Melancon, and the totally dope Vance Worley.

    Used car salesman want to be like Huntington when they grow up.

    With such a microscopic payroll, how in the world did the Pirates build a winning team, and what appears to be one the next several years?

    Other small-revenue teams such as the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, and others, became winners by being smart shoppers. The example of how to outwit the economic behemoths was there, and Neal Huntington and company were wise enough to not only mimic a proven blueprint, but add touches.

    The 2007-11 Collective Bargaining Agreement permitted teams to spend freely on the draft. The Pirates did just that. According to writers Tim McMaster and Jim Callis, the team spent $52 mil in bonuses — more than any other team. $48 mil of that was on the Huntington-Connelly watch. Furthermore, Nutting allowed $5 mil to be spend on the complex in the Dominican. The Pirates may have been playing catch-up in the Latin American market, but catch-up they did.

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    Speaking of adding touches to the time-honored winning blueprints of economically disadvantaged team, the Pirates may already be exploiting a cutting-edge advantage — Arc Reactors. Actually, the futurist gadget is called the Zephyr BioHarness 3. According to the excellent site Grantland, when Russell Martin was a Bucco — a moment of silence, please… — he was fitted, on the breast of his undershirt, with a “physiological monitoring module.” The device monitored Martin’s movements, vitals, and energy expenditure. They results were wirelessly logged for review. The results were then used to help calculate Martin’s maximum output without overextending him physically. Much was said and written about Martin being in the “best shape of his life” in 2014. That’s because he was Iron Man.

    Most sane people agree that injuries, or lack thereof, are primarily a product of luck…or lack thereof. But perhaps Russell Martin‘s offensive career year was at least partly due to the Pirates haven exploited an under-appreciated, or undervalued, concept — the meticulous monitoring of a player’s physical vital signs.

    As for getting bang for the Buc, look no further than the contract signed by Andrew McCutchen in 2012 — 6 years at $51,500,000, with a $1,250,00 signing bonus. Now, ponder the contract signed by another player also considered in the small handful of truly élite players, Miami Marlin’s Giancarlo Stanton — 13 years at $325,000,00. Do the math. The Pirates signed McCutheon before he became a superstar, rather than once he became a superstar.

    “Bob (Don’t Spend) Nutting”, or “Nutting is the Wolf of Federal Street,” you jest? Sorry. Open mic night is over. But open season on the NL Central is about to begin.

    What stretches the dollar further — signing the Beatles to a long-term record deal after the Love Me Do single, or waiting until they’ve released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?

    Per, perhaps Huntington himself best sums the vast strides made by the organization in recent years. “I cannot give enough credit to our scouts and the guys in our office who run our analytics and our coaching staff…It’s quite an awesome feeling as a general manager.”

    So, to heck with the payroll, and all the rumblings about it. It’s a number — just a single number among an infinite amount of numbers. It’s meaningless. Wins are another matter. You can only attain so many, and you need so many be a winner. And if you can be a winner by playing smart — and without blowing fortunes — than all the better. So the next time NuttingIsCheap77 cracks wise, remember, it’s not the comment board, but the score board, that matters.