The Pittsburgh Pirates payroll is always a hot topic of conversation, especially during the offseason. The organization once again seems to no to be spending.
Bob Nutting is the name of the least favorite person in Pittsburgh. Why? Simple, he is the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the shot caller, the wallet of the team. The issue is that as the wallet of the team, he sure as heck doesn’t seem to put any of that money back into the team. It has been an issue since this regime took over in 2008. While the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a lot better place than they were 10 years ago, this is still an ongoing issue.
One of the biggest complaints is that during the years that the team was successful, the team still made moves to get rid of money. The first of the moves, or lack thereof, came in 2014 when the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t make a move at the trade deadline. This will go down in history as one of Neal Huntington’s most famous quotes, “No move was the right move.”
The team followed it up with a little more of an active deadline in 2015, bringing in J.A. Happ, Aramis Ramirez, Joakim Soria, Michael Morse, and Joe Blanton. However, for all the work they did, the team regressed the next offseason. Many fans wanted them to sign J.A. Happ back to the team. Many expected Happ to get a decent salary of $10-12 million, something that would be very affordable for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Instead, the team traded away fan favorite Neil Walker (and his $10.5 million). The team brought back veteran starter Jon Niese and cash. Niese lost his rotation spot the year before and quickly lost his spot here in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Happ signed a three-year deal for $36 million, $12 million a year. When Niese blew up and Happ continued to pitch well in Toronto, Bob Nutting once again heard about it.
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Ever since that year, the Pittsburgh Pirates fanbase has felt betrayed by the team’s front office. The Pittsburgh Pirates had the second best record in baseball at the end of the 2015 season, and instead of trying to sustain that they watched their best pitcher down the stretch go to free agency, trade their second baseman, and simply not bring in any relevant talent.
With 2016 already off to a rocky start with the Jon Niese and the team struggling, the Pittsburgh Pirates did something that ticked fans off even more. The team traded away their former left-handed ace Francisco Liriano. However, they also dealt former first-round pick Reese McGuire and top 15 outfield prospect Harold Ramirez to help offload Liriano’s contract. If their moves in the offseason didn’t scream to save money, then this one surely did. This was the move that completely changed Pittsburgh Pirates fans perception of the organization, “Go Nutting’s Wallet” was official.
Here we are in the 2018-2019 offseason and the perception of the team is still the same. Last offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates did not sign one player to a Major League contract. They did bring in outfielder Corey Dickerson via a trade, but of course, dumped money in Daniel Hudson. The move worked out big time and helped lead the Bucs to have a winning record in 2018.
Still, the biggest moves of the offseason were the subtractions. The Bucs got rid of Andrew McCutchen, who was slated to make $14.5 million and Gerrit Cole, who was set for $6.75 million and had one more year of arbitration. So while they brought in Dickerson, they got rid of the two faces of the franchise. While the moves, especially the Cutch deal, worked out, it still represented what fans think of Bob Nutting, salary dumping cheapskate.
Even at the deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates brought in two quality names in pitchers Chris Archer and Keone Kela. While this gave a boost to the fan’s moral, it was still noted that the team only made these moves because they were on cheap control (not that there should be an issue with that).
So far this offseason, the team has made a trade for infielder Erik Gonzalez and signed their first major league free agent in two years in Lonnie Chisenhall. Chisenhall will make $2.75 million dollars this upcoming season. Technically, the team did also sign Jung-Ho Kang, but it was after they released him in what appeared to be a predetermined deal.
So what does the Pittsburgh Pirates payroll look like compared to other teams in their division? Do Pittsburgh Pirates fans have the right to be angered by Bob Nutting? Here are NL Central payrolls according to Baseball Prospectus:
Chicago Cubs: 204 million
St. Louis Cardinals: 153 million
Milwaukee Brewers: 112 million
Cincinnati Reds: 94 million (102 million when Sonny Gray deal is official)
Pittsburgh Pirates: 67 million
Yikes, the Pittsburgh Pirates not only have the lowest payroll in the division, but by a significant amount, even to the next lowest spender the Reds. This is the same team who was somewhat in the playoff picture for a portion of the 2018 season, a team that had 82 wins. So what have the Pittsburgh Pirates done to improve for the 2019 season? They have brought in a fourth outfielder and a utility infielder, is that really going to push this club closer to 90 wins? Doubtful.
Now the organization mentions how the team brought in Archer and Kela to not only help in 2018, but knowing they will contribute in 2019. That is great, and they were two of the biggest and most aggressive moves made in the Bob Nutting regime. However, the team spent $86 million in payroll last season, they are still $20 million under that mark.
They have a gaping hole at shortstop, could use another starter, and as always could use bullpen help. While it is only January and there are plenty of free agents left, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to spend some money or else the fanbase will feel even more betrayed by Bob Nutting and the Bucs front office. Why bring in Archer and Kela if you are going to leave holes elsewhere. It is time for Bub Nutting to give the fans a reason to come back to the ballpark in 2019.