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Sports

March 5, 2014

EXTRA INNINGS: Teams like the Pirates need to invest for the future

OPINION — Rounding the bases…

FIRST BASE: If you among the very elite at your job, and your company — rolling in money — asked you to take a 50 percent pay cut, then offered a 25 percent cut instead, would you be happy?

Or might you leave for a company that offered you a chance to make 275% more than your former company?

Be serious. Would you stay with your original company?

Didn’t think so.

So no one should be badmouthing A.J. Burnett, the “worker” his “company” originally asked to sign for $8 million, down from the $16.5 million he was paid in 2013. The Bucs later upped the offer to $12 million.

Instead, he moved to his new “company” in Philadelphia for the opportunity to make $33 million over the next two years, instead $12 million this year.

And just as you should not be badmouthing Burnett, neither should you be dissing his former employer.

Again, weigh what that $12 million could do both in the immediate and the extended futures. According to PiratesProspects.com, Tony Watson, Starling Marte, Justin Wilson, Gerrit Cole, Jody Mercer, and Jeanmar Gomez combined will make around $3 million. Mid-season callups Jamieson Taillon and Gregory Polanco will cost around $600,000 for both. Throw in Pedro Alvarez at $4.2 million and Mark Melancon at $2.6 million. You’ve got a combined payroll of $11.7 for those 10 players—about 40 percent of the 25-man roster.

Obviously the Pirates had the funds to take on additional salary totaling $12 million.

But if you’re the “company,” might you not want to apply that money down the road when players like Marte, Wilson, Cole, Marte, Watson, and Polanco are going to be drawing bigger salaries. That $12 million could be divided now into “accounts” of $2 million for each.

Teams have to project costs years in advance, and it makes more sense to keep that $12 million in reserve than to spend it on one player whose age does not offer support for such an expenditure — especially for a strength of the organization.

SECOND BASE: Before throwing his first pitch against the Bucs on Sunday Burnett tipped his cap toward the Pirates dugout.

“It was definitely good to see them,” Burnett said. “I always have respect for everything and everyone in this game, no matter who you play against. It was a good time.”

Mercer pretty much summed up his teammates’ feelings: “It was good to see him again,” the Bucs shortstop said after the game. “We all miss him here. He was fun to watch the past two years, and he was a really big part of our team.”

THIRD BASE: Network TV continues to jump on the Pirates’ bandwagon. ESPN, Fox, and Fox Sports 1 have scheduled nine games among them featuring the Bucs this summer. With Root Sports contracted to televise at least 150 regular-season games, it means that fans will be able to see close to all 162 games.

Root will televise this Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. game against the Red Sox, the first of five pre-season telecasts.

HOME:  Most every successful baseball team has a dominant closer. Fortunately for the 2013 Pirates, they had two. Jason Grilli’s 33 saves led the team last year, with Melancon adding 16 more. The 28-year-old gained most of his saves during Grilli’s stint on the disabled list.

Grilli never recovered his dominant fast ball after the forearm injury, and his inactivity so far this spring has fans fretting about the 37-year-old’s health.

Both manager Clint Hurdle and Grilli insist the reliever is healthy. Grilli’s spring debut is set for tomorrow, when the Blue Jays come to Bradenton.

“For a reliever, Spring Training can be too long," Grilli said. “How many times do I have to go out there to pitch one inning? Why use up bullets before the season starts? I only need about seven games to be ready.”

Still, it’s nice to know Melancon is in the shark tank, if needed.

Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for the Allied News.

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