LAST MONTH, Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly told Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh’s most thorough and most accurate sportswriter, that the 2015 payroll would be in the low- to mid-$90 million neighborhood. That’s a nice neighborhood, don’t you think?
It certainly is a big difference from five years ago, when the Bucs paid out $44.1 million for the 2010 players. Citing year-end figures verified by Major-League Baseball, the knowledgeable writer is right that while a mid-$90 million payroll would still place the Bucs in the low-rent district, it also forces fans to acknowledge the team is not the cheapskates some paint them to be.
And he feels using the year-end figures is more accurate. “People love to cite opening-day payroll,” Kovacevic wrote. “[But] it’s completely pointless. It’s nothing more than adding up the full-year salaries of guys suited up for the very first game. Should any team make a move after that game—even the very next day—that alters payroll one way or another, [but] that silly opening-day figure somehow sticks all summer long. That’s why I’ve always preferred to wait until winter to see what’s actually spent or not spent.”
The 2011 payroll for the 40-man roster was $51.8 million (a $7 million increase); in 2012, $61.3 million (plus $10 million); in 2013, $74.6 million (plus $13 million); and in 2014, $82.1 million (plus $8 million). According to Pirates Prospects, which also tracks minor-league salaries of those players on the 40-man roster (not just the 25-man major-league roster), has projected that the Pirates are committed to a payroll of about $83 million, which includes the usually-reliable guesses from MLB Trade Rumors of those players eligible for arbitration.
Players in the minor leagues make $40,750 in their first year on the 40-man roster, $81,500 in their second year, and $122,250 in their third year. Any player with major league service time makes at least $81,500, regardless of how many years of service.
And while the national television contracts have brought in more money evenly divided among every team, thus allowing the Pirates to bump up payroll, the biggest problem for Pittsburgh is the low figure the Pirates get from its local broadcaster — Root Sports. With four years left on a 10-year deal inked with Root, the Pirates are getting about $20 million annually, not reflective of the Pirates’ local ratings which are consistently among the top handful in baseball.
Compare that with the $40 million local broadcasts pay the Cleveland Indians or the Oakland A’s. That’s bad enough, but the Dodgers have 17 more years of a 20-year deal with Time Warner Cable that will bring in $7 billion — yes, with a “B” — over that 20-year period. That breaks down to $350 million annually. That’s even a better deal than the New York Yankees who signed on in 2012 with YES Network for a 30-year television contract through 2042. The club got $85 million in fees for the first year, which increases five percent annually, which means by 2042 the Yankees will be getting $367 million a year to have their games televised. While the Pirates will never see that kind of moolah coming their way from local broadcasting, it’s a sure bet that the team will see a huge boost when it negotiates rights before 2019.
So for now, the team will continue to remain in the bottom group of payrolls. And as Coonelly told Kovacevic in November and has reiterated several times since then, his self-directed projection means that the Bucs have around $8-$10 million left to fund payroll for the 2015 team. With Edinson Volquez available as of yesterday at a projection of $10 million a year for two years, the Bucs would appear near the upper levels of their self-determined payroll limit.
However, had they chosen not to sign A.J. Burnett, they could have inked their top winner from 2014 and still have about $6 million to spend. And who would appear to be the better signing?
Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.