On the Pirates: All the money in the middle

Even if Wilson, Sanchez get extensions, everyday lineup will be cheap


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Assume the Pirates are able to work out contract extensions with Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez, then consider the overall cost of the rest of the everyday players.

Think inexpensive.

Really inexpensive.

At catcher, Ryan Doumit will make $3.55 million.

Everywhere else, if first baseman Adam LaRoche does not return, every player will make at or close to Major League Baseball's minimum wage of $400,000. That is projecting a diamond of Garrett Jones or Steve Pearce at first, Andy LaRoche at third, Lastings Milledge in left, Andrew McCutchen in center, Delwyn Young or Brandon Moss in right.

Even the starting rotation, a budgetary burden for most teams, will have just two pitchers making more than that minimum level: Paul Maholm will get a $1 million boost to $4.5 million, and Zach Duke will be due a healthy arbitration raise after making $2.2 million. Ian Snell is due $4.25 million, but the Pirates are eager to move that.

The bullpen, too, has just Matt Capps certain to top the minimum. He is making $2.43 million and will be arbitration-eligible. John Grabow is making $2.3 million, but he can be a free agent.

A really rough projected total cost: $44 million.

All of which would appear to leave ample spending room to solidify uncertain areas -- corner outfield, first base, the bench, more pitching -- if the Pirates maintain their current payroll level in the $50 million range.

Whatever the case, the Pirates -- and many other teams -- are anticipating that the coming free-agent market will be as affordable as any this decade, given the general economy and the attendance decline at two-thirds of Major League Baseball's stadiums.

Elite group of lifers

Mario Lemieux ... Willie Stargell ... Roberto Clemente ... Terry Bradshaw ... the list of prominent athletes in Pittsburgh history to have spent their full careers here is extensive enough that most surely can cite many more off the top of their head.

Wilson does not belong in such company from a performance standpoint, but, should he sign the extension, he could join not only that exclusive group but also the shrinking fraternity of lifers within baseball: Next year would be his 10th with the Pirates, and an extension would give him 11 or 12.

There currently are only eight players with 11 or more seasons with one employer: Chipper Jones is the leader with 15 seasons in Atlanta. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada all have 14 seasons with the New York Yankees. Todd Helton of Colorado and Jason Varitek of Boston each has 12. And Eric Chavez of Oakland and Roy Halladay of Toronto -- who is being shopped -- each has 11.

Help from ... Honduras?

Pitcher Orlando Castro, one of the Pirates' 11 international signings to date, comes with a few notable storylines:

• He is the first from Honduras to sign with the Pirates. Rene Gayo, the Pirates' Latin American scouting director, has made this nation, Nicaragua and others in the region a pet project in terms of seeking talent out of fledgling programs.

• His cousin, Mariano Gomez, also is a left-handed pitcher, with the Atlanta Braves' Class AAA affiliate. Gomez once recommended to Gayo that he sign another cousin. Gayo did, but that cousin had a traffic accident that ended his baseball career. Thus, "This is the second cousin of Mariano Gomez that I sign," Gayo said.

• Castro's homeland is in turmoil, given the military's recent ouster of President Manuel Zelaya and demonstrations in the capital Tegucigalpa. Gayo said that, because Castro is from distant San Pedro Sula, he has been largely unaffected. The same might not hold true for the baseball programs there. "I don't see a problem for future players at the present time, but these things can change from month to month," Gayo said.

• Oh, and the kid apparently can pitch. "He has solid movement to his fastball and good rotation on his curve. He's been very dominant in his country and successful in international competition, too."

Transparency in revenue sharing

An idea to ponder in advance of the next labor agreement: Since baseball's owners apparently have no intention of becoming united enough to demand a salary cap or even a floor, how about a stipulation that all revenue-sharing checks be spent on major league payroll?

Currently, all teams receiving such checks can use them on anything that improves them from a competitive baseball standpoint. But that can include unverifiable costs such as Latin American academies, more scouts and the like. A team is required to document such expenditures for MLB, but the public has only the team's word that the money was spent fittingly.

Moreover, MLB could make public the amount of the revenue-sharing check each team gets. That way, fans would have a far firmer idea if their team is spending all it can.

Last year, the Pirates are believed to have received a revenue sharing check of $27 million from MLB, based on figures leaked to the Wall Street Journal. That would have covered more than half the total spending of $50,788,783 on payroll by year's end, fourth lowest in the majors.

Only about a third of the Pirates' total revenue comes from actual attendance and other sales within PNC Park.

Kiner's corner

On the topic of any good player being dealt by a cellar-dweller ...

On June 4, 1953, Branch Rickey, general manager of a Pirates team worse than anything seen this decade, sent star slugger Ralph Kiner to the Chicago Cubs as part of a 10-player trade, and Rickey famously told Kiner, "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you."

The quote is cited, time and again, by those advocating that good players can be traded from bad teams without repercussion.

Ask this: If the current Washington Nationals, as bad a team as the sport has seen in a while, offered to trade terrific third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, how long would the line of suitors be? And, more important, would the Nationals really be a better franchise, now and in the future, without him?

This is not comparing Wilson or Sanchez to Zimmerman. Their ages and potential career paths are not similar.

Rather, it is to point out that blindly rehashing Rickey's quote often rings hollow.


Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . First Published July 19, 2009 4:00 AM


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