Bob Smizik: Pirates payroll below expectations

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The expected additions to the roster have not materialized for the Pirates, nor has the expected increase in payroll. As the team stands now, there will be little competition for the 25-man roster in spring training. Below are 24 of the 25 players expected to open the season and the salaries the Pirates will pay them in 2014.

Starters: Francisco Liriano $8 million; Wandy Rodriguez $7.5 million; Edinson Volquez $5 million; Charlie Morton $4 million; Gerrit Cole $500,000. Total $25 million

Relievers: Jason Grilli $4 million; *Mark Melancon $3 million; *Vin Mazzaro $800,000; Jeanmar Gomez, Stolmy Pimentel, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson $500,000. Total $9.8 million

Catchers: Russell Martin $8.5 million; Chris Stewart $1 million Total $9.5 million

Infielders: *Neil Walker $4.8 million; *Pedro Alvarez $4 million; *Gaby Sanchez $2.3 million; Clint Barmes $2 million; Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer $500,000. $14.1 million

Outfielders: Andrew McCutchen $7.25 million; Jose Tabata $3 million; *Travis Snider $1.4 million; Starling Marte $500,000. $12.15 million

Total 24-man payroll: $70.55 million

An asterisk (*) beside a player’s name indicates his salary will be determined at a later date by arbitration. The figures used were the awards predicted by MLBTR.com. All of the $500,000 salaries are a general estimate of what players who can receive the minimum salary will be paid.

The 25th man, as of now, looks to be another $500,000 player, probably Andrew Lambo. But the Pirates might deal for a first baseman. If it’s Ike Davis of the Mets, that could add $3.8 million to the total. If it’s Justin Smoak of Seattle, that could add $2.8 million.

The official payroll is the 40-man roster. Those 15 additional players could add another $1.5 million to the total.

If Lambo or another minimum-salaried player is the 25th man, the payroll will be about $73 million. If a more expensive player is added in Lambo's place, the payroll will be about $76 million.

If the highly unexpected happens and A.J. Burnett signs with the Pirates at market value, the payroll would leap to the $85 million to $89 million range.

So what does it all mean? Without Burnett, it's not enough.

My long-standing position on payroll, one that the Nutting-is-cheap crowd completely ignored, is this: In order to have high payroll, first a team must have players worthy of high salaries. For the longest time the Pirates did not have that, which made all those endless complaints kind of silly.

But this season is different. The Pirates are a contender and as such were expected to upgrade in at least one of two positions -- right field and first base. Thus far, they’ve improved neither and the complaints of Nutting cheapness take on a more credible air. The Pirates did not have a lot of great options to fill those slots, but there were some -- Marlon Byrd, for example -- and little else has been done, with Volquez being the most expensive addition.

Pirates fans have a right to be disappointed with this payroll. With the additional revenue coming from the national television contracts, estimated for this season to be about $20 million, and with the additional revenue from increased attendance and concession sales in 2013, the payroll, at this time, is less than most followers of the team would have expected.

The Pirates are gambling that Tabata and Snider in right field and whomever they use as their left-handed hitting option at first base can keep the team competitive with a bargain-basement payroll.

The opinion of some that the team can fix these shortcomings at the trading deadline in July simply is not sound strategy for several reasons.

It’s never a good idea for a team hoping to contend to enter a season with a known weakness and gamble that if it doesn’t get better it can be fixed four months later. That’s not something contenders typically do. Teams expecting to win want to be at full strength in April, not August.

Furthermore, a team entering the season with weaknesses might not be a seller instead of a buyer when the trade deadline rolls around.

Nor are deadline deals anything approaching a guarantee. As well as Byrd played for the Pirates in September and October, Justin Morneau, another late-season acquisition, was just as disappointing. In 2011, Ryan Ludwick was a massive disappointment as the Pirates collapsed.

Spring training is a month away, the regular season about 11 weeks. There’s still time to spend some of that additional revenue.


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