Hot Stove: Are Pirates really set to spend?
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There is a bit of a buzz around baseball that the Pirates are, for once, at least rubbing elbows with some of the higher rollers in free agency. At least one serious overture has been made for pitcher Jorge de la Rosa, who seeks an eight-figure salary over multiple years. There even has been contact with third baseman Adrian Beltre, one of the pool's top prizes.
Is it for real?
That remains to be seen, of course, especially as it relates to this perennially low-spending franchise. It should be remembered that, under team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington, the Pirates always have cast a wide net in free agency, then waited until the end to sift through the remains.
But know this: The money is there.
A breakdown of the current 40-man roster commitments shows $18.1 million committed to five signed players for 2011: Chris Snyder ($6.25 million), Paul Maholm ($5.75 million), Ryan Doumit ($5.1 million), Wil Ledezma ($600,000) and Pedro Alvarez ($550,000). There also are five arbitration-eligible players with the recent release of Zach Duke, and they probably will wind up costing an additional $8 million. The rest of the roster, although subject to significant change, is made up of players with less than three years of major-league experience, meaning the team can assign any salary it wishes. That usually is close to the $400,000 minimum, which would make for an additional $7 million.
Grand total: $33 million.
That is about $20 million below where the Pirates can be expected to finish the year in 40-man roster payouts and, yes, should management choose to laser in on top talent, it can buy a de la Rosa or two.
Consider this, too, for those justifiably skeptical that the team will take that to the limit: No one on any side is likely to acknowledge this, but the Pirates probably must spend more than their $48 million total of 2010. Coonelly was successful in convincing the union in the spring that the team was spending appropriately for a young roster, but that stance will not last long. If the union does not like what it sees, it could push for an investigation similar to the one that prompted the Florida Marlins to finally raise payroll.
• Victor Black, the somewhat forgotten supplemental first-round pick of 2009, will head to the bullpen next season. Black missed all but two starts this past season with Class A West Virginia because of various issues with his right shoulder and biceps, prompting management to forge ahead with a relief role that most had anticipated for him anyway.
• Andrew Lambo, the promising Class AA outfielder acquired with James McDonald in the already lopsided Octavio Dotel trade, finished tied for the Arizona Fall League lead with 23 RBIs, batting .274 with four home runs for the Mesa team. Maybe just as important, he impressed the Pirates' evaluators with continuing maturity after having been suspended 50 games for recreational drug use earlier this year while in the Dodgers' system. "This was a battle for me all year, lots of stuff I needed to take care of off the field," Lambo said by phone. "But I did that. I've bettered myself. And now, what I want to do is show the Pirates and the city of Pittsburgh the type of person and the type of player I am."
• Lambo on the Pirates' system: "Wait until people see all the pitching we have coming. That's what has me most excited."
• Charlie Morton helped to keep himself in the rotation discussion by faring well in his three-start stint in the Dominican Winter League, with a 1.80 ERA and opponents batting .200. At the same time, be sure that the Pirates would rather have Morton and Brad Lincoln competing for spots rather than having them handed to them.
• Duke visibly appreciated his time with the Pirates -- he once was among the few players making his offseason home in Pittsburgh -- and, in a talk after being released last week, he described his final couple days in their employ as "bittersweet." Duke long has expressed a sentiment that he let down the Pirates, particularly his teammates, with his inconsistencies the past few years. But he also maintained that he was a far better pitcher than he showed, and he surely will carry that attitude to Arizona.
• Seventy-seven days until pitchers and catchers report.
First Published November 28, 2010 12:00 am