Hot Stove: Payroll a Central issue for many
Re-signing Matt Holliday in St. Louis this week earned big headlines around baseball, but what will it do to the Cardinals' financial flexibility in coming years?
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As of right now, the Pirates' 2010 payroll -- $33 million, with some addition certain -- projects to be less than half that of any team in the National League Central Division and less than a quarter that of the Chicago Cubs.
Still, consider this ...
If the Pirates were to form their desired group in the next year or two, and if they needed to fill less than a handful of holes, if they win and draw bigger crowds, and if they were to commit to more payroll -- all of those being immense ifs -- it might be that the rest of the division will not be all that far ahead in terms of the ability to spend.
Here are the projected payrolls for the other five Central teams, as well as a few asterisks:
• Wednesday: Minicamp begins, Bradenton, Fla.
• Jan. 29-31: PirateFest, David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
• March 3: Exhibition opener vs. Yankees.
• April 5: Season opener vs. Dodgers, PNC Park.
Cubs: $145 million. They remain the one team that looks able to spend their way out of any mistake. (Hello and goodbye, Milton Bradley).
St. Louis Cardinals: $100 million. An impressive number for a market comparable to Pittsburgh. But, with the seven-year, $120 million contract signed this week to keep Matt Holliday, he and Albert Pujols will make 40 percent of that for years to come. Major decisions loom regarding Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and others, and the minor league system is not strong enough for a cheap supporting cast.
Houston Astros: $90 million, maybe $95 million. An incredible $60 million of that, will go to four players in 2010 -- Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and Kaz Matsui -- and the minor league system grades lower than that of the Cardinals. That's asking a lot of Hunter Pence. Ownership, after a franchise-record $107 million payroll last year, has drawn a lower line.
Milwaukee Brewers: $80 million. Prince Fielder will cost $10.5 million this year and can become a free agent after 2011. In a market two-thirds the size of Pittsburgh, the winning had better continue for the attendance and revenues to support Fielder and the payroll as a whole. Here, too, ownership has drawn the line after three years of expanding payroll.
Cincinnati Reds: $73 million. Of that, $59 million will go to just nine players for 2010, even after Scott Rolen recently agreed to an NFL-style restructuring of his contract. Ownership is a little flexible, but not much.
Now, none of this will mean much to the Pirates without a marked upgrade in performance and payroll. But, supposing they pull that off by winning and spending at least to the level of the Brewers, their ability to spend might not be much different than most of the rest of the Central because of the relatively low cost of young players, who make at or close to Major League Baseball's minimum salary of $400,000 for their first three seasons.
Pirates president Frank Coonelly, without commenting on the state of the division rivals, acknowledged that the above scenario pretty much matches the one that gets discussed internally.
"Our focus has been to aggressively add young talent to our system, and we have made tremendous progress," Coonelly said. "We are building a strong core of talented young players who should continue to grow together as they move into their peak performance years and are joined by the players in our system. Because of the youth of our current major league roster, we have the financial flexibility to add talent to this developing core and to retain the talented players we are developing. This commitment to adding premier talent positions us well to compete in our division over a sustained period."
• Count pitcher Zach Duke among those who think the players are making a statement by having 42 -- including 13 position players -- committed to report for a voluntary minicamp for pitchers Tuesday in Bradenton, Fla.: "I think it says that guys are committed to get to work and to get better, and it speaks to a lot of what [pitching coach] Joe Kerrigan has taught us."
• Duke acknowledged, too, that the highly uncertain status of the bullpen had to be a factor for many pitchers: "We've certainly got some jobs for the taking."
• Top prospect Pedro Alvarez is projected to play third base for Class AAA Indianapolis early next season, which would leave another first-round pick, Neil Walker, without a position. Walker has a background at catcher and is athletic enough to try the outfield or second base, but management has yet to approach him about any kind of switch. A trade seems highly likely, but management sounds reluctant to trade Walker until he has an offensive breakout.
• Alvarez will be one of three young players the Pirates assign to Major League Baseball's four-day Rookie Career Development Program from Jan. 14-17. Also going are pitchers Daniel McCutchen and Brad Lincoln, both of whom will have to leave minicamp early.
• Holliday's contract calls for the Cardinals to make deferred payments of $1.5 million annually from 2020-29, just before he turns 50. The Pirates have a similar arrangement with former star Brian Giles: As part of his five-year, $45 million extension signed in 2000, Giles had $5.5 million of his signing bonus deferred, as well as $7 million of his salary for 2000-02. The Pirates must pay all of that $12.5 million in installments beginning in 2011 and ending in 2025.
• Thirty-eight days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
First Published January 10, 2010 12:00 am