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Pirates talk of increasing payroll in 2011 just a PR move

Despite hitting rock bottom and clinching their 18th straight losing season Friday night, the Pirates have had some buzz surrounding the team this week after signing Mexican pitching prospect Luis Heredia to a $2.6 million signing bonus and locking up top draft picks Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie.
After spending over $12 million on their 2010 draft class, the big question is whether the Pirates will begin to increase their payroll at the major league level.
Team president Frank Coonelly made headlines on Friday, telling 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh that the Pirates will “significantly increase” their payroll in 2011.
To do so, it would mean the Pirates would be in on some of the top tier free agents in 2011. However, GM Neal Huntington refuted the notion that the team will go after a No. 1 pitcher or a power hitter in free agency and Coonelly later retracted his words to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, saying the team will make a “meaningful” increase in payroll
“We’re not going to add a No. 1 starter in free agency,” Huntington told the Post-Gazette. “We’re not going to add a true, major-league power bat in free agency, ” the Pirates GM added.
Coonelly later also reiterated the same sentiment on Friday, saying the Pirates aren’t going to be in the market for the “$20-plus million over seven years type” of player. Coonelly said to look for the team to invest in mid-tier free agents and non-tenders.
The Pirates opened up the 2010 season with a payroll of $34,943.00 million and while the payroll has increased throughout the season, the Pirates are not likely to increase their payroll by a substantial amount next season and a “meaningful” increase will also be difficult to accomplish.
In fact, the team will likely shed at least close to $10 million in salaries this off-season.
At the catcher position, the Pirates are locked in for the short-term and long-term with Chris Snyder and prospect Tony Sanchez respectively.
That will open up the door for Ryan Doumit to be actively shopped.
Doumit who is due $5.1 million in 2011 will be moved if there is a suitor and the team will likely walk away from Zach Duke who is arbitration eligible. Duke made $4.3 million in 2010.
The team also listened to trade offers for starter Paul Maholm prior to the trade deadline and Maholm will be another candidate to be traded this off-season. Maholm is due $5.75 million in 2011 and he has a $9.75 million club option with a $750,000 buyout in 2012.
The Pirates enter the off-season with major holes at shortstop, a need for a power hitting corner outfielder/infielder and have a major need to revamp their pitching staff at the major league level.
The Pirates will not be in on the likes of Cliff Lee and spending big money on mid-tier players can be disastrous for a small market rebuilding team like the Pirates.
A quick look at evaluating the free agent market and the Pirates do not project to increase their payroll by a significant amount to any means. If they do, it will likely end up being “bad spending.”
The market for a mid-tier pitcher (No. 3 – No.5 pitcher) is a two-to-three year deal with an annual salary in the $6-$8 million per season range.
Jason Marquis of the Washington Nationals is a prime example of how the market for a mid-tier pitcher will be in 2011.
Marquis signed a two year deal worth $15 million last off-season with the Nationals. Marquis, 32, is 0-6 on the season with a 11.36 ERA. Rick Harden coming off a season with multiple health problems signed a one-year deal, worth a guaranteed $7.5 million, with the Texas Rangers last off-season.
Those are the kind of deals it takes to land a pitcher with some intrigue but in most occasions the team ends up getting a bad return.
The Milwaukee Brewers signing Jeff Suppan to a four-year, $42 million deal in 2006 has set the stage for No. 4 or No. 5 starters to still cash in despite being in their 30’s on the downside of their careers and regarded mainly as No. 4 or No. 5 starters
The potential starting pitcher free agent class is another aging group with few impact pitchers that the Pirates would have a chance to sign or go after.
The class is headlined by 32 year old Cliff Lee, 35 year old Ted Lilly and 34 year old Bronson Arroyo who has a $11 million club option with a $2MM buyout from the Cincinatti Reds. The Pirates will not be in on Lee, Lilly or Arroyo.
After those three it’s a mediocre aging group at best. Here is the potential starting pitcher free agent class courtesy of MLBTradeRumors.com:
Erik Bedard (32) – $8MM mutual option; Kris Benson (35); Jeremy Bonderman (28); Dave Bush (31); Jose Contreras (39); Kevin Correia (30); Doug Davis (35) – $6.5MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout; Jorge De La Rosa (30); Justin Duchscherer (33); Shawn Estes (38); Josh Fogg (34); Jeff Francis (29) – $7MM club option;
Freddy Garcia (35); Jon Garland (31) – $6.75MM mutual option with a $600K buyout; Chad Gaudin (28); Rich Harden (29) – $11MM mutual option with $1MM buyout; Aaron Harang (33) – $12.75MM club option with a $2MM buyout; Livan Hernandez (36); Jason Jennings (32); Hiroki Kuroda (36); Rodrigo Lopez (35); Kevin Millwood (36); Sergio Mitre (30);
Brian Moehler (39); Jamie Moyer (48); Vicente Padilla (33); Carl Pavano (35); Brad Penny (33); Andy Pettitte (39); Tim Redding (33); Nate Robertson (33); Ben Sheets (32); Jeff Suppan (36) – $12.75MM club option with a $2MM buyout;
Brett Tomko (38); Koji Uehara (36); Javier Vazquez (34); Brandon Webb (32); Todd Wellemeyer (32); Kip Wells (34); Jake Westbrook (33); Dontrelle Willis (29); Chris Young (32) – $8.5MM club option
The current market for a mid-tier infielder is also vastly over-rated. Mark DeRosa’s two year, $12 million deal and Placido Polanco’s three year, $18 million deal have set the stage for the upcoming free agent market for infielders.
Like many of these two-three year deals worth $5-to-$7 million per season for infielders in their mid 30’s, teams rarely get a bang for their buck.
DeRosa, 35, who can play multiple positions is batting .194 on the season, appearing in only 26 games.
Upgrading the shortstop position is an immediate need for the Pirates but just like the pitching free agent class, there’s not a potential impact player who will be a viable option for the Pirates.
The class could be headlined by New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter or New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes who has an $11 million club option. Both players are expected to remain with their respective teams. After those two, it’s another aging unattractive group.
Courtesy of MLBTradeRumors.com, here is the potential free agent class for shortstops:
Alfredo Amezaga (33); Orlando Cabrera (36) – $4MM mutual option with a $500K-$1MM buyout; Juan Castro (39); Craig Counsell (40); Bobby Crosby (31); Adam Everett (34); Alex Gonzalez (33) – $2.5MM club option; Khalil Greene (31);
Cristian Guzman (33); Jerry Hairston Jr. (35); Cesar Izturis (31); Derek Jeter (37); Julio Lugo (35); Jhonny Peralta (29) – $7MM club option with a $250K buyout; Nick Punto (33) – $5MM club option with a $500K buyout; Edgar Renteria (35) – $10.5MM club option with a $500K buyout;
Jose Reyes (28) – $11MM club option with a $500K buyout; Miguel Tejada (37); Juan Uribe (31); Omar Vizquel (44)
Adding a power hitting corner infielder or outfielder is also believed to be a priority for the Pirates. However, it’s hard imagine the Pirates finding that player in free agency.
The team is set at 2 of their 3 outfield positions with Jose Tabata in left and Andrew McCutchen in center field.
Right field is a position the Pirates are looking to upgrade. The potential free agent class for right fielders is headlined by 32 year old Jayson Werth who will not be an option for the Pirates.
The rest of the group could include, Willie Bloomquist (33); Gabe Gross (31); Jose Guillen (35); Brad Hawpe (32) – $10MM club option with a $500K buyout; Eric Hinske (33); Gabe Kapler (35); Austin Kearns (31); Xavier Nady (32); Magglio Ordonez (37) – $15MM club option and Randy Winn (37)
Due to Garrett Jones versatility, the Pirates could look to move Jones to right field and add a first baseman. The projected free agent class for first baseman is strong at the top, headlined by Carlos Pena, Adam Dunn, Derek Lee and possibly Lance Berkman who has a $15 million club option at the end of the season.
However, like Neal Huntington said this week, the Pirates won’t “add” a true major league power bat. That in all likelyhood already takes them out of the mix for the likes of Adam Dunn. After the top tier players at the position, there are few if any intriguing bats out there who make a lot of sense for the Pirates to throw $6-to-$7 million at.
The potential group of free agent first basemen includes, Garrett Atkins (31) – $8.5MM club option with a $500K buyout; Wilson Betemit (29); Hank Blalock (30); Russell Branyan (35) – $5MM mutual option; Jorge Cantu (29); Frank Catalanotto (37); Troy Glaus (34); Wes Helms (35); Eric Hinske (33); Aubrey Huff (34); Mike Jacobs (30);
Nick Johnson (32) – $5.5MM mutual option with a $250K buyout; Paul Konerko (35); Adam LaRoche (31) – $7.5MM mutual option with a $1.5MM buyout; Doug Mientkiewicz (37); Kevin Millar (39); Lyle Overbay (34); Carlos Pena (33); Fernando Tatis (36); Chad Tracy (31); Ty Wigginton (33)
The Pirates will not by any means “significantly increase” their payroll in 2011 and looking at what will likely transpire, there are serious doubts that the Pirates will even have a “meaningful” increase in payroll due to the likelyhood of moving the salaries of Doumit, Duke and a weak free agent class where it makes little sense to overpay for a mid-tier player.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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