The Day the Pirates Were Forever Eliminated From Contention

I tried to watch the press conference where Bud Selig announced the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, although it was hard to keep track of the announcement while following all of the details on Twitter.  I didn’t catch every word that was said, so I probably missed an announcement that went something like this:

“We’re proud to say that with this new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Pittsburgh Pirates have forever been eliminated from the playoffs”.

I can only assume that this was said because all of the details that have come out about the new CBA pretty much have said the same thing.

Take the draft for example.  No team has spent more on the draft the last four years than the Pirates.  In this time they’ve gone over-slot on middle round guys like Robbie Grossman, Nick Kingham, Ryan Hafner, Colton Cain, Zack Von Rosenberg, Zack Dodson, Stetson Allie, and most recently, Josh Bell.  That will all change with the new rules.

Teams are now limited to their total spending, which is determined by the sum of their slot prices.  Any team that spends more than this amount will be penalized, and the penalty is harsh.

  • A team can spend up to 5% more than slot, although if they go over 5% they get a 75% tax on that extra spending.
  • If a team spends between 5% and 10% more than slot, they would face a 75% tax and a loss of a first round pick the following year.
  • From 10-15%, a team would face a 100% tax and a loss of their first and second round picks the following year.
  • If a team spends 15% or more they face a 100% tax and the loss of two first round picks.
The new CBA eliminates any chance of getting a Josh Bell for $5 M in the second round.

It’s not really hard slotting, but it kind of is.  To put these numbers in perspective, the Pirates spent almost $16.5 M on their first ten picks in the 2011 draft, which was almost three times the amount of their slot prices, and well over the 15% mark.  Under the new CBA, the Pirates would have had to pay a 100% tax on the $10,311,500 amount that they went over-slot.  They’d also have to give up their first round picks for the 2012 and 2013 drafts.  That negates any value the Pirates receive for going over-slot for a guy like Josh Bell, whose bonus alone would have triggered the 15% mark.

This also doesn’t include the bonuses after the 10th round.  Any bonuses larger than $100 K after the tenth round will see the excess count against the draft pool.  That wasn’t a big problem for the Pirates in 2011.  The only player they signed above $100 K was 12th round pick Candon Myles, who received $125 K.  It would have been a problem in previous years.  In 2010 the Pirates signed 15th round pick Drew Maggi for $468 K, 17th round pick Ryan Hafner for $450 K, and 23rd round pick Jared Lakind for $400 K.  In 2009 they signed 12th round pick Jeff Inman for $425 K and 34th round pick Zac Fuesser for $125 K.  In 2008 they signed 16th round pick Wes Freeman for $150 K, and 20th round pick Quinton Miller for $900 K.

What this means is that we have seen the end of the Pirates landing top 15 talents in the second round, which they’ve done in the previous two drafts.  They paid $2.25 M to Stetson Allie and $5 M to Josh Bell after each fell due to signability concerns.  It will also be unlikely that we will see guys like Robbie Grossman signed for $1 M in the sixth round, or Nick Kingham signed for $480 K in the fourth round.  Considering their 2011 seasons in pro ball, both players would have been future first round picks, Grossman in 2011 and Kingham in 2013.

There’s also the large scale impact on the sport with the new CBA driving players to other sports.  Take Bubba Starling, for example.  He had a commitment to play quarterback for Nebraska, but ended up signing a $7.5 M bonus with the Royals as the fifth overall pick.  Based on the slot prices, Starling would have made a third of that as a fifth overall pick.  The highest he could possibly go would be $4 M, which was the slot price for the first overall pick.  So the best case scenario for Starling is that he gets taken first overall, either now or after his junior year, and makes $4 M, with that amount likely to be marginally higher after his junior year.

By comparison, the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Cam Newton, received a four year deal that guaranteed him $22 M.  Even 10th overall pick Blaine Gabbert received four years and $12 M guaranteed.  Starling could never see that type of money in the draft under the new CBA.  So what do you think he would do?  Play baseball with the Royals for around $2-2.5 M, or play quarterback for Nebraska with the chance for a huge payday in a few years in the NFL?

If you’re thinking that teams can just get around this type of scenario by handing out a major league deal, think again.  Major League deals are no longer an option for draft picks under the new CBA.  This ends deals like the one Trevor Bauer received, where the UCLA right hander signed a major league deal worth upwards of $7 M, with a $3.4 M signing bonus, only $400 K above slot.

There are two good changes to the draft.  The first is that the signing deadline will be moved up to mid-July, taking place between July 12th and July 18th.  That’s a good thing, as it will allow teams to get players in the system, rather than waiting until the mid-August deadline, which doesn’t provide enough time for players who sign at the deadline to get any time in pro ball during their drafting year.

The second change is that Major League Baseball is adding six picks at the end of the first round, which will be given out via lottery to teams with the ten lowest revenues in the ten smallest markets.  It’s always nice to see new draft picks given to small market teams, even if the teams can’t go over-slot for those picks.  However, it seems a bit strange at how MLB approached this system.  They recognized that small market teams have a disadvantage and could benefit from extra picks.  Rather than awarding an extra pick to all of the small market teams, they only added six picks, with ten teams competing for them.  The odds of the team winning a pick will be based on the previous season’s winning percentage.  If a team doesn’t get one of those picks, they will be entered in a lottery open to all teams for one of six picks after the second round.  So there’s no guarantee of any extra picks for a team like the Pirates.

If you’re thinking that the Pirates might be able to shift their attention to international spending, you’re wrong.  The new CBA will also limit the international spending, with teams being capped based on their previous season’s record.  The bad teams will receive a total international bonus pool of around $5 M, while the good teams will receive around $1.8 M.

One interesting change is that teams will be able to trade international money.  If a team doesn’t want to spend all of their bonus money, they can trade that money to other teams.  Teams can only trade for up to 50% of their bonus money, which means a team with a $5 M bonus pool can trade for up to $2.5 M, giving them a total of $7.5 M to spend.  This does provide some opportunity for big spending.  For example, the Pirates spent $5 M in 2010 when they signed Luis Heredia, Willy Garcia, Yhonatan Herrand, and Dilson Herrera to big deals.  Also, capping the spending of some of the successful teams will allow the Pirates a better opportunity to land the big players in the international market.

The new CBA will also classify Cubans under 23 years of age as amateurs which will count against international bonuses.  That wouldn’t affect guys like 26 year old Yoenis Cespedes, but would affect Aroldis Chapman, preventing him from seeing anything close to the $30 M he received from the Reds in 2010.

Overall the changes to the international market are much more favorable to a team like the Pirates than the changes to the draft.  But gone are the days where the Pirates can spend $20 M combined between the two markets.  The international changes will go in to effect in 2012, with all teams having $2.9 M to spend.  The scaled budgets and the ability to trade money won’t happen until after the 2012 season.

What this all means is that scouting will become much more important.  I don’t believe that it’s impossible to get good talent at slot prices.  Just look at the Angels as a prime example.  In the past few years they’ve pretty much stuck to slot prices, but have still been able to find guys like Mike Trout due to good scouting.  There will also be a benefit to having extra picks, as that will only increase the chances of adding impact talent.

Where this deal really hurts the Pirates is their ability to take advantage of the one area where they can load up on potential impact players.  They can no longer add future first round picks like Grossman or Kingham by giving them above-slot bonuses.  They can’t add a top 15 prospect in the second round by shelling out a ton of money.  Scouting takes you so far, but being able to spend freely in the draft is a huge advantage.

That might be one of the most frustrating things for Pirates fans.  Every year we see teams like the New York Yankees spend freely on the top free agents, handing out deals to players with annual values that are greater than the entire 2011 Pirates’ draft spending.  The Pirates abused the draft system by spending $17 M in 2011.  In 2009 the Yankees abused the free agent market, handing out a $161 M deal to C.C. Sabathia, a $180 M deal to Mark Teixeira, and an $82.5 M deal to A.J. Burnett.  The Yankees committed almost a half billion dollars to three players in one off-season and no changes were made, except for the renewal of the ineffective luxury tax, which will allow teams to spend more under the new deal.  The Pirates spent $17 M on 24 draft picks, and the draft system was overhauled.

In each case scouting plays a huge role in adding talent, although there’s a clear benefit to being able to spend freely.  The Pirates can’t compete for impact players on the free agent market because Major League Baseball did nothing to fix that part of their game which was broken.  Now they also can’t load up on as much talent as possible in the draft because Major League Baseball did decide that the Pirates spending $17 M in the draft was ruining the game.

The Pirates haven’t been eliminated from the playoffs in any future year, but with today’s announcement they kind of have been.  Their best shot at competing with big market teams was doing what teams like the Rays did: building through the draft.  The best way to do that was to spend an excess amount on over-slot bonuses.  If it wasn’t hard enough for small market teams to compete, the new CBA makes it that much harder, and one could say, nearly impossible.


  • So, I’ve been thinking about this a lot . It seems that it would make sense for teams to target players like Bubba Starling with the understanding that they’ll probably end up in college. Then in the later rounds they could target high school players who would only forgo college for above slot money that other teams are going to be shying away from. If the team can’t sign their first round pick at slot value, you’ll be able to sign many more of these mid to high level prospects from the later rounds. 

    The real upshot of this is that you’ll have an additional first round pick the following year as compensation. You can then treat your compensation pick like a traditional first round pick (someone who will sign for slot value) and use that year’s first round pick to seek out another two sport high school athlete who you have no chance of signing and repeat the process again.

    It seems like, if done right, a team could add 1-3 million dollars to it’s annual draft pool this way. Thoughts?

  • I agree with the minority, I think its a big deal over nothing.  I just do not believe high school kids  will pass up money to play in college.  College baseball is not like College Basketball or Football.  There isn’t alot of glory to be had grinding it out in college.  Outside of some southern schools, college players are the equivalent of AA minor leaguers, they play in obscurity and in front of sparse crowds. Your going to turn down $300000 grand (assuming 3rd or 4th round slot) to waste four years in college when you can be making your way up the minors and to the big leagues instead?  Not to mention being paid a nice big signing bonus.  You can always go back to school and get a degree.  You can only play sports for so long.  I just don’t see it.

     I think it actually helps the Pirates because now players will know they have to sign or else go to school, and I believe almost all will rather sign.  If a player is that good that they are slotted in the second or third round, what will for years in college do? Again, this is not football or basketball, I think most 18 year olds want a shot with a major league team and make money.  They hold out for more than slot now because they can.  If they can’t they will take the maximum offered and be very happy.  I never believed Josh Bell wanted to go to college, it was posturing and the proof is he took the money.  Yes, the Pirates get some kudos for paying over slot for players when they did not have to, but now they really do not have to and the players will sign anyway.  How is this not a win?

  • Really???? Never contend??? I maybe the last 18 years was just a nightmare.. Lets get real…do you really think they would contend either way???? They drafted high for 18 years by not winning…still profitable so why even try to win????.

  • Joel Davis –
    Yeah, I agree, and I think having Frank Coonelly as president had a lot to do with the Pirates taking such great advantage of that, seeing as how he knew the inner workings of the slot system already (previously being in charge of it) and knew where it was headed. If the Pirates hadn’t hired Coonelly, they never would have made the bold moves they did in the past several drafts. Gotta give credit to Nutting on that on that one, I guess.

  • Remember, the owners agreed to this also, not just Bud Selig and the players.  Give this system a few years and maybe there will be changes in the future. 

  • I think the point made about somebody like Bubba Starling is a little over the top. Sure, QBs taken in the first round of the NFL draft get a boatload more than a first round pick in the MLB draft. This is overlooking the tiny little detail that Bubba would have to be an amazing college QB for three years, stay healthy, and get picked in the first round of the NFL draft. Turning down 4 million dollars and banking on that to happen would be enough to make even the very best college football recruits think twice.

    Btw, the last time a QB from Nebraska got taken in the first round was 1972.

    If somebody like Bubba is given the choice between a few million instant bucks and rolling the dice on what happens in college they take the money 90% of the time, in my opinion.

  • Now that I’ve calmed down…I realize that at the #8 pick this year the pirates will have a pool of about 9.5 million to spend on the draft in 2012.  They will still be able to get some good talent, just not “Josh Bells”.   With 9.5 million they will still be able to sign guys away from college just a couple less than they have been doing.

  • To get all Newt Gingrich with it,  the Germans did better at Versailles than the Pirates did with the new CBA.

  • I believe it was just a matter of time until all the big markets figured out that they could spend 5-10 million more on the draft each year and get more value.  Boston was already doing it.  Cubs were about to start.  Soon enough, the draft would have been flooded with money and once again the Pirates wouldn’t be able to throw so much money towards unproven talent.  I’m glad we took advantage of the rules while they were the way they were and other teams were so naive.  It’s highly unlikely that opportunity would have remained for very long, unfortunately.

  • A lot of bad, but we also have to recognize the way this is going to affect the other side of the negotiation table. Players are going to sign for way less than they would before. Bell couldn’t hold out for $5 MM even if he went 1st overall, so he would have no reason to pass up a lesser amount for college. Maybe high schoolers won’t sign as frequently the first couple of years in anticipation of seeing a pay raise, but over time I think guys at every level will be signing for less and working within the system a little better. In other words, the pirates could still get Grossmans and Kinghams, they would just have to draft them at a higher slot and hope that they sign. That will be where it’s nice to have that extra pick at the end of the first/second round that we’ve got a 70% shot at each year. It will be more difficult, of course, but not impossible. It’s also really nice to be given the inside track on international signings like that. I think that sounds like it’s going to be much more helpful than people may think. It basically sticks a salary cap on league-wide international spending, but gives a bigger cap to shitty teams. Guys like Heredia or Sano aren’t gonna decide that $2 MM isn’t worth it. They’ll simply have to sign for less, and in this system we have a legitimate shot at literally any international prospect, such as the Chapmans of the world. Also, thank god they finally moved up the signing deadline.
    On the whole, a lot of bad news, but this hasn’t made the draft or international signings unfair for the Pirates. It has made things actually unfair in favor of the Pirates on those two fronts (things were more fair before, other teams just decided not to spend on the draft the way we did for who knows what reason). What remains unfair is what has been unfair all along: the lack of a salary cap, or some regulation on free agency spending. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to be an approachable subject for a looong time.

  • VERY FRUSTRATING!!  College baseball should benefit greatly from the changes to the draft,but the Bucs undoubtedly will not

  • Baseball has nothing to do with the Pirates!!! The rules revolve around the Yankees and Red Sox. As long as these to teams are good baseball doesn’t care what you think. It will continue to happen and guys like me and the rest of you will let it happen because we’re not giving up something we love. 20 years prove it.

  • While I havent gone over the CBA with a fine tooth comb, I think the hardcap will kill the Bucs stuff is way overblown. There was absolutely nothing preventing the Yankees redsox etc from paying players overslot $. Every one of them couldve drafted and paid Bell. They have done so in the past to players. So that advantage in theory is nonexistent.
    I’m not sure how the Bucs can use this to their advantage but the limited trading of picks and international cap $ may be an avenue. I would like to see how this years draft plays out first until I make any world is ending judgements. At least until the draft order and trades are settled.

    Like I said I’m not sure on the specifics but say a team goes cheap( ala Tony Sanchez) in the 1st then use their supplemental pick to take a top High School player that may have slipped and pay overslot to him. maybe you only sign 18 nplayers instead of 24-30. I would guess this leaves a lot of kids unsigned and eligible as FAs if theyre college players. So many variables we really don’t know how this will play out. The GMs have their work cut out for them though.

    • I believe you are right about the Sanchez scenario, I think that will happen more often than not, but as far as seeing how things play out, you are not going to know who the players are that they might have taken but backed away from unless they are a slotted picks.

      The Pirates are going to be on the rise with the talent that they do have in the system so telling how things will play out in the long run is going to be tough to gauge in the early going IMO.

  • All this means is that the Pirates can give 5mm to the Barmes’s of the world instead of the Josh Bells.

    • Maybe you were being facetious, I can’t tell, but your post proves exactly why this change is so bad. In the free agent market, $5 million gets the Pirates one year of a veteran SS who’s good defensively and provides minimal offense. In the draft, $5 million got the team a high-quality prospect, who’s under team control for the duration of his time in the minors and then 6 years in the majors at a relatively low annual salary. Which is the better investment of $5 million?

      • We agree, Micah

      • although i like your post, there is no gurantee on the prospect as we all know from the past pirate picks…atleast we know Barmes will be somewhat consistant or should be for that $5m.  It’s called POTENTIAL, lol and sometimes it doesnt work out that well.  Im excited to see what Bell, Cole, Taillon, and Grossman do this year.

        • Steve, the Pirates this year paid 5mm for Bell and 5mm for Barmes, next year the Pirates can only sign a Barmes whereas  the Yankees if they wanted to can spend 200 mm on free agents without any penalty, where is the fairness?

  • The Pirates are paying the price for labor peace. Bud was peeing himself because he could talk about the problems in the NBA and NFL while he was painting himself like some great negotiator. Lets face it every year that the Y

    • You hit the nail on the head because the pirates’ draft budget will decrease so the media and fans will be saying “If you aren’t spending on the draft then you should be spending elsewhere.”  So the pressure will be on to take the extra 6,7,8,9 mil and spend it on the mediocre FA’s that are out there..The good thing is…there is a way to fix this…win. If you win you will be drafting later and won’t have to shell out 6 mil on guys like Alvarez. Spending 6-10 mil on the top guys kill you when you know there are Mile Trouts and so many other bargains down in the draft. 

  • Maybe they could just keep going over slot like they have have been, lose their first 2 picks annually, and keep grabbing first round talent that falls to the third round and beyond.  It would be a lot more money to sign these players with the added penalties, but still a way to secure high end talent.  We just miss out on the Taillon’s, Cole’s, and Alvarez’s of the draft.

  • I would like to congratulate the MLB Players Union. They bargained away their principle of “no cap ever” in exchange for more money for rich players. Given that money is the only thing the players and the union care about, this decision makes perfect sense.

    • It’s just like all the players that sat back and let things slide without ever bringing up the roid problem in the game to the union even though they new it was a major issue. Why? Because all the records being broken by Bonds and Sosa was bringing in mass money which was trickling down to the lesser players. …so all was good until it eventually blew up and it couldn’t be hidden anymore.

  • Tim, do you think there is any chance this new enforcement of slotting could cause bonuses to be driven down so the talent still comes to play…just for less…and this will take away some of the agents’ power. That is the only hope for teams like the Pirates. I see a lot of kids just going to UNC or Texas because a mil would make them change their mind…but 100K won’t.

    • Hard to say how this will work out, especially in the first year. I would expect more high schoolers to go to college but they also have to face the reality that the same slotting system will be in place when they get drafted again. It will still come down to which the player prefers – pro ball or college.

      I would imagine college coaches are happier with this system.

      • Good points. College baseball will definitely improve over this CBA.  Especially the top 20 programs. They will have way less competition. The Pirates were personally screwing up Texas’ recruiting classes the last few years.

    • ….and it is bizzarre on so many levels to tell a team that is trying to get better “Hey, we don’t want you to spend money to get better.” Then turn around and let other teams pay 200 mil for Pujols and Fielder. What kind of business model is this? You can’t do it in one area of your finances and not another and it not be hypocritical. Limit the draft but not free agency?  It shows you exactly where the league’s priorities are….with the rich teams. Can teams still go to Japan and spend 50 mil just to “talk” to a guy. I like to call it the 1-900 system?

    • I think the talent will cost less, but I also think that high school players will be less likely to sign.

  • This actually doesn’t eliminate the Pirates, I really appreciate your passion for our favorite team! I look it at this way, no one can over spend now, the Pirates were doing what they had to do and what everyone else was doing. The players will now know they cannot be overpaid and won’t be able to hold out as much, meaning that if they are not pick one to five, then they have to face reality. If you were working somewhere that you could name your own salary, then you will try to name as much as you can. But if you know that the limit is in place, if you really want to work there, you will take the money. If people really want to play Major League ball, they will take what is offered to them in the draft because the chance to cash in is limited.

    • The problem is you won’t get high school kids to sign.  That talent will now go to college.

      • agree to an extent. I think this hurts Boras more than anyone(which may have been buds whole plan) but kids just lose bargaining power the kids that want to go pro will but for less. Outside of few superstars its a huge risk to forgo even a few hundred thousand to play 3 years of college and possibly not be drafted at all.

      • Yes but as we are finding out it takes about 5-7 years for those prep players to reach their potential.  

  • So let me try and summarize this new CBA.

    PNC Park,
    Ye who enter here
    Abandon all hope

    Bud Selig and the MLBPA

  • Tim,

    Its not clear to me from your description whether going over slot in the first 10 rounds is a pool of money or penalties apply if you go over slot for each individual draft pick.

    This system wouldn’t be quite so bad if slotting figures conformed at all to the reality of the market. I’m sure that won’t change.

    Leave it to Bud to pick the stupidest possible answer to every situation – all so he can save owners a few pennies.

    • It’s a pool of money that makes up the slotting total. They can go over-slot on individual picks, but they can’t go over-slot on the total pool without being taxed.

      • In that case, teams will have limited flexibility if they are willing to sign only 5 or 6 of their top picks. Depending upon a team’s draft pool and needs, it might be worth sacrificing depth for higher end talent. If they draft well, they might be able to get some of the depth in rounds 11-30.

        I suppose they could also “throw away” 3 or 4 picks and then hope to get better talent after the 10th round. The team still gets the allotted slot money whether the player deserves to be drafted in the top 10 rounds or not. Or, you might be able to sign them for under slot for the amount they really deserve.

        Any system can be manipulated to some extent. Hopefully the Pirates will be a leader in figuring out how.

        The biggest issue is whether this system will reduce the talent that comes into major league baseball. In the short term I think highly probable. I’m not quite so sure in the long term.


        • But if you can’t go over 100K after the 10th (If I read that right) then you couldn’t hold off to spend big because you’d be getting nailed for going over on too many picks.  You almost have to really carefully plan out your draft and not do “if we don’t get this guy, then we get this guy” scenarios like we were doing. At least with the slots you will know what you are spending so you can plan for a lot of 100K bonuses later if you want.  I think we will see more guys getting 100K further down in the draft. Maybe, just me speculating out loud.

      • I am hoping this pool is increased for teams that pick in the top 10 as opposed to the bottom of the 1st round.  If not you would be getting penalized for having to pick a good player early in a round.

  • So we have enough talent in the minors to be very competitive from 2015 till about 2019.  After that there is no chance.

  • The teams that have the best scouts should do best in this system, the Bucs are going to need to invest in scouts (which I think they have been doing).  This was area where Bucs were able to outspend teams but that was only because those teams chose to spend their money elsewhere.  If the Bucs would have been successful going over slot for a couple more years there would be more imitators and that avenue would have disappeared any way.

    • That is a very good point. If we win the serries in say 2013 because of Tallion, Alvarez, Grossman, Cole, Bell, etc….. Then other teams would overspend our overspending. Tallion would have gotten a ten mill deal and cole a 15. I agree that investing in scouting is the only way we can go. We also could invest in coaching in the lower levels. If we had the best coaches we could make guys like Lastings Millage actually reach their potential.

  • Maybe if teams like Pirates spent their luxury tax return on talent instead of pocketing it Selig would have a reason to ask them to pay more but when teams like ours simply pocket it makes no sense to increase it.  Increase luxury tax, implement salary caps and require luxury tax returns to be spent of FA signings.  

  • Guess they will just have to spend money where it counts now, in FA. 

  • This is why the NFL is a better league than MLB.  NFL fans love their teams b/c they have a chance to compete every year, you can almost guess what teams will be in MLB playoffs every year.  

  • The big clubs might have eliminated the Pirates, but they cut off their own noses, their talent pool that they annually steal from the small market teams is about to shrink.
    This is a real death nil for MLB not just the Pirates.

    There are was around this but the local fans will hate to hear it but hear goes!
    1. Players like McCutchen will not be retained even if the Bucs want to or have the money to do so, he will go for prospects because that is the only way the Bucs are going to get top level prospects in the system.
    2.The other way out of this mess is to buy out their lease and move the team to a market with a considerably better revenue stream, tv money and so on.
    3. Accept the fact that the volume of players drafted will shrink considerably.

  • Well at least we have an abundance of bridges to jump off and don’t have to wait in line

  • Great explanation of a convoluted system. And God is it heinous.

  • Why??????????????????

    • The Pirates get the #8 overall pick. They get 2 sandwich picks. May get a bonus pick for being a small market. Their 2nd round pick will be around #60. That makes 5 picks in the top 60 and some are saying they will have $10 million to spend on the upcoming draft. Hopefully they can stock up.  Good scouting will really be neeeded.