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Early Look At the Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Payroll


When I was writing about a possible long term Edwin Jackson deal the other day, I reached a point where I started thinking about how a long term deal would fit in with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ payroll commitments. A quick look at our Future Payroll page shows that the Pirates don’t have much committed beyond the 2012 season. In 2013 they have $6.5 M guaranteed. In 2014 it’s $3 M, then $4 M in 2015, followed by $4.5 M in 2016. Most of that consists of Jose Tabata’s extension.

You can’t take those low numbers and expect that the Pirates have a ton of room to spend though. Those numbers only look at the current commitments, and don’t consider arbitration prices, or any future additions or subtractions. So to get a better idea of the situation, I decided to do a way-too-early look at the 2013 payroll. This list is hardly something that is written in stone. It could be extremely different by the trade deadline. While I spent some time figuring out the projected rosters and the projected salaries, the list is highly subjective, as any salary projection a year in advance would be. The point of this is to get some sort of indication on where the Pirates could stand a year from now, as opposed to the 2012 payroll projection, where the goal is to be as accurate as possible.

Some notes before we go on:

-All projections were made with the assumption that the player played on the same level as the 2011 season. I didn’t want to make any assumptions on breakout years, or major declines.

-Guaranteed contracts are in bold.

-The Pirates will have Erik Bedard, Nate McLouth, Jason Grilli, and Kevin Correia eligible for free agency following the 2012 season. I didn’t include them on this list.

-I didn’t include Rule 5 pick Gustavo Nunez, since the odds of him sticking around are slim.

-Rod Barajas has an option with no buyout price. I assumed the option would be picked up.

-Speaking of options, Pedro Alvarez has an option year based on the contract he signed in 2008. That doesn’t mean he’s close to free agency. He’s not eligible until after the 2016 season.

Now, let’s break down the payroll projection.

Guaranteed Contracts

The Pirates have two guaranteed contracts. Clint Barmes will make $5.5 M and Jose Tabata will make $1 M. Pedro Alvarez has an option that will pay him $700 K, and Rod Barajas has an option for $3.5 M.

Making Payroll Space

If Chase d’Arnaud and/or Jordy Mercer have a good 2012 season, the Pirates could try to unload Barmes at the trade deadline. You could add Yamaico Navarro to this list, although I view him more as a second/third baseman if he becomes a starter. It would be disappointing if Mercer or d’Arnaud weren’t ready to take over in 2013.

The Pirates could also shed the $3.5 M owed to Rod Barajas if Tony Sanchez has a rebound year in the minors. The rebound would have to be conclusive, with success for an extended period at the AAA level in order for Sanchez to be considered for the starting role in 2013.

The Pirates could shed up to $9 M in payroll, and that will heavily depend on the progression of Mercer, d’Arnaud, and Sanchez in 2012.

Third Year Arbitration Eligibles

The Pirates have two players who will be eligible for arbitration for a third and final year. Those two players are Joel Hanrahan and Jeff Karstens. Hanrahan projects to be the highest paid player on the team, making $7.5 M. A lot of that was based on Heath Bell’s third year of arbitration, since Hanrahan and Bell have been similar so far. Karstens is up there, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in this salary range if he has another good year in the rotation. Even if he’s near a 4.00 ERA, I’d expect him in this range.

Making Payroll Space

I’d be very surprised if Hanrahan was on the roster in 2013. A team like the Pirates can’t afford to pay a closer that much money. It would be ideal if an option emerged in 2012 to take over. Someone like Evan Meek, Chris Leroux, or maybe one of the minor league guys like Duke Welker or Bryan Morris. Either way, the closer position isn’t that hard to fill (SEE: Hanrahan, Joel; acquired for a left handed reliever) to the point where it would warrant almost 15% of the team payroll.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Karstens was dealt, although I think that heavily depends on how the younger starters do. There’s a lot of variables involved, such as the 2012 performance of James McDonald and Charlie Morton, the performance of young starters like Brad Lincoln, Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, and Kyle McPherson, and how close Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon will be to the majors.

In each case, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them mentioned in trade talks. That would either be at the deadline, if the Pirates weren’t contenders at the time, or next off-season at the latest. The potential savings here would be as much as $12.5 M.

Second Year Arbitration Eligibles

This is the group with the most question marks when we’re looking long term. Charlie Morton seems like the safest bet to stick around, although his salary will heavily depend on how his sinker and new delivery fare in 2012, and whether he can continue to improve in both areas. Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee look to platoon at first base this year. I can’t see them both sticking around in 2013, especially at a combined $7.8 M. The Pirates could get a regular first baseman for that price. Resop and Meek will start to get more expensive, and as a person who doesn’t believe in paying relievers, I’d say they should be candidates to be moved, unless one of them emerges as a closing candidate.

Making Payroll Space

There’s a lot of flexibility here. The Pirates could lose one, or both, of Jones and McGehee. They’d be expensive bench bats if the Pirates got a starter at first base. McGehee might be a better bet to keep around as insurance for Pedro Alvarez at third base, although that might not be needed if Alvarez rebounds in 2012. Then again, if Jones and McGehee put up good enough numbers, they’d warrant sticking around, even at this price.

Resop and Meek seem like Jose Veras candidates to be dealt. The Pirates will have Daniel Moskos, Jared Hughes, Duke Welker, and Justin Wilson in the minors and on the 40-man roster. And the Pirates haven’t had trouble adding or developing relievers in-season. This time last year we weren’t talking about Daniel McCutchen, Chris Leroux, or Jason Grilli as locks for the bullpen, and we were only talking about Hughes and Tony Watson as sleeper options. They should be in a position where they won’t have to pay the price for Meek and Resop. The only way they should is if one of them looks like a closer candidate.

The potential savings here is likely in the $3.5 M range without the relievers, but could go up to the $11 M range when you take out Jones and McGehee as well. A conservative guess has one from each group departing, for $5.5 M saved.

First Year Arbitration Eligibles

The Pirates will have a few big arbitration eligibles in 2013. Andrew McCutchen is the biggest, and could command a large salary off the bat. This all assumes that the Pirates don’t extend him by that point. Neil Walker will be Super Two eligible, and could also command a nice salary. The other one to watch is James McDonald, who I have projected the same as Charlie Morton, although he could end up in the Jeff Karstens 2012 range if he pitches like he did outside of his first four starts in 2011.

Making Payroll Space

It wouldn’t make sense for the Pirates to clear payroll from this area for free agent spending. Maybe James McDonald, depending on how the status of the pitching staff looks, and how far along Taillon and Cole are. I’d personally be disappointed with that, since I wanted McDonald on the team as far back as the Jason Bay trade.

I’m not going to discuss a potential Andrew McCutchen deal, since it would be an impossible price for other teams to match, and the whole idea seems like Pirates fan paranoia, rather than something that is based in reality.

Estimated 2013 Payroll

Without any additions, and keeping only the players the Pirates currently have, the team projects for a $56 M payroll in 2013. Again, we’re looking for a range here, rather than trying to nail this down. There’s a lot of variables that can change this figure, for better or worse.

The Pirates have the ability to cut some of this payroll, making it possible to add someone to a long term deal this off-season, or even next off-season. The biggest candidates seem to be Hanrahan, Meek, Resop, Barmes, and Barajas. Outside of Hanrahan, I think the progression of the farm system will determine how expendable these players will be this time next year. If all five go, that cuts about $20 M from the payroll, putting the Pirates in the $36 M range. That price is after expected arbitration raises, which would leave the Pirates with a lot of room to spend.

It looks like the Pirates could maneuver their way in to affording a big free agent in 2013. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the 2014 projections and see if the trend will continue.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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