Could the Pirates Have a $100 M Payroll in 2014?

Today I finished putting together the 2014 40-man payroll page, which will be updated throughout the off-season, and in to the regular season. Bookmark that link, as I’ll be updating the chart after every move throughout the off-season. The chart provides an estimate  of the year-end 2014 payroll, which will definitely change throughout the off-season.

Right now the estimate is made up of three things. First we have the guaranteed salaries. Next are the projected arbitration increases. Finally there are the projected roster decisions. I didn’t include projected free agents, since that’s unpredictable. I mostly stuck with players who were out of options, or who didn’t play a huge role at the end of the season. For example, Felix Pie wasn’t on the playoff roster, so I don’t see him getting arbitration. Ryan Reid wasn’t a September call-up, so I can’t see him being tendered a contract.

I projected a 25-man roster when making this payroll chart. All of the guys making more than the league minimum are on the active roster. There might be some differences in opinions beyond that, but as far as payroll, it would remain the same. Maybe some have Brandon Cumpton making the rotation over Jeff Locke. Both would make around the league minimum, so it wouldn’t impact the payroll. Because the focus here is on the estimated payroll, I didn’t break down those decisions that had little to no impact on the payroll.

The Pirates are currently projected for a $60,924,500 payroll in 2014. A lot can change with that figure. As an example, last year they had a projected $63,101,800 when I first made the chart around this time of year. The end of year payroll estimate was $74,460,458. To get an idea of what can impact that figure, let’s look at some of the biggest contract issues.

Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez

I have them both as non-tender candidates, although they might not be non-tendered. They could be traded if there are other takers out there. Jones is the key here. I think he’s the most likely to be non-tendered, due to his estimated arbitration increase, and his performance in 2013. Gaby Sanchez did his job in the 2013 platoon, but if Jones is gone, there’s no need for Sanchez. I estimate he would make $3 M, and I can’t see the Pirates spending that on a bench first baseman if they have no platoon.

A.J. Burnett Pirates
If the Pirates bring back A.J. Burnett, it could bump the payroll up to $75 M. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

A.J. Burnett

Burnett is a free agent, but the Pirates will try to bring him back. The qualifying offer to get draft compensation for free agents is $14.1 M. That’s the max I could see Burnett getting from the Pirates, which would take their payroll estimate up to $75 M. That’s the total they ended the 2013 season with, although there are the National TV revenues to consider, plus the playoff and 2013 ticket revenues.

Additional Revenues

The Pirates will be able to spend much more than their 2013 total. For one, teams will see about $20-25 M in National TV revenues. The Pirates also saw an increase in attendance in 2013, and will receive additional playoff revenues. The National TV money will make a much bigger impact. You have to consider things such as taxes when it comes to these revenues. However, considering the Pirates spent just under $75 M in 2013, I could see them capable of spending around $100 M in 2014 when you factor in the new revenues.

Free Agency/Trades

The Pirates made a lot of moves to balance the payroll last year, only adding $4 M to their total over the off-season. They traded Joel Hanrahan, then used the savings to sign Francisco Liriano, Jeff Karstens, and Jonathan Sanchez. They also added Mark Melancon in that move. Earlier in the off-season they signed Russell Martin. In the last two years they have been active on the free agent front, although they haven’t pursued any impact players. Instead they’ve gone for middle tier players. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates go after someone like Jose Abreu this year. They don’t have many needs to fill, and as pointed out above, they have a lot of money available. They could definitely afford a bigger contract than some of the deals they’ve made in the past.

In-Season Additions

The difference between the Opening Day payroll and the final payroll is always big. There’s no way to project all of the in-season moves, whether that comes in the form of trades, waiver claims, or the constant promotions and demotions from Triple-A. In the last two years the Pirates have added about $7 M per season during the regular season. In previous years it has been as high as $11 M. The estimated number represents the Opening Day projections. You could probably add $5-10 M to that figure on Opening Day to guess what the final figure would be. So if they do spend up to $100 M, I don’t think it will all come by Opening Day.


The estimated payroll is exactly that, an estimate. It doesn’t include every bonus, incentive, or exact salary figures for the league minimum guys. In the past, the estimate has been pretty accurate. In 2010 the end of the year figure was $1.36 M short of the actual results. In 2011 the estimate was off by $1.66 M. In 2012 the estimate was $1.91 M off the actual year-end payroll. So based on those three years, the estimate has a margin of error of $1.64 M on average.


  • I also agree that signing Marlon Byrd should be a priority this offseason as well as bringing in a quality first baseman … i.e. Jose Abreu, possibly even Justin Morneau. I also think the pirates would be better served not offering AJ big money and using that surplus to sign Byrd, Abreu and others. AJ has been a clubhouse leader and a big reason for the Pirates resurgence and return to respectability; however I believe that AJs kind of leadership has outlived its effectiveness and has in some respects become a challenge to Hurdle’s leadership (How many times was AJ left in WAY too long because Hurdle was afraid to take him out?) This kind of thing is problematic and can eventually lead to a rift in the clubhouse.

  • CalipariFan506
    October 14, 2013 11:23 pm

    I’m for anything that keeps Melancon under 70 appearances next season.

  • Tim, given the article, I think 3 things should happen…..Huntington should attempt to ink Marlon Byrd to a 2 year contract, pickup 1B Jose Abreu, and go after FA Kevin Gregg. The signing of Byrd would be a “stop gap” until Polanco is ready. The picking up of Abreu might very well give the Bucs a legitimate 1B, something they haven’t had in years. I suggest Kevin Gregg, though I know its not likely, but a combination of Justin Wilson/Gregg in the 7th….Watson/Melancon in the 8th, and Grilled Cheese in the 9th, would make for an outstanding back end of the game, not to mention a well rested starting rotation, and an excellent situational bullpen thoughts?

  • IMO, they should go after Morton on a 2yr contract and avoid arb. Morton is a top 3 guy in this system. Locke needs a strength program over the winter, but he is still a pitcher that can’t get away with anything over the plate, that makes me leary of keeping him.
    Too bad we don’t have a mouse in the war room, would like to know what the Pirates plans are, they could have been semi scouting some pitcher from another team all summer, just waiting for him to get released or traded, kind of like they were doing with Liriano last year, he had been on their radar for a long time, but we knew nothing about it.

    • Charlie Morton is a nice guy and has struggled mightily to re-invent himself, but how do you rate him as a top 3 in this system with a combined WAR of of minus 0.7 over the 6 years he has been with the Pirates. If he had just come onto the scene with the numbers he posted in 2013, I would be fired up about this guy. But, he is 30 and is a year away from Free Agency, and no, I cannot see him cracking that Top 3 of Burnette, Liriano, and Cole. And his track record has been one of having a decent year followed by a horrible year – where is the consistency? Here are his last 5 seasons

      2009 5-9, 4.55 ERA
      2010 2-12, 7.57 ERA
      2011 10-10, 3.83 ERA
      2012 2-6, 4.55 ERA, only pitched 9 games
      2013 7-4, 3.26 ERA

      The Pirates have way too much talent on the 40 and in the minors to convince me that we need to sign Charlie Morton for anything beyond 2014. A combined record of 26 – 41. I may be all wrong and this is a guy that teams would salivate to have, but that does not move me to want to make him a 2 year contract offer. Now, the Pirates depended upon Jared Hughes to get us a lot of GO’s, but he was absent command for most of the year. Morton could fill that need perfectly.

  • I like an underdog as much as anyone else, but we seem to have short memories. When this team was struggling in April and May, Jeff Locke was there. His 8-2, 2.15 ERA in his first 18 Starts which earned him an All Star nod, seems to be forgotten. Instead, we have that short-term memory of the guys who may not have done much before the AS Break, but finished strong. We have a Rotation that should include AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Gerrit Cole. Then we have to fill in a #4 and #5 from 3 possibilities – Wandy, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Locke.

    *Wandy Rodriguez will pick up his $13 mil option and the Pirates will pay $7.5 mil of that to have him through 2014. He injured his throwing arm and may not be able to go right out of ST in 2014.

    *Charlie Morton is in his last year of Arbitration and IMO will get between $4 and $5 mil for 2014; he posted a 7-4, 3.26 ERA in 20 Starts. He could become an unrestricted Free Agent after the 2014 season

    *Jeff Locke just finished his first year of MLB Service with a 10-7, 3.52 ERA in 30 Starts and we have him at least 5 more years.

    We are loaded with RHSP’s in the minors and one who could very possibly be ready by June 2014 – Jameson Taillon, and another, Nick Kingham close behind. It seems pretty clear to me. I think that Liriano is at the peak of his value and could be gone before ST if the return is right. Charlie Morton may not be in the same category as Liriano, but as a 30 year old, are we going to offer him a long term contract based on his work with the Pirates over the past 3 or 4 years? I liked the 2 year offer to AJ for $20 mil and I sure hope he wants it. If NH can get that done, it sets a whole lot into motion and puts the Pirates in the catbird seat for making deals going into the GM Meetings in December?

  • I think Scott Kazmir would be a great fit. Outstanding peripherals last season, increased velocity, but not enough of a track record where he can command a big contract. And he’s a lefty.

  • CalipariFan506
    October 13, 2013 11:42 pm

    I meant 50% GB rate for Hernandez.

  • I think it will be interesting to see how national television revenue affects salaries, (I think some teams are banking on inflation.) Yes, the Pirates payroll may increase to $90-100 million but how much of that will nominal versus increases due to improved ticket sales/ticket increase/playoff revenue. The Pirates definitely have flexibility; I just question how much.

    One issue I have with the continual citing of Josh Johnson as a turnaround candidate is, he has had one bad season, rival GMs will not just look at a year of performance. Liriano had a great 2006 and 2010 and was mediocre/injured the other seasons, Burnett was a give away by the Yankees because he was giving a five plus ERA for two years. I think if the Pirates follow this path it will be less proven pitchers, Roberto Henrandez fits the model. Jeff Francis and Edinson Volquez might also fit but both have issues, soft tossing lefty, and a walk machine. I could be completely wrong, but I like how this off-season has a different feel to it.

    • CalipariFan506
      October 13, 2013 11:42 pm

      Roberto Hernandez is the guy I want badly. If you look at his peripheral stuff from 2013 it’s actually not bad. He has an over 50% walk rate, a decent K rate and exceptional for a GB pitcher. He had bad luck in a tough pitchers division IMO.

      I don’t want soft tossing lefties. Maholm, Francis etc aren’t worth it. I’d prefer to try to get Locke more consistent than going after one of those two guys.

      All that said I like our offseason outlook far more than the Reds. They need to try to replace Choo’s OBP, Arroyo’s innings while also being mindful that Phillips is regressing, Votto’s contract is getting ready to skyrocket and worrying about Bailey, Latos and Cueto all being potential free agents by the end of 2015 with only Cingrani and Stephenson as legitimate internal options. They are closing in on the end of their window IMO and there isn’t much way to avoid it. IMO they should trade Bailey for a young controllable SP and OF.

  • I suspect they’ll roll out of Bradenton in the spring with a payroll around $85-90 million. That will be something that can be supported via season tix and other guaranteed revenue sources. They may decide to use some of the money to go after Jose Abreu; I hope they do.

    Whatever they do, I think we can trust that it will not be “stupid” and I expect them to be competitive next season. They can’t possibly be bitten by the injury bug as badly next year as they were this year.

  • CalipariFan506
    October 13, 2013 8:39 pm

    Let’s hope the Pirates don’t spend just to spend. Ask the Mets and Cubs how that usually works out.

    The more I think of it though the more it would be nice to get a legitimate starting pitcher for a two or three year deal. I don’t think Wandy, Locke or McPherson can be asked to add anything next season due to injury or ineffectiveness. Morton is a free agent after 2014 so it would be nice to have a potential guy locked up a few years to hold that spot, or Liriano’s. I think a middle rotation starter is an absolute must this winter.

  • heres what i would prioritize in the 2013-14 offseason:

    give aj burnett 1/14.1 or 2/20 and let him choose…if he walks, take the extra draft pick, starting pitching depth isnt as major an issue as previous offseasons
    buy out martes arbitration years and a couple free agent years, ala tabata
    sign abreu, and if he doesnt sign, focus on loney