A History of Pirates’ Payroll Change at the Trade Deadline

Leading up to the Trade Deadline, the hope of many fans wanting to see the Pirates buying from just a few weeks ago had been replaced with sadness and despair due to the team’s recent swoon. Instead of hoping to pick up a piece or two at the deadline, now all fans could do was watch as the Felipe Vázquez saga unfolded, and to a lesser degree hope that any of the players on expiring deals could fetch an interesting prospect or two.

Unfortunately, for many of those watching with interest, not much happened. Sure, the Pirates traded Jordan Lyles and Corey Dickerson, but with only one minor leaguer—at the moment—and some international money to discuss, it left a sour taste in the mouth of many fans wanting to see the team take some kind of step at the deadline, even if it was selling off what few pieces they had.

I, like many, was constantly refreshing Twitter, waiting anxiously for more news to come down. Unlike most fans, however, while I always want to see what the team will do, I just kind of think trades and player movement is fun and like to see things happen. Also, and more importantly to why you’re reading this, I love to see how moves will affect payroll moving forward. A few additional trades would have left more to talk about and analyze, but we’ll just have to make do with what we have.

It turns out my projected payroll savings feature for the deadline was relevant for Dickerson, but not quite right on for Lyles. The Pirates ended up shipping Lyles to the Brewers two days before the deadline, saving a few extra dollars in the process. While many will only look at Lyles and his $683,333 remaining salary, I like to factor in the player’s salary that directly takes the newly opened roster spot. To me, this only makes sense, because a team isn’t going to operate at 24-men once a player is traded, and when a major leaguer is traded for a prospect, a new player is going to see a raise as a result. Therefore, when factoring in Montana DuRapau taking Lyles’ place on the roster, the team saved $525,969 in future payroll commitments.

As for Dickerson, we had a wait a bit to calculate a total savings after he was traded to the Phillies. After the off day, the Pirates ended up recalling Pablo Reyes, and payroll savings netted out to $2,591,231. This amount could theoretically end up going down, as the Player to Be Named Later could be a player that is added to the 40-man roster, but I certainly wouldn’t anticipate that.

Between the two trades, the Pirates cut $3,117,200 from their payroll for 2019. Instead of breaking down the trades further in any way—as there really isn’t much to say, unfortunately, unless you want to argue whether Dickerson actually should have had more value (I would say probably not)—I thought it would be worthwhile to look at how payroll has changed at the trade deadline in recent years.

I decided to analyze deadlines starting in 2011, as that was the first year the team really was in contention around the deadline, so it seemed like a good starting point. As discussed earlier, I did my best to factor in not just salaries for players traded for and away, but their replacements on the roster, as well as those who had to be designated, released, or demoted to make room. Also, this is strictly only looking at trades, not waiver claims or other transactions, and I focused more on trades that basically constituted “deadline deals,” even if they didn’t always fall exactly on that day.


2011: $4,537,958

Acquired Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick

In two deals where it took basically nothing (sorry Aaron Baker) to acquire a few pieces to buoy the club’s first real run at contention in a long time, the Pirates took a few contracts off the hands of the Orioles and Padres, respectively. This ended up representing roughly 8.5% of the final payroll for the season, at least by my calculations.

2012: $4,576,267

Acquired Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez, and Chad Qualls

If we’re judging based on outcome, sure, these may not look like the best trades, but the team did make some more moves at the deadline to at least try and stay in the race. The attempt ultimately fell short, but this increase represented almost 7.7% of the final payroll for the year, when it was still in the $60 million range at the time.

2013: $0 ($3,271,788 in August)

Acquired Marlon Byrd, John Buck, and Justin Morneau

For this exercise, the payroll change at the deadline is technically zero, but I thought I would still look at and mention what the team did in August after the non-waiver deadline.

2014: $0

The Pirates must have felt comfortable where they were at, because there were no trades made before or after the deadline in 2014.

2015: $9,486,753

Acquired Aramis Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Joakim Soria, Michael Morse, and JA Happ

For me personally, I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the outlook fans have on the 2015 deadline. Sure, none of the names listed are the flashiest, but it’s hard to argue with the results of the moves, which for the most part turned out quite well—especially that of JA Happ.

The almost $9.5 million payroll increase for the season (not to mention the remainder of Morse’s contract for 2016)*, which ended up being 9.5% of the final payroll, showed a strong commitment, but since it wasn’t David Price or another big name, some fans are still angry and claim the club “didn’t do anything.”

If the only payroll commitment would have been that of Price’s $7,053,571 remaining salary, would that have been considered as “doing something,” despite actually being lower? Who knows, but it’s still an interesting discussion point.

*My numbers seem to skew higher than other sources for 2015, and Morse is typically the culprit. In reality, the Dodgers also sent considerations to the Pirates for Jose Tabata, who technically wasn’t on the payroll at the time (he had been outrighted). So, is Morse’s commitment as high as $2,678,571? Probably not, but in my calculations, I only go off of what is reported, and since the considerations were never verified, I can only go by his salary for the season, not guess on cash considerations.

2016: $(6,483,167)

Acquired Felipe Rivero, Antonio Bastardo, Ivan Nova, and Drew Hutchison

Traded Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, and Jon Niese

This could probably be considered the first year the Pirates had been sellers in a while, but they still offset the payroll reductions with the relatively higher salaries of Bastardo, Nova, and Hutchison—but not even remotely approach that of which they traded away.

Much like the Morse situation, the Mets included considerations in the deal for Bastardo, so the savings are probably higher, but the actual terms were never reported.

2017: $647,253

Acquired Joaquin Benoit

Traded Tony Watson

This was quite a weird deadline; was the team a seller? A buyer? They only made two trades at the deadline, one that would seem to fall in each category. In the end, Benoit’s commitment was higher than Watson’s, but again, if the considerations from the Phillies were included, this increase probably swings to negative.

2018: $2,732,348

Acquired Keone Kela and Chris Archer

For many fans, the wounds here are still too fresh to really discuss, and it’s been well-tread already anyway. In the end, the Pirates appear to have been ill-advised buyers and did take on a slight 3% of their final payroll at the deadline—not to mention future commitments.

2019: $(3,117,200)

Traded Jordan Lyles and Corey Dickerson


The common refrain usually goes that the Pirates never add at the deadline, that all they do is cut payroll; however, the fact of the matter is this really isn’t the case. While the moves may not always be the biggest, in the end, the team has tended to add at least some payroll when they see themselves in the race.

Whether it has been “enough”, or even always the best idea, is another discussion entirely.

A longtime Pirates Prospects reader, Ethan has been covering payroll, transactions, and rules in-depth since 2018 and dabbling in these topics for as long as he can remember. He started writing about the Pirates at The Point of Pittsburgh before moving over to Pirates Prospects at the start of the 2019 season.

Always a lover of numbers and finding an answer, Ethan much prefers diving into these topics over what’s actually happening on the field. These under and often incorrectly covered topics are truly his passion, and he does his best to educate fans on subjects they may not always understand, but are important nonetheless.

When he’s not updating his beloved spreadsheets, Ethan works full-time as an accountant, while being a dad to two young daughters and watching too many movies and TV shows at night.

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