Breaking Down the Pirates’ 2019 Year-End Payroll

With the season behind us, it’s finally time to look at where the payroll ended up for 2019.

I’ve been tracking it since Day 1 of the season, and it’s always fun to analyze changes throughout the year. My favorite part of tracking payroll is to compare the official Competitive Balance Tax numbers released after the season. Just so I can get it in print, my calculation for those purposes came out to $69,502,779 (before benefits), but that will probably be an article for another time when those numbers are released. In the meantime, the following is my take on calculations that more closely reflect what you’ll see from other major outlets, just with my figures being a bit more detailed or with rules interpreted differently.

For anyone who wasn’t following along with me before I got here, I calculated a beginning figure of $77,522,000. This will be the starting point for all the following comparisons—I will show where it started, where it ended, and make note of any relevant information regarding in season changes.

Before we start, I’ll make the same disclaimer I always do—I don’t care what the final number actually is. My goal is to be the most accurate, in-depth, and understandable source available for payroll tracking. It doesn’t matter to me how low or how high the number is, only that it’s right. Feel free to leave any questions about the process in the comments.

Here we go:

Major League Salary: There were not many moves during the season to discuss as far as major league salary was concerned. The Pirates only brought in one major league player all season—Chris Stratton—while trading away several at the deadline. The Pirates trimmed $3,425,268 off their payroll with the trades of Corey Dickerson and Jordan Lyles, which is more than the $2,801,669 decrease throughout the season. The difference is largely made up by the selecting of contracts, which the team had to do eleven separate times—by my count—for ten different players throughout the season. This was obviously due to the inordinate amount of injuries, which I showed before what kind of impact this can have on payroll.

Major League Salary Starting Total: $73,208,000

Major League Salary Final Total: $70,406,331

Minor League Salary: This total is made up of two separate salary levels–$45,300 for players on their first professional contracts (think Mitch Keller and Cole Tucker), and $90,400 for basically everyone else. That means minor league salaries rarely eclipse a million dollars, but the beginning of the season was higher because of Michael Feliz being optioned to Triple-A to start the season. Feliz signed a split contract for 2019 and made $375,000 while in the minors; however, he only spent 44 days on option, so this is why it’s lower to end the year.

The Pirates heavily utilized the Indianapolis pitching staff, switching pitchers in and out almost on a daily basis for a group that was ravaged by injuries. Dario Agrazal, Keller, Dovydas Neverauskas, Yefry Ramírez, Montana DuRapau, and Parker Markel were among the names to spend three or more stints in the minors in 2019, while being joined by Kevin Kramer, Jason Martin, and Tucker on the position player side.

Minor League Salary Starting Total: $1,189,000

Minor League Salary Final Total: $954,220

Prorated Signing Bonuses: The Pirates had Prorated Signing Bonuses on the books for Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, Chris Archer, and He Who Shall Not Be Named. There were no players acquired or traded away in this category, so there are no changes to report.

Prorated Signing Bonuses Starting Total: $1,600,000

Prorated Signing Bonuses Final Total: $1,600,000

Prorated Buyouts: What follows is a five-paragraph rant on CBA methodology and application, so if you’re not interested in that, skip ahead to the last sentence of this section. 

This is probably the biggest difference you’ll see from my calculation and most every other major source; however, it’s firmly rooted in CBA methodology. According to Article XXIII(E)(5)(b)(i)(A):

If a Uniform Player’s Contract contains a Club Option Year or a Player Option Year that is not deemed a Guaranteed Year…and the Player is to receive consideration upon the non-exercise of that option or the nullification of a championship season (“Option Buyout”), then such Option Buyout shall be deemed a Signing Bonus

It is common to see prorated signing bonuses worked in to yearly salary figures in many major payroll tracking outlets, despite the fact that signing bonuses are rarely paid out in even installments over the life of a contract. Therefore, this isn’t a reflection of true cash being spent, merely the application of a Competitive Balance Tax calculation rule, whether that’s being acknowledged or not, as Article XXIII(E)(3) states, with my own emphasis in bold:

Any Signing Bonus in a Uniform Player’s Contract (and any other payment this Article deems to be a Signing Bonus) shall be attributed, pro rata, over the Guaranteed Years of the Contract. If a Contract contains no Guaranteed Years, the Signing Bonus shall be attributed in full to the first year of the Contract

So, in summary, buyouts are treated as signing bonuses per the CBA, so if prorated signing bonuses are going to be included—as every outlet includes as an accepted part of a yearly salary—buyouts should be included as well. However, most do not, which is why I said at the beginning my calculation differs from most every other major outlet.

That is the end of my rant. If you made it this far, thanks for reading, and I hope you learned something.

This list also includes the deals from above, as well as a buyout for Tom Koehler. Like signing bonuses, no changes were incurred during the season.

Prorated Buyouts Starting Total: $1,525,000

Prorated Buyouts Final Total: $1,525,000

Performance Bonuses: Many bonuses are hard to pin down, so only reported incentives are included in these totals.

The first incentive was reached when He Who Shall Not Be Named made the All-Star team. This resulted in a payment of $50,000. In theory, he could still affect the final payroll number, as there is a bonus for placing in the Reliever of the Year Award voting, but I feel fairly safe in saying that won’t happen, no matter how successful he was this season.

The only other bonus paid out this season—that we can presumably calculate—was to Francisco Liriano. Originally, it looked like the incentive structure in Liriano’s contract was unknown, but a reader sent me a link in the comments earlier in the season which actually reported it. Sure, it wasn’t a major source, but the structure is similar to other contracts in the past, and I felt comfortable enough including it. The incentives were based on points accumulated for certain appearances, and by my calculations Liriano hit all 10 levels, earning an extra $1,500,000 for his troubles.

It’s at least worth mentioning that Melky Cabrera’s contract also included $850,000 in incentives, but unfortunately, I was never able to find a breakdown for that payment structure. With 397 plate appearances on the season, it’s likely he earned most of the amount, but as I said, I only include figures I know in my totals, so I’m counting $0 for Melky.

Performance Bonuses Starting Total: $0

Performance Bonuses Final Total: $1,550,000

Termination Pay: This is essentially a “go away” payment total for the season, or to put it more kindly, payments made to fulfill commitments to released players. This list includes Jung Ho Kang, Tyler Lyons, and Francisco Cervelli, who represented the bulk of this total ($2,349,462).

Termination Pay Starting Total: $0

Termination Pay Final Total: $3,398,898

Cash Considerations: The only considerations sent out this season were for Cristofer Melendez and Stratton; however, neither amount was ever reported, so this is simply making note of the trades and that payroll technically is affected by them.

Cash Considerations Starting Total: $0

Cash Considerations Final Total: $0

Credits: The Pirates saved a fair amount of money by something they had no control over—suspensions. Thanks mostly to the Reds, the team saved $549,295 in payroll via games missed in 2019.

Cervelli’s termination pay was also offset after Atlanta signed him to a major league deal. It wasn’t a significant amount, however, as the Braves were only responsible for the prorated minimum, or roughly $110,403. Lyons also eventually caught on with the Yankees after being released, and they would be responsible for paying him after selecting his contract for the month of September.

Finally, the Pirates traded Aaron Slegers, Patrick Kivlehan, and Nick Kingham for considerations. Again, these amounts aren’t reported and are likely insignificant, but they still count toward the final payroll.

Credits Starting Total: $0

Credits Final Total: ($746,230)

2019 Opening Day Payroll: $77,522,000

Final 2019 Payroll: $78,688,219

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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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