First Pitch: When Will the Pirates Increase Their Payroll?

The Pirates have learned one lesson over the last decade regarding payroll. They’ve learned how to properly present the natural order of raising payroll.

This is very similar to a quote Frank Coonelly once delivered to this site when questioned whether the Pirates could one day support a $70-80 million payroll. Coonelly’s comment said that the team would win when attendance went up, and for attendance to go up, the team needed to perform better and give fans a reason to go to the games.

The second part was left out of most commentary, and the focus went on the “payroll will improve when fans show up” part. It didn’t go over well, and had a lasting impact, even if what Coonelly said was correct. It also played out in that way, although I think we can argue that the Pirates could have spent more while they were winning.

Ben Cherington’s comment above struck me as very similar, with one key difference: He made it all about the team. By not getting into the fan side of things, you simplify the message: improve the team performance then improve the payroll.

This still leaves questions. How high will payroll go up? How much performance do the Pirates need to see to raise payroll? What happens if the team improves but the fans don’t show up? Will they spend to try and get the fans back, or stick to spending up to their stated budget? And finally, will their spending habits change to allow for more spending when they are contending?

These are more questions that will be answered over the years, and I don’t expect the Pirates to lay out any details right now.

They are currently at $52 M projected payroll right now, and no apparent moves on the way. You’d think that they’re leaving something on the table this year, and the biggest question of all would be whether that will be added to future budgets when they are winning.





By John Dreker

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one who pitched for the last two Pirates World Series teams.

Bruce Kison, pitcher for the 1971-79 Pirates. He was a 14th round draft pick of the Pirates in the 1968 amateur draft. Kison shot through the minors out of high school, going 30-9 over his four seasons. Prior to being called up by the Pirates in 1971, he went 10-1 2.86 in 12 starts at Triple-A. He went 6-5, 3.40 in 18 games as a rookie, 13 as a starter. He was used three times in relief during the playoffs that year, allowing just three hits and no runs in 11 combined innings. During his first full season in the majors in 1972, he went 9-7, 3.26 in 152 innings, starting 18 of his 32 games pitched. In the 1972 playoffs he had two more scoreless outings, running his total to 13.1 innings of scoreless relief in the playoffs.

Kison spent most of 1973 in the minors despite the early success he had in the majors. He made 20 Triple-A starts before coming back to Pittsburgh in September for seven starts. In 1974 he went 9-8, 3.49 in 129 innings, making 24 relief appearances and 16 starts. He started game three of the NLCS against the Dodgers and pitched 6.2 scoreless innings, but the Pirates lost the series. Finally in 1975 they used him in the starting role all season and he responded with 12 wins that year and a 14-9 record the following season, his best in Pittsburgh. For the 1979 Pirates he went 13-7, 3.19 in 172.1 innings, although in his only postseason start he got hit very hard and was unable to make it out of the first inning. After that season he left the Pirates as a free agent, signing a five-year contract with the California Angels. Kison went 115-88 in his 15-year career, with 81 of those wins coming while with the Pirates.

Bob Miller, pitcher for the 1971-72 Pirates. He played 18 seasons in the majors, most of that time as a reliever, pitching a total of 694 games for 10 different teams. The Pirates acquired him from the Padres on August 10, 1971 in exchange for minor leaguers Johnny Jeter and Ed Acosta. Miller had a 7-3, 1.41 record in 63.2 innings for the Padres prior to the trade. With the Pirates he pitched 16 games and posted a 1.29 ERA in 28 innings. In the playoffs that year he pitched three innings in the game two win over the Giants in the NLCS, then pitched in three games during the World Series win over the Orioles. Miller pitched 36 games for the 1972 Pirates going 5-2, 2.65 with three saves, followed by a scoreless inning in the NLCS against the Reds that postseason. He was released by the Pirates just prior to the start of the 1973 season. In his career, which ended after 1974, he went 69-81, 3.37 with 51 saves.

Dal Maxvill, shortstop for the 1973-74 Pirates. He was a strong fielding, light-hitting shortstop nearing the end of his career when the Pirates purchased his contract from the Oakland A’s on July 7,1973. He won a Gold Glove with the Cardinals in 1968 and batted .253 that season, the only year during his 14-season big league career he hit over .250, and the only time he scored more than 50 runs (51) in a season. Maxvill provided the Pirates with strong defense in 1973, playing 74 games at shortstop, but he hit just .189 with no homers and 17 RBI’s. He was released eight games into the 1974 season and signed back with the A’s where he finished his career in 1975. Maxvill ended his career with a .217 average and just six homers and seven stolen bases in 1,423 games. He turns 81 today.

Manny Mota, outfielder for the 1963-68 Pirates. He hit .176 in limited playing time with the 1962 Giants, who traded him to the expansion Houston Colt .45’s in the off-season. The Pirates acquired him on April 4,1963 before he played a game in Houston, giving up outfielder Howie Goss in the deal. Mota didn’t play much his first season but from 1964-68 he saw plenty of time at all three outfield positions, playing at least 111 games each season. He would hit .332 in 1966, followed by a .321 season in 1967, getting a total of 671 ABs between the two seasons. The Pirates lost him to the Montreal Expos during the 1968 expansion draft. Manny played parts of 20 seasons in the majors, last getting an AB in 1982 for the Dodgers. He was a .304 career hitter and also the all-time leader in pinch hits when he retired, breaking the record of former Pirate Smoky Burgess in 1979, before losing the record to Lenny Harris in 2001. His sons Andy and Jose Mota each played in the majors as well as his cousin Jose Baez. He turns 82 today.

Cal Neeman, catcher for the 1962 Pirates. He was in his sixth season in the majors when the Pirates purchased his contract from the Phillies on May 9, 1962. Neeman played 24 games for the Pirates, hitting .180 with five RBIs in 50 at-bats. Prior to Spring Training in 1963, they traded him to the Cardinals in exchange for Bob Burda. Neeman went on to play for three organizations that season, his last year in the majors. In seven big league seasons he was a .224 hitter, playing in 376 games. As a rookie in 1957 for the Cubs he hit .258 with ten homers in 122 games and led all NL catchers in putouts and runners caught stealing.

Luis Arroyo, pitcher for the 1956-57 Pirates. He didn’t make the majors until age 28 in 1955, but was able to make the All-Star team his rookie season while playing for the Cardinals. Early the next season the Pirates acquired him for Max Surkont, a veteran pitcher who was nearing the end of his Major League career. Arroyo pitched 18 games for the Pirates, mostly in relief and went 3-3, 4.71 in 28.2 innings. He was used often in 1957, pitching 54 total games, ten as a starter. He went 3-11, 4.68 in 130.2 innings pitched. After spending all of 1958 in the minors, the Pirates traded Arroyo to the Reds for minor leaguer Nino Escalera. Arroyo pitched one season for the Reds, then four for the Yankees including the 1961 season when he won 15 games, saved 29 and finished sixth in the AL MVP voting. He pitched against the Pirates in the 1960 World Series and during his only appearance he allowed an RBI single to Roberto Clemente in game five, which helped the Pirates to victory that day.

Sherry Smith, pitcher for the 1911-12 Pirates. After his first season in the minors in 1910, the Pirates picked him up in the Rule 5 draft that September. He made his big league debut on May 11, 1911 during a 19-10 loss to the Phillies. Smith faced seven batters, retired two, while allowing four hits and a walk before he was pulled. All five base runners would score, four of them earned runs. The Pirates quickly decided he wasn’t ready for the majors and sent him to play for the Greenwood Scouts of the Cotton States League. The following season, he moved up two levels in the minors and won 18 games, earning another look from the Pirates. He pitched in three games, allowing three runs over four innings of work. He next appeared in the majors in 1915 when he won 14 games for Brooklyn in back-to-back seasons. He went on to play in 14 total seasons in the majors, finishing with a 114-118 career record.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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