Last week I saw calls—more like demands—for the Pittsburgh Pirates to get their payroll back to $100 million next season.
While the sentiment is nice—they haven’t been in that vicinity since 2017—taking a quick look at a baseline for 2023 tells me it just isn’t realistic to expect something like that just yet. And that really doesn’t even have anything to do with the history of the club’s spending.
As I’ve been noting week-by-week, the Pirates are going to end the season with a payroll right around $60 million; however, that’s really not a valid starting point. Salaries obviously will come off the ledger, with more than $20 million dropping off between 2022 and 2023, per my calculations.
The fairest, most accurate way to look at this, in my opinion, is to try and work up a roster made up entirely of internal options and project their salaries as best as possible, basically creating a baseline from which to start. Players can be added and subtracted from that as moves are made, but it should be looked at as more of a starting point and less of an estimate.
For this exercise, I went through the offseason moves as the team will need to when the season ends, subtracting free agents, adding players from the IL and to protect from the Rule 5 Draft, while making cuts to get the roster to 40 after said additions.
As stated, that left me with a starting point of players currently projected to be in the organization, at which point additional transactions (free agent signings, trades, etc.) would be accounted for to update the number.
With the only guaranteed salary on the books for 2023 being $16.75 million for Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds, that’s already a low bar to start from.
The team currently projects to have a fairly large arbitration class—I’ll be covering that in a few weeks—so I had to pick and choose who I thought would be tendered and place a reasonable estimate for the class. I came up with five players at $9.1 million, raising the estimate to $25.85 million.
All that’s left is sorting through pre-arb players and assigning minimum estimates. The team paid every player in the designated service buckets exactly the same this season, so that made estimating next season fairly easy. Minimum salaries accounted for $15.61 million and minor league assignments $1,978,417—minor league splits can get funky—resulting in a final total of:
The Pirates started this season at just over $60 million, but that was after Hayes and Reynolds signed their respective extensions, really boosting the total. This is obviously a very low starting point, and I think fans would hope to see it a lot higher—but is $60 million more actually realistic?
I’m not even talking Pirates realistic either. The Pirates obviously don’t spend a ton in free agency, but I would venture a guess that free agent spending doesn’t boost any one team’s payroll by $60 million frequently. I could be wrong—and I’m not going to check—but it certainly feels like a tall order for any team, not just the Pirates.
For example, the Texas Rangers went on an epic spending spree last offseason, which accounted for $92.7 million towards their 2022 payroll (per Cot’s Contracts). That’s obviously more than $60 million and may not be the best example, but they also committed to more than $580 million in free agent spending. If that’s what it takes to get anywhere near $60 million for one year, the Pirates obviously aren’t touching that.
Sure, they could extend Oneil Cruz or David Bednar, or acquire some players via trade, but the bulk of that difference would be made up via free agency, and I just don’t see that as being realistic for 2023.
However, just for fun, I plan on looking at just what it would take to get there next week, so be on the lookout for that fun little thought experiment.
Pirates Payroll Updates
—The club claimed Peter Solomon off waivers from the Houston Astros, transferring Colin Holderman to the 60-day IL to clear the spot.
Solomon had .021 days of service going into 2022 with two options remaining. He has yet to be in the majors this season, so he’s been down long enough to use an option, leaving one for 2023.
Payroll went up $19,435.
—Before Wednesday’s doubleheader, the Pirates made the move many fans have been clamoring for, designating Josh VanMeter for assignment, while recalling Hoy Park in his place.
Park technically joins the Super 2 track (.138 days of service after 2022), but that likely doesn’t matter long-term.
For the moment, payroll goes up $94,154, but could change depending on what happens with VanMeter on waivers.
—Eric Stout was added as the 29th man for the aforementioned doubleheader, raising expenses $3,219 for one day of service.
—The Pirates went waiver claim crazy Wednesday, adding Zack Collins from Toronto and Junior Fernández from St. Louis, designating Cam Vieaux again to get the roster to 40.
Collins started the year with 1.152 years of service and has accrued .090 this season, surpassing 2.000 years of service and leaving four years of contractual control. Fernández is in quite a similar boat overall, starting with 1.106 years of service and accruing .044 days so far. That leaves him short of 2.000 (1.150), however. While he still has enough time in the season to get there, he would have to be recalled soon.
Both have been down long enough to use their third options this season and neither project to receive a fourth, so they both should be out of options heading into 2023.
Payroll went up $41,383 due to the Collins claim (with an estimated $268,987 minor league split) and $31,255 for Fernández ($203,155).
—Payroll stands at $60,845,830 for the Labor Relations Department, while it’s $73,880,079 for CBT purposes.