Pirates owner Bob Nutting had some interesting comments on payroll and other matters in a recent chat with reporters, including Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Club president Frank Coonelly also opined on those topics, as covered by Nubyjas Wilborn of the Post-Gazette. Those pieces contain a wealth of worthwhile information and observations, but we’ll touch upon a few highlights here:
- As ever, the low-budget Bucs drew scrutiny for their finances. Despite nearly reaching $100MM in Opening Day payrolls in recent seasons, the club is presently hovering in the range of $70MM for the 2019 season. That downward movement in spending led Nutting to issue the money quote of the day: “We need to focus on the things we believe are controllable.” While that’s a dubious claim on some levels, Nutting explained that he believes “payroll scale and range, broadly, is not controllable.” As Brink notes, though, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue, as the team’s ability to generate local income is dependent in some part upon its on-field investment.
- Nutting unsurprisingly demurred on details, particularly relating to the question whether attendance dips were responsible for pulling down the payroll. He focused instead on the concept that the club is “always going to have limitations” and simply needs to “maximize the impact of every dollar” that is allocated to payroll. There was a hint that GM Neal Huntington could have some cash stashed in his back pocket. Nutting said that the long-time baseball ops leader “always has to have some room to work,” seemingly indicating that was the case at present.
- Coonelly put something of a different shine on things, saying that fulfilling a need “to get younger, more dynamic and more athletic” left the organization with a large number of pre-arbitration players, the presence of whom “explains our payroll.” As to concerns about how some of the roster spots were being filled (in particular, shortstop), Coonelly noted that “every established player in the big leagues was a player who had to establish themselves at some point.” That’s true enough in the abstract, though surely some would quibble on the details as pertains to some players. If youth is to account for the notably meager payroll, it won’t provide any excuses on the field. Coonelly said without equivocation: “My expectations are that the Pirates will win the NL Central.”
- Paying market rates to established big leaguers obviously is not part of the formula in Pittsburgh. But Nutting did offer some guidance on how the club is spending some of the $50MM it took home as its cut of the MLB Advanced Media sale. The organization intends to double the scale of its facility in the Dominican Republic, helping to facilitate a pipeline of affordable young talent. That sort of investment won’t boost present big leaguers — quite the contrary, perhaps. It’s of greater concern when viewed through the lens of the international changes instituted in the latest collective bargaining agreement, which place hard caps on the bonuses that can be paid to the very same players the Pirates are investing heavily in wooing and developing.
- Nutting did note that he would like to see some changes in the amateur intake system, however. Just what that might look like isn’t clear, but the Bucs owner suggested that minor-league earnings are in need of some corrections. As Brink quoted him on Twitter: “It’s time, and it’s past due, to take a serious, fresh look at how those are being handled.”