Never known for their big spending, the Pirates are planning some level of a payroll increase in 2024, GM Ben Cherington told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey and other reporters. “I’d anticipate us ending up above where we landed last year,” Cherington said. “Generally speaking, we expect that as we get better, the payroll will continue to climb with us. To some extent, it’s motivation for us is if we can actually push that as we get better.”
This isn’t different from statements Cherington has made in the past about the Bucs’ spending, and in some sense, there’s really nowhere to go but up for a team that has traditionally been at or near the back of the pack in payroll even during its last playoff seasons (2013-15). According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Pirates’ Opening Day payroll hasn’t ranked higher than 27th in the league in any of the last six seasons, with last year’s Opening Day number sitting at just under $73.28MM.
That 2023 payroll figure represented a notable jump from the Pirates’ $55.76MM figure at the start of the 2022 season, which might provide some hint about what kind of increase we might be able to expect this winter. A similar-sized bump would bring the Bucs into a payroll range of around $91MM, and since the 2024 payroll ledger sits at roughly $53MM at the moment, Cherington and company could have a comparably large amount of money to work with as they look for roster upgrades.
Expecting quite such a payroll increase is far from a lock, of course, and the Pirates are one of many teams around baseball whose revenues are impacted by TV broadcasting uncertainties. Mackey recently explored the Pirates’ situation, as the team seems to have the option of either letting MLB handle broadcast rights, or airing games on SportsNet Pittsburgh, the recently-rebranded channel that has been the Pirates’ cable TV home for years.
After losing 201 games in 2021-22, Pittsburgh’s 76-86 record represented a solid step forward in the team’s rebuilding process. The team’s extension with Bryan Reynolds in April was another important turning point, as both the biggest contract in franchise history and a clear sign that the Pirates want to start turning towards contending. Expecting the Bucs to make that leap in 2024 is perhaps a tall order, yet stranger things have happened, and there might be some particular opportunity within an unsettled NL Central.
It is hard to imagine this current Pirates pitching staff carrying a contender, however, and it seems clear that the bulk of whatever dollars Pittsburgh has available this winter will be focused on rotation help. Given the ever-rising cost of pitching and the Pirates’ multiple needs in the staff, it is safe to assume that the team will go after multiple mid-tier starters rather than splurge on a Jordan Montgomery-esque ace at the very top of the market. Reports surfaced earlier today that Jack Flaherty was a target of interest for the Pirates, with the former Cardinals standout looking for a one-year deal as he tries to rebound from a few underwhelming and injury-plagued seasons.