Michael Nicastro is the author of this article.
It is 20 degrees outside in Pittsburgh today. The return of our nation’s past-time feels light-years away, but it warms my soul like my grandmother’s ham and pea soup to know that pitchers and catchers will report in just three short weeks. Just like that, baseball will be back.
Hope springs eternal, even if I can’t see out of my foggy windshield when trying to make a Pittsburgh left-turn. But for whatever reason, I just can’t seem to get that excited about the current state of the Pittsburgh Pirates and their offseason thus far. A recent tweet from Fangraphs Craig Edwards has made my stomach churn when it comes to the Bucs and their current state of spending. As if there were even room for additional pessimism.
The Pirates current payroll is at a projected $68 million. That is roughly $45 millon less than the next closest NL Central foe – the 67-95 Cincinnati Reds (of 2018), and $130 millon, the difference of the Chicago Cubs.
This means that the Pirates could sign all-world free agent Manny Machado to a mammoth contract tomorrow, and still be about $20 million behind the Reds in spending.
According to figures obtained by the Associated Press, the Pirates payroll at the end of the 2018 season was $89.8 million, down from $95.5 million at the end of 2017. If the Pirates do not make any additional moves they would have shed in the neighborhood of $25 million. What kind of message does that send to a fan base already starting to squirm? The question is rhetorical.
Spending money and winning are directly correlated in baseball – more often than not. You occasionally have your aberrations; every walk of life does in some capacity. Lets ask the Cardinals, who added one of the best first basemen in baseball in Paul Goldschmidt, and will take on roughly $15M million in salary by doing so. Or even the Milwaukee Brewers, who last year struck an unprecedented 5 year $80 million contract with outfielder Lorenzo Cain. who helped the Brewers reach only their third league championship series in franchise history. And so far this offseason, the Reds have been extremely aggressive, acquiring Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Alex Wood from the Dodgers, and Tanner Roark from the Nationals, while taking on over $40 million in expenses.
Acquisitions like those undeniably give a team a greater chance to win baseball games. Winning baseball games drives fan enthusiasm, boosts ticket sales, concessions, and ultimately revenue, not the other way around.
After trading starting pitcher Ivan Nova in December and shedding $9 million in salary, Pirates GM Neal Huntington said, “Looking at Nova’s projected production, looking at the salary committed to it, we felt we could get similar to potentially better production by reallocating those dollars to other spots on the club.”
A familiar story, for sure. But so far, that continues to look like a pure salary dump. Huntington has consistently sold the fan base on the premise that if you show up to games, they will reallocate the money back into the team. That just hasn’t been true – evidenced by the Bucs’ 98-win season in 2015, when they shed payroll and handed out two spots in the rotation to Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong. That’s grand larceny. So why should we trust them now?
A silver-lining may be hidden in the fact that the offseason still isn’t over by a long-shot. Franchise-changers such as Bryce Harper and Machado are still out there. Versatile studs like Marwin Gonzalez and highly capable starting pitchers such as Dallas Keuchel still await their destiny. Maybe this means the Pirates are waiting until some of these pieces fall before they add within a reasonable value. Although Machado and Keuchel would be optimal, it’s more apposite the team would be interested in the services of upgrades like Freddy Galvis and Gio Gonzalez.
We can’t pretend there are no holes to fill. Kevin Newman and Erik Gonzalez as a shortstop platoon is deficient. Trotting Jordan Lyles out there as your No. 5 starter is Vogelsong-like bad. The addition of Lonnie Chisenhall is solid, but won’t exactly have the PNC Park rotunda packed to the brim.
Huntington identified shortages in the starting rotation and bullpen around the trade deadline last season, and had the zeal to acquire Chris Archer and Keone Kela, maybe the two biggest arms on the trade market. If you aren’t going to continue to add to a team that may only be a few pieces away from competing – what’s the point? I’d much rather have the prospects and years of control, as they did with the traded-away Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, and Shane Baz.