In my previous article, I estimated the salaries for the arbitration-eligible players. Now let’s put that article together with this one to see what holes exist on the 2017 roster and how much money may be available to fill them.
First, let’s make some base assumptions:
- The 2016 Pirates had an Opening Day payroll of $99.9M and then decreased both in-season payroll (Melancon) and 2017 payroll commitments (Liriano).
- Attendance decreased from 2.4 million to 2.25 million. I’ve shown in the past that every 100,000 of attendance correlates to $2.8M of revenue from both tickets and merchandise/food. So this will ding the Pirates’ bottom line going into 2017. However…
- The national TV deal continues to escalate and provide a greater dividend to teams.
As a result of those three assumptions, I’m projecting a potential 2017 Opening Day payroll of $110M. Both myself and Forbes have demonstrated their revenue is in the $240M range, so this is below the typical 50% of revenue rule-of-thumb, indicating they are underspending their capacity.
I believe that Andrew McCutchen will be back in a Pirate uniform for the 2017 season, as trading him would be selling at a low point. I also believe that this will be his final season as a Pittsburgh Pirate before he is traded in the offseason so that the Pirates can recoup some value from his option year.
Right now, the Pirates have $58.9M of committed salary to the following 10 players:
And from the arbitration estimate article, they have $31.8M potentially for these nine players:
However, the asterisks show potential non-tender candidates. If you go by the five remaining players, their salaries total $22M. This is the total that I’m going to use going forward.
If you just assign $500,000 per player for ten minimum-scale players (total $5M), that takes you up to $85.9M. That leaves just under $25M of space to work with. The concerning part to me is that in a recent interview with Ron Cook and Andrew Filiponi on 93.7 The Fan, GM Neal Huntington described his budget as “tight” this offseason. Hopefully, he’s just laying the groundwork to non-tender some of the people shown above or make a trade, rather than insinuating that the Pirates are not going to adequately fund a team ready to contend again in 2017.
Let’s look at each position and the pitching staff to see where the money should be spent, or perhaps re-allocated.
Francisco Cervelli ($9.0M) and Chris Stewart ($1.4M) are set at catcher. The Pirates have Elias Diaz floating around the periphery, but they haven’t really used him much during his past two September callups and his callup during the season this year, indicating a lack of long-term faith in him. He’s also coming off an injury-riddled 2016 that saw him rehab his elbow until May and then go out with a leg infection in September.
Allocation — $10.4M
This one is tricky. Theoretically, Josh Bell ($500,000) should be the starter and David Freese ($6.25M) should be the backup. However, after watching Bell during his time up here, his defense is cringe-worthy bad. The bat is good, not great, at this point in his development. It’s not strong enough to offset his woeful defensive chops. Personally, I don’t believe that Bell is capable of playing a passable defensive role in any position and that he’s a DH long-term, so I would package him up in a trade for a starting pitcher. That would leave Freese and John Jaso ($4M) to man 1B and be a bench bat.
If Bell is kept, then Jaso would probably be on the move, as I’m not sure he could fake it as an OF, since Freese would be the backup 1B in this scenario. If the Pirates believed in Josh Bell 100%, why would they have given Freese a 2 year deal at “Pirate starter” money? That’s a very expensive bench piece, if that is not the case.
Allocation — Anywhere from $6.75M to $10.25M depending on how things go, but I’ll say $10.25M
Josh Harrison ($7.75M) is the starter, even though his bat has been anemic the past two seasons (wRC+ 100, 87 in 2015, 2016). He’ll be even more expensive next year and may enter into the dreaded “bad contract swap” discussions if he doesn’t improve in 2017. I’m allocating Adam Frazier ($500,000) here, but in reality he’ll be everywhere like the wind, as he’s probably taking over the super-sub role.
Allocation — $8.25M
Jordy Mercer ($3.4M est.) had a very good first four months of the season and then cratered out the last two, much like the rest of the Pirates. He’s the starter in 2017, but depending on Kevin Newman’s progression in the minors, he may not be in 2018.
Allocation — $3.4M
As long as Jung-ho Kang ($2.75M) has no legal issues heading into 2017, he’ll be the starter. He demonstrated his worth with a powerful 21 homers in 103 games, even after missing time with injuries and having a criminal investigation hanging over his head. Depending on how things play out, David Freese could be the back-up at 3B or possibly Adam Frazier.
Allocation — $2.75M
The outfield is set. Marte ($5.33M), McCutchen ($14.2M) and Polanco ($1.6M) are the starters. What their defensive positions are on Opening Day remain to be seen.
Allocation — $21.13M
Gerrit Cole ($5.8M est.) and Jameson Taillon ($500,000) are locks. After that, it’s wide open. I think Chad Kuhl ($500,000) has done enough to be at least the #5 starter. The Pirates need two more starters. They most likely will not be able to secure Ivan Nova in free agency, so they’ll either go with some less-than-inspiring internal options, some less-than-inspiring free agents, or go bold and get them via trades.
Allocation — $6.8M
Tony Watson ($5.8M est.) will most likely open 2017 as the closer, but Felipe Rivero ($500,000) is waiting in the wings should he falter.
Antonio Bastardo ($6.625M) is a pretty expensive non-setup piece for the Pirates, but he’s had good success here in two stints. It wouldn’t shock me if the Pirates shopped him this winter, as I believe the Pirates were field testing Wade Leblanc and Phil Coke in September to see if they could fill the role cheaper.
Juan Nicasio ($4.5M est.) could potentially fill the Neftali Feliz role as the 7th/8th inning guy once Feliz departs via free agency. Nicasio was quite good in a relief role once he moved there full-time. I could speculate on other specific names for the bullpen, but the whole pitching staff is in such flux. An A.J. Schugel or Steven Brault could work in the bullpen or perhaps a Trevor Williams, but it depends on the starting rotation right now. At any rate, all three of the previously mentioned guys would only be at the $500,000 rate.
Allocation — $17.425M
Total allocation so far — $80.41M
This leaves about $29.6M under my hypothetical $110M Opening Day payroll. Here’s how that money could be allocated.
So What’s Left?
Bench spots (2) — Assume that only one of Josh Bell or John Jaso is traded. If Bell remains, Freese will be on the bench backing up 1B and 3B. If Jaso remains, Freese is the starter and Jaso is the 1B/OF. Either way, let’s say one of them joins Chris Stewart and Adam Frazier on the bench. The Pirates still need a middle infielder competent defensively enough to cover 2B/SS and a corner outfielder. I wouldn’t mind if the Pirates brought Pedro Florimon back, as he’ll be cheap and he’s competent. I don’t think Alen Hanson is factoring into their future plans.
If Florimon ($750,000 est.) is brought back, the Pirates just need a corner outfielder and can allocate $2.5M to that endeavor. That means that $3.25M will go towards the bench.
Bullpen (3) — As I mentioned with the Starting Rotation item, I think one bullpen guy will come from the Brault/Williams/Schugel trio, with the other two stashed in AAA, for $500,000. You know that Huntington is going to scouring for cheap options that Ray Searage can polish into a semi-precious stone. I’ll say that he’ll get one guy for $1M and drop $3M on another bounce-back type. That puts $4.5M towards the bullpen.
Rotation (2) — Once you do all the fancy math from the starters, the pitchers, and the So What’s Left spots above, you’re looking at $21.84M remaining to find two competent pitchers. In an article coming later this week, I’ve identified a pitcher that the Pirates could trade for that is scheduled to make $13.5M next year. With $8.3M remaining, guess who fits the bill? That’s right everyone…my current white whale that I’m chasing…Jose Quintana at $7M. A rotation of Cole-Quintana-Taillon-soon to be revealed mystery #4-Kuhl would be a very good rotation to start the season.
The Pirates owe it to themselves, the team on the field and (most importantly) their fanbase to properly fund this team for one legitimate run at the World Series. The 2015 team was a World Series caliber team that had the grave misfortune of winning 98 games in the same division as a team that won 100. They were subjected to the Wild Card game and lost. The 2017 Pirates have a good core group that needs some serious augmentation to get it back to that level.