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2016 Pirates’ Projected Roster and Payroll

After a season that ended too quickly, what will the Pirates look like in 2016? Photo from FootwearNews/Getty Images

After a season that ended too quickly, what will the Pirates look like in 2016?
Photo from FootwearNews/Getty Images

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 2016 roster and how much money may be available to fill them.

First, let’s make some base assumptions:

  1. The 2015 Pirates had an Opening Day payroll of $90M and then added approximately $12M at the trade deadline through their various trades (Morse, Blanton, Happ, Soria, Ramirez).
  2. Attendance has been strong (2.4M) and the Pirates made some postseason money.
  3. 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 2016 Opening Day payroll of $105M. Keep in mind, my estimates of their revenues in January pegged them at $230M. A few months later, Forbes independently put their revenue in the $229M range. Using the 50% of revenue rule-of-thumb, the Pirates payroll could have been around $115M in 2015, so I still believe they are below their spending capacity.

Right now, the Pirates have $50.6M of committed salary to the following seven players:

Player Amount
Liriano $13.67M
McCutchen $13.2M
Morton $8M
Harrison $5.25M
Morse $4.67M*
Marte $3.33M
Kang $2.5M

*Morse is making $8.5M in 2016, but the Dodgers have been rumored to have sent $3.83M in the trade to offset the salary.

And from the arbitration estimate article, they have $41.4M potentially for these nine players:

Player Amount
Walker $10.3M
Melancon $8.8M
Alvarez $7.5M
Cervelli $3.6M
Watson $3.2M
Locke $2.7M
Hughes $1.9M
Mercer $1.9M
Stewart $1.5M

If you just assign $500,000 per player for nine minimum-scale players, that takes you up to $96.5M, leaving just $8.5M of “upgrade space” to work with. Let’s go around the horn and the pitching staff to see if any money can be re-allocated.


I have Francisco Cervelli ($3.6M) and Chris Stewart ($1.5M) pencilled in here. The Pirates could save $1M of net salary by swapping Stewart out for Elias Diaz ($0.5M). That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but every shekel helps the pool. Total allocation — $4.1M

First Base

I’ve been pretty consistent in my feelings that Pedro Alvarez ($7.5M estimated) will not be here next year. Whether he’s salary dumped or traded for a bench piece/reliever, major or minor leaguer, here’s a good place to offload some salary. Michael Morse is here, too, with his $4.67M salary (coincidentally, I’m sure, was the amount received back from the Dodgers) equal to what exiled Jose Tabata was scheduled to make in the last year of his deal. With the way Morse was used sporadically (just 82 plate appearances over 45 games) as primarily a pinch hitter, it’s clear to me the Pirates got him for 2015 purposes and to get rid of Tabata’s deal. I just don’t see him being here, whether that’s as a trade or release. For now, I’ll pencil him in as a sunk cost and stick him on the bench.

This is where Jung-ho Kang’s teammate and friend from the Nexen Heroes, Byung-ho Park, would fit in nicely. Problem is, thanks to Kang’s success, more teams will be scouring the KBL looking for the next big thing — which is Park — and drive the price up. In 2013, a new Posting Agreement was made with Japan that the maximum posting fee could be $20M. But that is not the case with Korea, where it is a “blind auction” in which the KBO teams accepts the highest posting fee bid and then allows the MLB team 30 days to attempt to negotiate a contract with that player.

Kang went for $5,002,015 (I always love the extra $2015 dollars). It’s possible that Park could go for at least $10-15M just as the posting fee to the Nexen Heroes. It’s difficult to estimate what he may command as a salary, but I’m going to guesstimate $10M/year.

Allocation — $4.67M, but no real starter.

Second Base

Up until September 17th, I was resigned to the fact that Neil Walker would probably be traded this offseason. However, once Chris Coghlan turned Kang’s knee and tibia into shredded wheat, it seemed almost a fait accompli that the Pirates would go once more into the breach with Walker ($10.3M estimated). I’m also adding in Alen Hanson here as a bench option that can play 2B/3B/and SS in a pinch for $500,000.

Allocation — $10.8M


It’s possible that Jordy Mercer was going to be a bench player in 2016 until Kang’s injury knocked him out until potentially June. Now, he’s the starting shortstop at $1.9M (estimated).

Allocation — $1.9M

Third Base

Kang ($2.5M) was most likely the starting 3B in 2016, with Josh Harrison ($5.25M) sliding over to be the starting 2B. But now Harrison will resume his work at the hot corner. I have Kang’s salary here, but I don’t anticipate him on Opening Day so the Pirates will probably need another bench option.

Allocation — $7.75M


This is the easiest part of the exercise. Marte ($3.33M), McCutchen ($13.2M) and Polanco ($500,000 for purposes of this article) are the starters from left to right.

Allocation — $17.03M

Starting Rotation

Gerrit Cole ($500,000 for purposes of this article) and Francisco Liriano ($13.67M) are stone cold locks. Charlie Morton is guaranteed $8M, but you have to think he’s going to be on the trading block in some sort of capacity. However, I’ll keep him here for now. I have Jeff Locke pencilled in for $2.7M (estimated). The Pirates will need one more starter, but let’s save that until the So What’s Left section.

Allocation — $24.87M


Mark Melancon is estimated at $8.8M by me, but I think he’s traded to help rebuild either the farm with a prospect package or the major league team with a younger impact reliever. Either way, I’m dropping his salary for now.

Tony Watson ($3.2M estimated) moves into the closer role in this exercise. Jared Hughes ($1.9 estimated), Arquimedes Caminero ($500,000 for this article), and Rob Scahill ($500,000) are good bets to be part of the bullpen.

Allocation — $6.1M

Total allocation so far — $77.22M

So What’s Left?

Bench spots (2) — The bench needs a 4th OF and a lumbering 1B/OF corner-type.

The Pirates seem to have a cap of $2.5M for a bench player, so I’ll put $5M into the bench for two $2.5M guys. I don’t see any additional internal candidates from AAA, to be honest.

Bullpen (3) — You know that Huntington is going to get a scrap heap guy or someone Designated For Assignment and everyone will freak out. Then Searage/Benedict will sprinkle him with eye of newt and sweet baby panda fur and he’ll be on the roster. So that’s one for $500,000. I think a trade will bring back a young reliever that can be groomed into a setup or closer role down the line, so I’ll estimate $1.5M for that player. And then they may splurge and sign a piece as a setup man for about $3M (I would bring back Blanton for this amount as the long man), bringing the bullpen allocation to $5M.

First Base starter — The first base free agent market is pretty bleak, unless you think that Mike Napoli still has an iota of gas left in the tank. Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, and Joey Votto aren’t walking through that door via trade, either. I’m going to allocate $10M here, in hopes that the Byung-ho Park scenario laid out above comes to fruition or the 34-year old Napoli takes that figure on a 1 year deal. And no, Josh Bell is not going to be the Opening Day 1B.

Rotation (1) — Uh oh, bad news. My quick gorilla math has the running total up to $97.22M, leaving just $7.78M for a starter to plug in the rotation. The Pirates lucked out and got Burnett for the super cheap price of $8.5M and way exceeded the cost with his production, but they can’t bank on that. I’d love to see J.A. Happ come back and think they could get him for around $10M/year, which isn’t too far outside the bounds of what I have left. Maybe Neal Huntington just won’t mention it to Bob Nutting and see if he doesn’t notice. It would be great if they could dump Morse’s salary on someone interested in him as a DH or backup and free up a few pesos, but that could be difficult.


So there you have it. It’s a pretty big shopping list for Huntington and Friends this offseason, but I’m reasonably confident that they’ll pull it together again. For me, first base is the only true area of concern I have, mostly the result of my confidence that whatever pitcher they get will be fixed. Subsequent articles will look at where certain players could be traded and some options out there on the trade market.

About Kevin Creagh (302 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.