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Breaking Down the Pirates 2019 Opening Day Payroll

  • Francisco Cervelli

Francisco Cervelli is currently the highest paid player for the Pirates, but what about the rest of the roster? Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Payroll, payroll, payroll. Obviously, it???s a topic I love to dissect and discuss; however, it???s a topic that can also grow tiresome at times, as fans??? obsession with and misunderstanding of it can sometimes make me want to get away from all the narratives and opinion pieces. Unfortunately, the topic is as hot as it ever has been, considering the opening day payroll has now dropped for the third year in a row.

As I???ve said in the past, I don???t care what the final total actually is. Personally, I think the number is assigned exaggerated importance and, honestly, the amount which my favorite sports team spends on salaries just doesn???t keep me up at night or positively or negatively affect my life in any way.

Despite this fact, my goal is to educate and inform fans that are interested in the topic like I am. Because no, the payroll isn???t $58 million, or $69 million, or whatever other random number any multitude of outlets or talking heads will try to push.

So, what follows is a completely objective breakdown of the Pirates 2019 Opening Day payroll. Any questions from readers on how I came up with these numbers are welcome, but if all you have are complaints, at least you???ll have a well analyzed and thought through total to complain about.

Major League Salary: This season is now the third consecutive where Opening Day payroll has dropped after a franchise high in 2016, and it???s not hard to find where the culprits are. The team declined Josh Harrison???s 2019 option, dropping $10,000,000 from the payroll. They also traded away $13,306,500 in salary, the majority of which was allocated to David Freese and Ivan Nova; however, they acquired nearly as much in return???$11,252,000???with the deadline deals for Chris Archer and Keone Kela. Also gone is Jordy Mercer and his $6,750,000 salary, and the team released a fair chunk of payroll when jettisoning Sean Rodriguez and George Kontos, $7,725,000 in all.

Between free agent acquisitions, re-signings, and minor league additions, the Pirates added $11,450,000 in payroll, but it wasn???t enough to offset the losses during 2018 and the offseason. Obviously, also offsetting the cuts was an arbitration increase of $2,550,000 to one player???Corey Dickerson???while contracted salaries for four other players increased $7,000,000.

Finally, while the rules are what they are, I can at least understand an argument saying this number isn???t truly representative of what the payroll was going to open up at. The truth of the matter is that late additions to the Injured List really artificially raised the total. If Jordan Lyles, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jose Osuna, and Dovydas Neverauskas don???t open the season injured, more than likely Steven Brault is optioned in Lyles??? place, JB Shuck and his $700,000 salary is never selected, and Osuna and Neverauskas are also optioned to Triple-A. In total, these four late additions to the roster added $2,145,800 to the payroll, and it???s likely to go down immediately as soon as everyone is off the Injured List and optioned to Triple-A???as much as $1,643,151 by my count. However, unless they can find someone to take Shuck???s contract, they will owe the entirety of that for the season.

Major League Salary Starting Total: $73,208,000

Minor League Salary: This total includes the players that start in the minors and their projected minimum salary per the CBA???$90,400 for anyone on their second, or subsequent, Major League contract, and $45,300 for all on their first contracts. In total, there are 12 players factored in to this count. The split contract agreed to by Michael Feliz over the offseason is raising this total higher than it would normally be, as he is guaranteed to make a rate of $375,000 while in the minors.

Also, an interesting situation???for those who care too much like me???is the issue of Dario Agrazal. Last month, when it came time to renew the contracts of players under team control but not yet having reached arbitration, it was announced that the team agreed with 31 players. This didn???t make sense for those following closely, as there were only 30 players meeting those qualifications on the roster at the time. Well, as it turns out, the Pirates designated Agrazal for assignment in January, as well as outrighted him when he cleared waivers. However, since he was on the list of players provided to Major League Baseball by November 30 who the Pirates committed to tender contracts to, as promised, they had to agree to a contract with him, despite the fact he was not on the 40-man roster. This is a long way of saying that payroll is $90,400 more than one might expect.

When Jake Barrett and Aaron Slegers were designated for assignment to start the year, I ultimately decided to treat them like Agrazal. Both were committed to tenders before being designated for assignment by other teams, and I believe that responsibility would transfer to the Pirates when they claimed both off waivers. Thus, $180,800 was added to the final payroll total as well; however, the majority of Slegers??? commitment is already gone after being traded to the Rays, while Barrett???s fate is up in the air.

Minor League Salary Starting Total: $1,189,000

Signing Bonuses: The Pirates will open the season with prorated signing bonuses for Gregory Polanco, Felipe V??zquez, Starling Marte, and Chris Archer. The total is nearly half of what it was to start 2018, as bonuses for Sean Rodriguez, Ivan Nova, and Josh Harrison are no longer on the books.

Signing Bonuses Starting Total: $1,600,000

Signing Bonuses (or Prorated Buyouts): This includes prorated buyouts for the same four players who have signing bonuses, but it also includes the $50,000 buyout for Tom Koehler???s 2020 option on his minor league contract. The CBA states that buyouts be assigned to the first year of a non-guaranteed deal, which is 2019 in Koehler???s case.

I say this often, but you won???t find totals for prorated buyouts on many other payroll projections; however, I am steadfast in my belief in including them, as the CBA says they are to be treated as a signing bonus, which all other outlets include. Also, they are often paid out in the same way???typically in one lump-sum???just at different times.

Signing Bonuses (or Prorated Buyouts) Starting Total: $1,525,000

Termination Pay: I always try to be nothing but transparent in how I come up with these totals, and in saying that, it???s time for me to eat a bit of crow. All offseason I have been including totals here for Alex McRae and the aforementioned Agrazal, as both were designated for assignment over the offseason. As I dove further in to the rules however???as I always am doing???it first became clear to me that I was reading it incorrectly, and only players who are tendered contracts receive Termination Pay. McRae was designated before the November 30 deadline, so I removed him. Then, literally just last week, I was reading more about the topic and came to the conclusion that players are only granted Termination Pay if their contracts are ???terminated??? (of course). This could be interpreted in several ways, but I was taking it to include players who are outrighted; however, I ultimately have settled on it only applying to players who are released, which Agrazal was not, so I removed him from the total as well.

This is a long way of saying there is no Termination Pay to start the season, but ultimately, I like to use this platform to educate and inform. I also am not saying I???m actually reading this correctly, as a lot of these rules are confusing in their application and interpretation, but this is what I???ve settled on???for now.

Termination Pay Starting Total: $0

Cash Considerations: Take a minute to consider whether there were any deals over the offseason involving cash; what if I gave you hours, days even? I bet most of you couldn???t remember the name Cristofer Melendez, a pitcher who was selected by the Padres in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 Draft and ultimately acquired by the Pirates. However, much like most small trades of this kind, no compensation was announced, so payroll is not affected. Now you can just use this as fun and useless information to impress all your Pirate fan friends.

Cash Considerations Starting Total: $0

2019 Opening Day Payroll: $77,522,000

2019 Opening Day Payroll (AAV): $68,197,000

2019 Opening Day Payroll (Cash): $75,647,000

For me, the fun is just beginning. I hope you follow along with me here and on Twitter as I track any and all moves during the season that affect payroll. It will be interesting to compare the official amounts reported come the end of the season to see how I did, but in the meantime, there???s a lot of baseball still to watch.

Ethan is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. An Accountant by trade, Ethan is passionate about the business of sports and won't apologize for enjoying it more than the actual games. He's a believer in analytics, hasn't played a game since little league, and can be contacted via Twitter @EthanHullihen

2 Comments on Breaking Down the Pirates 2019 Opening Day Payroll

  1. Phillip C-137 // April 5, 2019 at 4:22 PM // Reply

    As always, Ethan, very good in-depth look at the intricacies of Opening Day Payroll.

    Just to nitpick a bit. The SRod’s contract was up after 2018, so it wasn’t really jettisoned for 2019.

    Regarding Shuck, (strictly Baseball, as he’s probably a fine Human Being) I don’t get signing a career .296 OBP (8 HRs, -1.5 BWAR and OPS+ of 73) guy to a $700,000 contract when Martin and/or Reynolds could (with about 99% certainty) provide the exact same thing, only with a higher probability of breaking out.

    • Ethan Hullihen // April 5, 2019 at 9:40 PM // Reply

      As always, thank you, and thanks for reading.

      While I understand where you’re coming from, and I also love to nitpick, let me explain. When I break it down like that, I am only looking at the start of one season to the start of the next. I then break it down by different buckets, eventually going from 2018 start to 2019 start, combining 2018 season and the offseason. So, sure, Rodriguez wouldn’t have been around this season, but his salary was dropped by being released, not FA loss. Really, all it would have been is a different bucket anyway.

      As for the OF, I think I agree. While the cost is minimal–$245,000 more for Shuck–the opportunity cost is also Slegers or Barrett. If they liked either of them enough to claim them off waivers, it wasn’t really necessary to lose both of them.

      That is a criticism of the team I’ve seen in the past that has some validity to it. Whether it be with a player like Osuna, Moroff, Luplow, Hanson, etc. etc. Instead of giving a young, interesting player a chance, they opt for veteran floor over unknown ceiling.

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