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Early Projection for 2019 Payroll

Francisco Cervelli

At the moment, Francisco Cervelli will be the highest paid Pirate in 2019. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

With the postseason underway, there ?s still baseball to follow for the hardcore fans; unfortunately, the Pirates aren ?t part of that particular discussion, but they are still our main (baseball) focus here at The Point of Pittsburgh.

With the offseason ahead, the focus will largely be on money and moves. I already took a very early look at a projected 2019 roster, and now it ?s only logical to look at what that roster might cost at this point.

This makes sense to discuss at the moment because most every outlet out of Pittsburgh is talking about all the money that ?s going to be available for the Pirates this offseason. I don ?t know if it ?s quite what everyone is making it out to be though, so let ?s break it down and see just what an early estimate looks like for the Pirates.

I ?ll largely be basing this off my aforementioned early roster projection, which is a good starting point to building next season ?s roster.

Guaranteed Salaries: $50,741,667

These are salaries from contracts the team is locked into for next season, including signing bonuses and buyouts. This figure obviously includes Gregory Polanco ?s contract, and he ?ll more than likely be starting on the 60-day DL ?which still means his salary counts towards payroll ?so the team is going to be paying for some kind of replacement, even a minimum salary one, in the meantime.

My projected roster didn ?t include Jordy Mercer or Jung Ho Kang at the time, but several quotes have been made and actions taken that make me feel more confident now than I did then about at least one of their inclusions on next season ?s roster. Even though I seem to be more down on his abilities than others who follow the team, I believe more signs point toward Kang than Mercer at this point; however, I still don ?t believe the $5,500,000 option will be picked up. I find it more likely that a lesser deal gets worked out ?which Neal Huntington has alluded to ?and Kang is given a chance to redeem himself personally and professionally with the organization, but until that ?s more certain I haven ?t included he or his salary in my projections.

Arbitration Salaries: $14,600,000

This still includes three of the four arbitration eligible players for the Pirates ?Ryan Lavarnway notwithstanding. For further details on the breakdown, check out Kevin ?s recent article.

Obviously, this amount isn ?t definite, but it ?s probably a reasonable amount as far as projections go. For reference, MLB Trade Rumors just released their arbitration projections, which sit at $12,500,000 for the same three players. The final number is bound to end up somewhere in this range.

Pre-arbitration Salaries: $10,545,000

This includes every other player on the 25-man roster that isn ?t on a guaranteed contract or in arbitration ?19 in total per my projected roster. The minimum salary is set at $555,000 in 2019, and this is the amount I ?ve defaulted for these players; however, many of them will actually have a slightly higher salary than this.

These minimum contracts are often agreed upon and determined based on service time, and many of the players in the projection had higher salaries last year than this amount. Since I can ?t exactly zero in on those slight raises I ?m just using the minimum. I prefer to be exact, but a few tens of thousands of dollars won ?t break the bank one way or the other.

This does include Chad Kuhl and Edgar Santana, who should spend the entire year on the 60-day DL while recovering from Tommy John surgery. In the meantime, they will be paid their full salary and continue to accrue Major League Service Time.

Minor League Salary: $994,800

The first year 40-man salary for 2019 is $45,300, while the subsequent payment is $90,400, and this total is for 13 players, including the projected players added to the roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.

This obviously leaves two spots on the 40-man roster. While I filled it in my projection, that ?s before we knew that at least three players would be starting the year on the 60-day DL. Since I can ?t reasonably justify putting two more players from the organization on the Reserve List, this will leave two open spots (in theory) for the team to add additional players, which would obviously swing projections in the future. The Pirates haven ?t opened the season with a full 40-man roster since 2016, so it ?s not out of the question that this is more realistic anyway.

Current 2019 Payroll Projection: $76,881,467

As I mentioned, the common refrain is that the Pirates have a lot of payroll room to add players going in to 2019, as they have a lot of salary coming off the ledger after this past season. While this is true ?the number is $33,287,500 if you factor in all of the players that started on the roster in 2018 that aren ?t slated to be around next season ?I haven ?t seen one person mention retained salary increases for 2019.

For players returning on either guaranteed deals or in arbitration, salaries are projected to increase by around $22,808,333, so while there is money coming off the books, two thirds of that space is being eaten up naturally by raises.

This final total is only about $8 million less than where the team started last year, but around $22 million less than 2017 and about $30 million less than 2016. So, the question is, where do the Pirates see themselves?

They ?ve shown they ?ll spend when the team is more geared toward contention, so how do they view this team? My bet is they aren ?t done making moves after the big trade deadline acquisitions, but we ?ve got all offseason to wait and see what happens.

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

14 Comments on Early Projection for 2019 Payroll

  1. My only quibble is this quote: “They ?ve shown they ?ll spend when the team is more geared toward contention.” I am certainly not a “Nutting’s cheap!!!” kind of guy, but I don’t know that they’ve “shown they’ll spend.” They have always had room to grow in that area.

    Now, the recent trades have demonstrated at least a little acceptance of discomfort (specifically in terms of prospect costs), but dropping real money on real baseball players, especially free agents, just doesn’t sound familiar to me.

    • Ethan Hullihen // October 15, 2018 at 10:32 PM //

      First, thanks for reading. Now, to you, and the other who expressed the same thought…

      This statement must be taken in context of the Pirates’ history of spending, not any other team’s. My evidence is basically the team increasing payroll by $15M from ’14 to ’15, then adding roughly $12M in season in ’15. They also started ’16 over $100M–almost $20M more than ’15–and would have started ’17 over $100M too if Kang could stay off the sauce and Hughes didn’t have a horrible spring. However, small markets often ebb and flow, going up a few years and back down for a few more. Given 2018 would be just one down year before increasing spending again–along with the attendance trouble–I could see them not significantly increasing payroll in 2019, but I could see them see making significant investments after the big moves this past season too.

      Genuinely, I have no idea what to expect, but I’m looking forward to the offseason, my favorite part of the baseball season.

      • Great points. I would be surprised if the starting payroll is anywhere near 110 like they have gotten near in the past but I do think theyll get close to 100 range which could add a couple decent pieces.

  2. I just don’t expect them to be a ‘Market Value’ team. I don’t expect them to go out and purchase a Manny Machado at fair market value. I expect a few free agent acquisitions that will be seen as vanilla, but provide a ‘bang for their buc’ (pun intended).

    We always look to emulate the small market club, du jour. This time around it’s the Brewers/A’s. The Brewers made their mark w/ key trades at positions that weren’t necessarily dire needs and it paid off handsomely. The A’s drafted well. Let’s wait and see if the trades for Archer/Kela end up paying major dividends next year as their emulation of the Brewers. Drafting like the A’s? Meh, the verdict on that makes me nervous.

    I personally think that the team should invest in the International market. I think they’ve done that this year, so we’ll see if that turns out. I wouldn’t even be opposed to poaching someone from that Yankee international program that seems to churn out pitchers like nobody’s business.

    The team was ahead of the curve w/ shifts and the 2-seam fastball approach a few years ago. And they were willing to invest heavily into the draft until the leave ‘leveled the playing field.’ But they’ve been extremely behind WRT Launch Angle and adapting in a post-shift world.

    Due to the market size and the tight pocket book of ownership, this team needs to be innovative, it’s not all about the money. Or rather, it’s not all about throwing money into the FA market. I’m not smart enough to see where the next advantage is, but let’s hope someone in the FO is.

    • Kevin Creagh // October 15, 2018 at 2:59 PM //

      I think that Jake’s article last week on Branson’s firing may portend the movement into launch angles. That quote by Branson was pretty damning. I’m with you on plundering some other organization’s international unit, because I haven’t been impressed lately with the return on investment here.

  3. “They ?ve shown they ?ll spend when the team is more geared toward contention”

    Well that really depends on what your definition of “spend” is.

  4. Daquido Bazzini // October 15, 2018 at 2:32 PM //

    Let’s do a quick review of where the playoffs stand in regards to the 2018 team salary chart.
    The only club with a very low team salary was the Oakland A’s.
    They were immediately eliminated by the Yankees.
    The only other team with a rather low team salary is the Milwaukee Brewers. The remaining teams are the Red Sox (#1), Dodgers (#3) and the Astros (#9).
    The Brewers fate remains to be seen, but I would be willing to bet they are going to be eliminated by the Dodgers.
    Also….Though the Brewers are at #22 on the team salary chart, they have spend approximately $18 million more than the Pirates.
    If the Pirates added $18 mil next year, they might stand a chance at playing October baseball.
    I doubt this will happen thanks to the ever-cheap Nutting Regime.
    Rest assured, when the dust settles, it will once again be a team with a rather high team salary in 2018.
    It’s been that way since the Marlins won it all in 2003, and it looks to stay that way.
    That is reality in MLB.

  5. Phillip C-137 // October 15, 2018 at 5:05 PM //

    I vote for taking a chance and bringing Kang back, even if it’s at the full exercised Option price.

    While it might be expensive (on a percentage of total payroll basis) to pick up Kang’s option, they paid SRod $5.5 million in 2018, plus Freese $4+ million. So if Kang replaces Freese the Dollar amount shouldn’t be a deal breaker, although $2.5-3.5 million would certainly be more payroll friendly and is probably more in line with his expected production.

    • Kevin Creagh // October 16, 2018 at 8:23 AM //

      While I agree that at the end of the day that $5.5M is not much for Kang, it’s the principle of it for me. The Pirates stuck by him for 2 full years (albeit by keeping him on the restricted list where they didn’t have to pay him), so he should have some goodwill back to the organization.

      But that’s not how things work in sports nowadays, and I should know that, so he’s entitled to every dollar he can grab.

      • I think theyll try to add a year as an option. And I think Kang will agree to it. Even if they give him 5.5 in 2019 with a smaller option for 2020 say 2 million.

        • Kevin Creagh // October 16, 2018 at 10:53 AM //

          I could see that. Or an incentive based contract that could get up to $5.5M, but with a lower base like $3M.

          • Ya either way think they want another year too. Hes staying no way you find power potential like that for even the 5.5. Maybe he could spot at 1b too. Think he could handle that.

  6. Daquido Bazzini // October 22, 2018 at 1:30 PM //

    Updating my post from about a week ago…We now have the #1 and #3 payroll in the World Series.
    Reality stares us in the face once again.
    Team salary matters.

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