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Pirates Payroll Rewind: 2016

Jon Niese

Jon Niese’s career as a Pirate was short-lived and unsuccessful.
Photo by Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

After taking a deep dive into specific payroll calculations from the CBA and how they apply to the Pirates opening day roster in 2018, I thought it would be fun to take a look back and see where the Pirates ? payroll was and how it has progressed over the years using the same criteria. This is Part 5 of a six-part series which will examine the payroll on a year-to-year basis, looking at starting payrolls, mid-season additions, arbitration raises, amongst plenty of other roster machinations.

These recaps will be more of an overview, so for a primer on the intricacies of how the payrolls are calculated, see the original 2018 piece.

Series: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

Next up is 2016, a season which fans hoped the team would build on the success from 2015, but injuries, declines in performance, bad luck, and bad decisions led to the first losing season since 2012.

Major League Salary: Repeat after me ?

Payroll did not go down after 2015.

Payroll did not go down after 2015.

Payroll did not go down after 2015.

Payroll did not go down after 2015.

Payroll did not go down after 2015.

If I had a dollar for every time I read or heard this from fans with an agenda, I feel like I ?d have the $18,387,724 that the start-of-season payroll increased from 2015 to 2016 (or the $6,641,132 that it increased from end-of-season 2015 to start-of-season 2016, if you want to use that thinking, even though it ?s nonsensical). Either way, it is factually incorrect to state payroll went down; it ?s simply fans wanting to push a narrative, no matter how uneducated they may be on the facts. Want to take issue with how the team spent their money, then go ahead. I ?d largely disagree, but at least it wouldn ?t be objectively wrong. Now on to how that money was spent ?

During the 2015-16 offseason, the team brought in nine free agent signings; however, they were largely smaller pieces, totaling $20,950,000 in all. This was offset by losing $7,500,000 in free agency and $6,260,000 in non-tenders ?the end of the Pedro Alvarez era (he was not missed). The team traded for $17,520,000 in salary, but traded away $16,518,500, so that was largely cancelled out. A.J. Burnett ?s retirement also cleared $8,500,000 off the payroll.

A large portion of the salary traded for was $9,000,000 for Jon Niese. It would be ridiculous to say this trade worked out, but I believe it made sense in theory at the time. Neil Walker was in his final season of arbitration and was productive offensively, but had a history of injuries and subpar defense, and the Pirates didn ?t want to commit to that long term. Flipping him for a pitcher with a solid history and three more years of reasonably priced control could have been considered savvy; unfortunately, it just seems the Pirates picked the wrong pitcher. They did strike gold with some low-key moves in free agency, such the re-signing of Sean Rodriguez, as well as the deals with David Freese, Matt Joyce, and Juan Nicasio.

As for in-season moves, the Pirates toed the line between buying and selling, in contention and out of it. They released Michael Morse early in the season, but were still on the hook for his $8,000,000 salary (unless the Dodgers had covered some of that in the prior season trade as well). They shed salaries of underperforming players, such as Francisco Liriano ($4,404,372) and Niese ($3,049,180), but brought back $2,524,044 between Drew Hutchison and Antonio Bastardo (with an undetermined amount being covered by the Mets). The team also brought in $1,624,200 of salary in tertiary pieces, such as Erik Kratz, Wade LeBlanc, Zach Phillips, and Phil Coke, as well as Ivan Nova. The biggest coup for the Pirates was capitalizing on Mark Melancon ?who was heading for free agency ?and continuing the train of closer trades, acquiring Felipe Rivero from the Nationals. They trimmed $3,194,369 from the payroll and (hopefully) found a solid bullpen piece for years to come.

Finally, the Pirates saw arbitration increases of $14,662,500 between 6 players, while contracted salaries for 5 other players increased $9,325,000. This seems to be where the year-to-year increase in payroll can mostly be attributed.

Major League Salary Starting Total: $102,320,500

Major League Salary Final Total: $96,814,105

Minor League Salary: This is the first season in this series where minor league salary eclipsed a million dollars, and many fans won ?t want to revisit why.

As already mentioned, Drew Hutchison came back from the Blue Jays in the trade of Francisco Liriano; however, despite agreeing to a $2,200,000 salary in arbitration that season, he was in AAA at the time of the trade. The Pirates immediately sent Hutchison to AAA as well, so he was drawing a significantly higher salary than any other player in the minors for the Pirates ?this is assuming that he didn ?t have a minor league pay-rate in his deal, as it wasn ?t reported as such. In total, the Pirates paid Hutchison $420,765 while in the minors.

Here are some familiar names who had three or more stints in the minors in 2016: Jason Rogers, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, A.J. Schugel, and Steven Brault.

Minor League Salary Starting Total: $785,900

Minor League Salary Final Total: $1,163,711

Signing Bonuses: The Pirates had Pro-Rated Signing Bonuses on the books for Francisco Liriano, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, and Andrew McCutchen, as well as those acquired with Michael Morse and Jon Niese. They would have been responsible for all of Morse ?s bonus after he was released, but they did save some money after trading both Liriano and Niese. The portion of Antonio Bastardo ?s bonus brought back for Niese wasn ?t enough to offset the total savings.

Signing Bonuses Starting Total: $2,008,333

Signing Bonuses Final Total: $1,807,878

Signing Bonuses (or Pro-Rated Buyouts): This list also includes the Marte, Harrison, McCutchen, and Niese deals, as well as buyouts for Chris Stewart and Jung Ho Kang. The final season amount is slightly less because of the Niese trade.

Signing Bonuses (or Pro-Rated Buyouts) Starting Total: $1,037,500

Signing Bonuses (or Pro-Rated Buyouts) Final Total: $1,003,620

Performance Bonuses: Many bonuses are hard to pin down, so only reported incentives are included in these totals. The Pirates paid Sean Rodriguez an extra $350,000 for games played and at-bat incentives, as well as $180,000 to Neftali Feliz for games pitched. Also, Ryan Vogelsong made an extra $1,000,000 due to a convoluted point system based on games started, relief appearances, games finished, and innings. I believe I calculated the points correctly, but as I said, it was convoluted. Also, for those who care as much as me and clicked the link, I too see that the math doesn ?t add up as reported ?there ?s $100,000 missing somewhere ?but every source I could find had the same mathematical mistake. As a proponent of math and accuracy, I was very disappointed.

Finally, the same perks in Jung Ho Kang ?s contract that were touched on for 2015 would also apply in 2016.

Performance Bonuses Starting Total: $0

Performance Bonuses Final Total: $1,530,000

Termination Pay: A new category! Who knew that the January 2016 release of Tony Sanchez would be so important.

The prior December, the Pirates would have renewed Sanchez on a minimum contract; however, they deemed him not worthy of keeping, so he was later released. Article IX (A) of the CBA covers this very situation:

A Player who is tendered a Uniform Player ?s Contract which is subsequently terminated by a Club during the period between the end of the championship season and the beginning of the next succeeding spring training ?shall be entitled to receive termination pay from the Club in an amount equal to thirty (30) days ? payment at the rate stipulated in paragraph 2 of (1) his Contract for the next succeeding championship season, or (2) if he has no contract for the next succeeding championship season, in an amount equal to thirty (30) days ? payment at the rate stipulated in paragraph 2 of the Contract tendered to him by his Club for the next succeeding championship season.

Okay, so Sanchez was tendered a contract, but subsequently released before Spring Training, so the Pirates owe him 30 days of pay; however, it was a minimum, split contract ?stipulating major league minimum if in the majors and minor league pay while in the minors ?so what rate do they pay for those thirty days. Article IX (D) has the answer:

In the case of a Player who signs a Major League Contract which sets forth a separate rate of pay for Minor League service, the rate of pay to be utilized in calculating termination pay under the preceding Sections A, B and C shall be:

(1) the Minor League rate, if the termination occurs in the offseason;

Since Sanchez was released before spring training ?thus during the offseason ?he was paid 30 days of termination pay at the minor league minimum ($82,700) for the 2016 season, or $13,557 in total. See, isn ?t CBA salary minutiae fun?

Technically, when the Pirates cut Michael Morse, Cory Luebke, and Wilfredo Boscan in 2016 but still owe them the remainder of their contracts, any payment after subsequent release would fall in this category; however, I haven ?t been categorizing them this way for prior seasons ?or now ?as the numbers work a little cleaner this way.

Termination Pay Starting Total: $13,557

Termination Pay Final Total: $13,557

Cash Considerations: Nothing to report here, as all the cash acquisitions the team made were unreported. The list includes Allen Webster, Kyle Lobstein, Erik Kratz, Wade LeBlanc, and Phil Coke.

Cash Considerations Starting Total: $0

Cash Considerations Final Total: $0

Credits: The only credit that can be validated is the portion of the minimum salary the Braves would have paid Wilfredo Boscan after he was released and subsequently signed. However, the Pirates also received cash considerations in trades for Eric O ?Flaherty and Mel Rojas Jr.

Worth mentioning again ?it ?s possible a significant portion of Michael Morse and Antonio Bastardo ?s respective salaries were being paid by the Dodgers and Mets, but the amounts couldn ?t be confirmed.

Credits Starting Total: $0

Credits Final Total: $24,403

2016 Opening Day Payroll: $106,165,790

Final 2016 Payroll: $102,308,468

Year-to-Year Breakdown

Here ?s a breakdown of how Opening Day payrolls changed from season to season based on different transaction types. Keep in mind that it shows transactions made between Opening Days, but doesn ?t compare Ending Payroll of one season to Starting Payroll for the next. I will include those for reference, even though it ?s probably not relevant to compare ending totals to starting totals, as they are apples and oranges.

2014 Start Between 2015 Start Between 2016 Start
Major League Salary 75,971,000 84,677,500 102,320,500
FA Additions 25,500,000 20,950,000
Trade Acquisitions 7,539,000 17,520,000
Arbitration Raises 12,055,000 14,662,500
Salary Increases 10,050,000 9,325,000
Minimum Salary Increase 92,000
Minimum Salary Decrease (1,553,000)
FA Losses (21,500,000) (7,500,000)
Traded Away (5,715,000) (16,518,500)
Non-Tendered (2,300,000) (6,260,000)
Option Declined
Released (17,014,500) (4,483,000)
Retirement (8,500,000)
Minor League Salary 815,000 496,400 785,900
Increase 289,500
Decrease (318,600)
Signing Bonuses 1,958,333 1,458,333 2,008,333
Added 916,667 550,000
Subtracted (1,416,667)
Prorated Buyouts 875,000 1,145,833 1,037,500
Added 312,500 (333,333)
Subtracted (41,667) 225,000
Retention Bonus
Termination Pay 13,557
Added 13,557
Cash Considerations
Credits (7,294,871)
Added 7,294,871
Total 72,324,462 15,453,604 87,778,066 18,387,724 106,165,790
Start Finish
2012 52,961,959 59,637,409
2013 68,705,567 75,212,130
2014 72,324,462 77,223,365
2015 87,778,066 99,524,658
2016 106,165,790 102,308,467

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

5 Comments on Pirates Payroll Rewind: 2016

  1. James Krug // June 15, 2018 at 8:00 AM // Reply

    The Jon Niese trade NEVER made sense. Neil Walker was one of the most popular Pirates ever, was quietly productive every season, and bizarrely was never offered a legitimate contract extension by the team, for reasons that have never been explained

    Jon Niese stinks. And he stunk when the Pirates traded for him. Huntington and Co then somehow made it worse, trading Niese back to the Mets for an RP they had, and allowed to depart for NY as a FA.

    Any time I read phrases like, ?the Jon Niese trade made sense at the time ?, it makes me question the objectivity and credibility of the author.

    • Ethan Hullihen // June 15, 2018 at 8:20 AM // Reply

      Neil Walker ?s popularity doesn ?t matter at all ?his injury history, defensive shortcomings, and final year of four years of salary arbitration did. History and the market have proven the Pirates right in this case; he hasn ?t played anywhere near a full season since they let him go, and no other team has seen signing him long term worth their while. He had to resign with the Mets on a QO because no team wanted him, they couldn ?t give him away at the trade deadline in 2017, and he couldn ?t find a good deal this winter until the Yankees offered scraps and he ?s been awful. So again, the fact he was from Pittsburgh means nothing; sentiment is a horrible way to run a team.

      As for the trade at the time, the Pirates had Josh Harrison to step right into Walker ?s place and he ended up performing admirably. As for Niese, he averaged 2.0 fWAR for the previous 5 years at the time of the trade, had three years of cost control that consisted of 2 reasonable options which would have been great deals had he kept up that performance. Unfortunately, he didn ?t, and that can ?t be argued. Yes, it was compounded with the embarrassing trade back to the Mets, but that has nothing to do with the trade at the time. Hindsight is not the best way to determine whether a trade was good or not. Like in basketball, a bad shot is still a bad shot, even if it goes in. It was a reasonable trade that just didn ?t work.

  2. Phillip C-137 // June 17, 2018 at 12:19 AM // Reply

    Ethan, What a great reply. Walker was a nice player. Niese was like many of the current Pirates pitchers (flashes of talent/episodes of incompetence).

    The trade could have worked out, it didn’t, and it has become a source of irritation to all, (hindsight), but at the time it did have a shot at working.

  3. James Krug // June 17, 2018 at 6:27 AM // Reply

    Neil Walker had OPS+ of 121 and 106 for the Mets.

    Jon Niese had an ERA+ of 84 with the Pirates before they traded him back to the Mets for a player they already had. Niese was so busted that he retired after that season.

    You two are embarrassing yourselves with your terrible responses. Try actually looking at the stats of players before posting.

    • Ethan Hullihen // June 17, 2018 at 9:01 AM // Reply

      I never said Walker wasn’t a good offensive player, he was. I said he had injury problems and was bad defensively, only to get worse. Also, he only had one year of control left, and it’s because of the prior reasons it wouldn’t have made any sense to extend/sign him to a new deal. Therefore, the Pirates needed pitching, and did a one-for-one baseball trade for a player with past success and three years of control remaining that made total sense at the time. That is the argument, and you are refusing to acknowledge the point, harping on what happened afterward, which I agree with you on because it can’t really be argued.

      The article by Steve linked in the article was one I had never seen, but he makes the same argument I am, and it’s certainly not a crazy one. If you want to get hung up on them trading hometown kid Neil Walker, I’m not sure what to tell you.

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