“We have the capacity to add to payroll in a meaningful way,” Coonelly said in an interview with the Post-Gazette. “We’ll be evaluating the trade market and free agency and, if we see a player or players we like, we’ll be aggressive in pursuing that player.”
The extra emphasis is mine. The Pirates could increase payroll in 2011. Just like they could’ve and chose not to in 2010.
I understand what Coonelly is doing here. The Pirates are awful, their losing streak is about to graduate from high school, and lots of fans are angry. But going on the record and saying that the club has the capacity to increase payroll is just something that Bob Smizik and Joe Starkey and Mondesi’s House are going to point at and howl about when Ryan Doumit and Zach Duke or Paul Maholm or Garrett Jones get traded this winter. The statement is already being touted as a promise to add payroll just about everywhere, which I’m not certain that it is at all.
Look at this team and tell me where are the Pirates going to add significant salary. Maybe Andrew McCutchen gets an extension. Zach Duke and Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit will all get scheduled raises if they remain Pirates next year. Ronny Cedeno will get a little bump in arbitration salary and Lastings Milledge will, too. But where are these free agents that some people expect the team to sign going to play?
They certainly won’t play in center field or left field or at third base or second base. The Pirates have a well-document backlog of players to fill the other two corner spots. They have Chris Snyder to catch until Tony Sanchez is ready in late 2011 or 2012. That leaves shortstop, the rotation, the bullpen, and the bench. If the Pirates sign a free-agent shortstop, it’s going to be JJ Hardy (seriously; take that prediction to the bank UPDATE: I forgot that the Brewers demoted him last year and he might not be a free agent this winter, so only take that prediction to the bank if he’s non-tendered). He shouldn’t cost more than $4-$5 million a year. They shouldn’t sign starting pitching because they won’t get a first-tier starter and they’ll have to seriously overpay for an aging second-tier guy (think Bronson Arroyo) and that’s just a really poor idea. Maybe they can get a guy like Jeremy Bonderman for a reasonable price and that’s not an awful idea, but most of the guys on this list that are going to be willing to come to the Pirates are going to cost way more than they’re worth. You can already safely guess that Huntington is going to try and build the bullpen on the cheap. Bench players are going to be in the Crosby/Church mold.
Maybe the Pirates can swing a trade, but a trade is almost certainly not going to add payroll because they’re not in “trade prospects to fill holes with veterans” mode. At the absolute least, it’s going to send a guy like Doumit or Maholm out for somone in the Yunel Escobar “fallen out of favor and owed some money through his arbitration years” model.
I’m not criticizing the Pirates’ approach, but it’s just stupid to stick your neck and say things like “We have the capacity to add payroll in a meaningful way,” when you’re rather unlikely to do it. I can pretty much promise you right now that eight months from now, someone is going to be asking Coonelly why he lied to the fans in August of 2010 about adding meaningful payroll and he’ll vacillate again and say that first of all payroll is a little higher than it was this year and second of all he only said the team had the capacity to do it and that Neal didn’t find the right alleys to spend that money this winter but they’re happy to have the flexibility as the young core comes together. The worst part is that that approach will almost certainly be the right one for the Pirates, but Coonelly is now going out in public and telling the chattering masses that already think he’s a malicious, slimy liar that has no idea how to run a baseball team and won’t give him or his front office the credit that they deserve for the things they’ve done well in the past few years that they’re going to spend money, which is something that Bob Smizik and Joe Starkey and Mondesi’s House all define very differently than Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington do. This is like seeing your front yard is full of dog crap and walking to get the paper in bare feet anyways.
And I’m only saying this now because when we come back to this in April, it’s going to be the last thing in the world that I want to talk about because there are going to be so many more interesting debates to have and questions to ask about the Pirates right now that it absolutely kills me that Frank Coonelly is giving the guys that lead the anti-front office pack of lemmings more ammo than they already have.