It’s arbitration season

Six Pirates (Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Gaby Sanchez, Mark Melancon, Vin Mazzaro, and Travis Snider) filed for aribtration last night, which was something that was completely expected but is also what passes for Pirate news in the middle of January. The Pirates tendered all six players with contract offers in December and they haven't agreed to deals yet with any of them, so arbitration is the next step. The arbitration hearings themselves aren't until February, and chances are good the Pirates will work out agreements with most of these players before then. 

Bill Brink linked on Twitter today to the MLBTR arbitration estimates from the fall and used that to guesstimate the team's payroll this year at somewhere close $80 million. If you work from there with the knowledge that the club offered James Loney ~$7 million per year (we don't know their exact offer, but Loney said it was competitive with the Rays' offer that he ended up choosing) and that they'd be willing to pay AJ Burnett ~$10 million (or a bit more), you can guess that the Pirates' theoretical payroll cap in 2014 is in the ballpark of $90-100 million. I suppose that depends on whether or not you think they would've signed Loney AND Burnett. 

There is, of course, lots of consternation over the money that the Pirates' haven't spent this winter, since they still need a first baseman and Burnett is doing whatever it is that he's doing, but there are a few points worth making. We know for sure that 2014 will be the fourth straight year that the Pirates' payroll has increased and assuming that the exact opening day payroll is over $76 million, it'll be the second straight year it's gone up by $10+ million. 

I feel like I say this every winter, but it's always worth repeating: just because the Pirates could have spent another $10+ million this winter doesn't mean that they should have and it doesn't mean that that money won't get spent. Beyond the possibility of Burnett's return or trading for a first baseman before the season starts, leaving that money unspent now creates plenty of possibilities at the trade deadline, which is useful in that it allows the Pirates to address something that they know is an area of concern at that point in the season. It's also money that could be spent in the future. The Pirates' payroll isn't going down any time soon with Walker and now Alvarez hitting the main part of arbitration and Andrew McCutchen's extension increasing every year (and hey, let's not even mention that at this time in two years, McCutchen will only have two years left on his deal and one of them will be the team option year). 

Anyway, this is the larger problem that faces the Pirates going forwards: even though their budget is increasing compared to year's past, they have a limited budget and even though they spent this whole winter sitting on their hands, their payroll has gone up quite a bit. It's going to be a juggling act from here on out. 

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.