The impending spending spree and the Bucs’ arbitration future

You’ve likely seen Dejan Kovacevic’s first Hot Stove column of the holiday season, in which he basically says that the Pirates have money to burn and they may have to burn it:

There is a bit of a buzz around baseball that the Pirates are, for once, at least rubbing elbows with some of the higher rollers in free agency. At least one serious overture has been made for pitcher Jorge de la Rosa, who seeks an eight-figure salary over multiple years.

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No one on any side is likely to acknowledge this, but the Pirates probably must spend more than their $48 million total of 2010. Coonelly was successful in convincing the union in the spring that the team was spending appropriately for a young roster, but that stance will not last long. If the union does not like what it sees, it could push for an investigation similar to the one that prompted the Florida Marlins to finally raise payroll.

I’ve already registered my concerns with signing de la Rosa and/or Beltre (Reader’s Digest: good moves short-term when they might not mean much to the club, riskier long-term when the Bucs will need financial flexibility), so let’s look at this a bit differently. I generally like the way the the Pirates have generally approached their off-seasons well under Neal Huntington (you can say what you want about guys like Crosby and Church, but the Pirates really needed bodies to fill out the roster with a bit of payroll and not take playing time from certain players more than anything, and Crosby and Church filled all of those requirements even if they sucked something awful), so let’s start by giving him the benefit of the doubt here. 

The biggest problem with signing a de la Rosa this winter isn’t paying him in 2011, it’s paying him in the future as Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, and Neil Walker reach arbitration eligibility. The Pirates may have to deal with McCutchen’s arbitration situation as soon as next off-season thanks to the Super Two rule and Walker will probably hit arbitration after the 2012 season, with Tabata and Alvarez reaching it the season after that. 

Perhaps the answer here is right in front of our faces. DK compares the Pirates potentially being forced to raise payroll to what went down with the Marlins last winter. How did the Marlins immediately respond when they were asked to raise payroll? By giving one of their own players, Josh Johnson, a big extension that went through his arbitration years and a free agent season or two. McCutchen’s obviously not as far into his career as Johnson was last winter and might not be as amenable to signing away free agent years at this point, but the Pirates’ nightmare right now has to be him entering his second year of arbitration in 2013 as a two-time All Star and one of baseball’s best center fielders and demanding a huge raise, while Walker becomes arbitration eligible and guys like McDonald and Ohlendorf are owed big salaries late into the arbitration process all while the club owes Jorge de la Rosa $12 million. Really, if they’re going to avoid that they’ve got to lock some young players down into deals that give them some financial certainty through their arbitration years. If they’re planning on giving out a big free agent contract, they almost have to be planning on signing McCutchen to some sort of deal as well. 

Pat Lackey

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.

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