GM stands behind payroll at PirateFest

GM stands behind payroll at PirateFest

PITTSBURGH -- With the Pirates' roster all but set for 2010, so too are projections for the club's Opening Day payroll. And general manager Neal Huntington is ready to defend it.

After a season-ending payroll of $48 million in 2009, the Pirates are looking at opening this upcoming season with that number in the vicinity of $36 million. And since the club has addressed all of its offseason needs, it's unlikely that payroll figure will fluctuate much from that projection between now and April 5.

To put that into some recent perspective, the Pirates have not ended a season with a payroll of less than $43 million since 2005, when it sat at $30 million at year's end. Do keep in mind that Opening Day payroll and the end-of-the-season number can turn out to be vastly different depending on the degree of mid-season moves and number of incentive-reached bonuses handed out.

Still, the reality of resting in the cellar of the payroll list to start the year doesn't sit particularly well with some in a fan base that is craving for Pittsburgh's first winning baseball season since 1992. Critics are quick to note that five of the last six World Series titles were captured by clubs that ranked in the Top 10 in season-ending payroll figures. The exception was the 2005 White Sox, whose $73 million payroll was the 13th highest in baseball that year.

However, at the same time, some of those skeptics rushed downtown to attend the organization's annual PirateFest, where Huntington addressed those financial concerns.

"A lot has been made of our payroll heading into 2010," Huntington said. "The best way to describe our payroll is that it's a result, not a goal. Our payroll is a result of trading veteran players on the downside of their prime, but who are making a lot of money, and as a result, making room for the young players that we have acquired or drafted."

In other words, it's only natural that a club being built around youth is going to be inherently less expensive than one constructed heavily through free agency. The Pirates added five free agents to their big league roster for a total addition of $7.875 in base salaries. The acquisition of Akinori Iwamura, who will make a club-high $4.85 million, through a trade also contributed to a decent chunk of that payroll figure.

These additions were made largely to complement the pieces already in place, and Huntington was given a green light to spend more than he did if he had deemed it beneficial. The intent, however, was to continue to construct this team around players that may be on the low end of the pay scale now, but ones that will be more costly in the years to come.

"While we've gone out to try to bring some maturity and to bring some experience [with free agents], at the same time, we need to let these young players who are here get the at-bats, get the innings to become the next wave that carries us," Huntington said.

Payroll wasn't the only item that management was discussing this weekend, as Huntington, president Frank Coonelly and manager John Russell fielded a total of two hours of questions in two days from fans at PirateFest.

Saturday's report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Pittsburgh Penguins owners Rob Burkle and Mario Lemieux are interested in buying the Pirates was the most popular topic on Saturday, and Coonelly addressed speculation immediately.

"The Pirates are not for sale," Coonelly said. "[Owner] Bob Nutting is committed to this organization. The team is not for sale. It's not going to be for sale. Bob is determined to bring a championship back to Pittsburgh and see this process through."

Coonelly was also asked to speak to the organization's spending of its revenue-sharing dollars. It's been a topic of particular interest since the Commissioner's Office and the Major League Baseball Players Association expressed concern with how the Marlins were using their revenue-sharing monies. Coonelly adamantly refuted speculation that the Pirates could be under similar scrutiny.

"Our payroll last year was well in excess of what we received in revenue-sharing profits," he said. "In addition to that, our Major League payroll is only a small portion of what we spend. We spend far in excessive of what we receive in revenue-sharing every year."

Other questions weren't so pointed, and the organization's Minor League system and Draft plans were the topics of a number of the inquiries. During the discourse, Huntington noted that Bryce Harper, who some have projected to be the gem of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, is not a given to be selected by the Pirates if he's available when the club uses its No. 2 overall pick.

"We like Bryce Harper, but I can't tell you Bryce Harper is right now in our Top 10," Huntington said. "He's getting a lot of hype and publicity. We will scout Bryce Harper. We will put him on the board. And if he's the right player, we'll take him. We're not just going to pick a player because publications like him. We'll select the player that we think is best when we pick."

The management group also continued to tout the group of players prepared to make up the 2010 club and explained behind-closed-door decisions made this offseason in determining what free agents to pursue.

"We talked about [adding] Jon Garland, Vicente Padilla, Braden Looper," Huntington said. "But when we talked about what they would bring and what we had internally, we felt like it was a better investment to give those innings to the winner of the Kevin Hart-Daniel McCutchen battle in Spring Training to let them develop. It's always a balance between the present and the future. We felt it was a better use of our innings to let these guys develop.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.