Historically the Pittsburgh Pirates almost always a bottom five payroll in Major League Baseball, especially over the past 25 years or so. Robert Nutting is a cheap owner, which is known by everyone around the league. Over the past three months the Pirates have cut approximately $27 to $29 off their projected payroll by not picking up Chris Archer’s option, designating Trevor Williams for assignment and most recently trading Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon. Of course this does not take into the consideration the money that will have to be spent on players that fill their roster spots, but we all know that this will be a pittance compared to the salaries that some of these guys could have earned. Now it is being rumored that Adam Frazier and his $4.3 salary could be on the move.
However, none of these inarguable statements have even been the focus of the latest in the line of what can only be described as jumping on an already overflowing dog pile or picking from the lowest hanging fruit, that has has actually been on the ground molding for some time at this point. On Wednesday morning ESPN’s MLB Insider Buster Olney tweeted out the Pirates’ financial commitments beyond the 2021 season.
He is correct that if the Pirates choose to decline Gregory Polanco’s option for 2022, the will only owe him $3 million and will not be on the hook to anyone else; outside of the arbitration eligible players they could tender contracts to during the 2021-22 off-season, but none of those are actually guaranteed. And if we are getting technical, neither is Polanco’s if they somehow find a trade partner for him between now and November. At that point the Pirates wouldn’t owe anybody anything.
To many this may not really mean anything beyond the first few points I made about low payroll, a cheap owner and cutting costs on the field, but realistically it should. With Polanco’s contract coming off the books it signifies that General Ben Cherington no longer has to be saddled by any of his predecessors contracts, particularly one as bad as El Coffee’s has turned out to be. Gone are the discussions of playing time being handed to someone for financial reasons, which has often thrown a wrench in Cherington and Manager Derek Shelton’s alleged mission of creating a meritocracy.
So, where does all that money go now? The easy answer is to player extensions, or Nutting’s Wallet if I know some of my audience. But in all seriousness, extensions are something I have been in favor of since before the 2020 season, as well as during it, and truthfully still am to this day. After Ke’Bryan Hayes had played exactly one game in the majors, I wrote about extending him. This was not some fanboy reaction to the excitement of a young and fun player making his MLB debut. It was a calculated risk versus reward decision based on the floor of a player who could provide the WAR of an everyday player based on his defense alone.
Another answer would be free agency; and before you laugh I am talking about the Russell Martin type signing when the Pirates are hopefully closer to actually competing in 2023, 2024 or 2025. With financial flexibility, compiled with a cheap owner and on the field improvement this category of acquisition becomes more likely and makes a lot more sense at that time rather than in 2021.
Or maybe Cherington ends up just letting all of the Pirates play out their years of control until it is finally time to trade them with no actual financial commitments; not that I think this is likely or would be very productive. Nonetheless, you know what else is not extremely useful? Worrying about how much money the Pittsburgh Pirates have attached to their players in 2022.