I hadn't thought too specifically about what the Post-Gazette reports here, which is the increasing size of the difference in payrolls between the Pirates and their NL Central rivals, but of course it makes sense. The Pirates, under both Dave Littlefield and, so far, Neal Huntington, have mostly steered clear of the free agent market since it started getting really expensive last offseason.
The real question here is whether this is a simple unwillingness on the part of the new/"new" ownership to pay big-league prices, or if it just reflects the Pirates' current situation, or some combination of the two. Except for the sorts of big-ticket free agents they've always avoided, no free agent can really put the Pirates in contention. So there's no particular reason right now for the Pirates to waste a lot of money in that market. And the players they do have don't cost much money either. We're going to learn a lot about ownership's intentions after the 2009 season, when much of its current core can become eligible for free agency, and when Ian Snell could start to become really expensive.
Again, this has a lot to do with the holding pattern that I wrote about a few days ago - the Pirates aren't good enough to bother spend money on and aren't deep enough to rebuild. The payroll disparity is symptomatic of a problem, but is itself not necessarily the problem. It's an issue best addressed once Huntington figures out a way to break the holding pattern, hopefully by having a great draft this June.