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It's Not About the Payroll

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My email inbox is filling up with messages from some mailing list about the Pirates' payroll and how Bob Nutting is only trying to spend as little as possible.

I can understand any and all suspicions regarding ownership's motivations, but to sculpt those suspicions into an argument (and this is one we've probably all seen recently, not just on this mailing list) without regard to the Pirates' circumstances misses the point completely.

How are the Pirates a worse team for not having Matt Morris and his $10 million a year contract on the payroll next season? They aren't. How would the Pirates' chances of contending in the future be affected if the they'd kept Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, both of whom would've been free agents after 2009 anyway? They would be worse, because those players would have been gone by the time the Pirates had been ready to contend, and the Bucs would have gotten nothing for them. And what role would Salomon Torres and Jose Bautista have had on the next good Pirates team? None and probably none, respectively. 

Again, given all that's happened in the last decade, I can understand suspicions about the payroll. But the next time your paranoid side starts to take over, ask yourself: how would the Pirates benefit from a larger payroll in 2008 or 2009? A larger payroll would just mean more contracts for older players who aren't going to help when the Pirates are ready to contend: more Jeromy Burnitzes and Randall Simons. Did you like those players the first time they were here? The acquisition of better veteran players might be even more harmful, because those players would require longer and more expensive contracts. 

The Pirates will have a low payroll in 2009, and that is as it should be. They'll be developing players and trying to sort through younger ones. Those players are inexpensive, which may be a nice side effect for the Pirates' ownership, but opening jobs for youngsters who also happen to be cheap is also the right baseball move.

In the meantime, the Pirates are spending money--just not on major league payroll. They're building an expensive new complex in the Dominican, have handed out big bonuses to Latin amateurs in the first time in years, and spent a ton of money on the draft. These are exactly the right ways for a team in the Pirates' situation to spend its money.

Until those who wish to attack the Pirates for shedding payroll can show how doing so hampers the Pirates' ability to compete in the future, there's no need to continue blasting ownership. Blast away for anything that happened while Kevin McClatchy was running the show, but under Nutting's (official) control the Pirates have gotten the big things right.