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Pirates Release Financial Information

In response to an apparent leak of financial information to the AP, the Pirates have released a bunch of information themselves in an effort to explain anything that might seem strange before other people get to it.

I know Bob Nutting is the devil and all, but assuming this matches the information the AP eventually releases, none of this really gives anyone much to scream about. The Pirates made about $5 million last year. They made more in 2007 and 2008, but there was a "multilayered distribution" of about $20 million in 2008 that Nutting and Frank Coonelly say was partly used to help the owners pay taxes on team profits and partly used to repay the Nutting family for a loan they made to the Pirates in 2003, the year the Bucs' messy finances forced them to trade Aramis Ramirez.

I suppose that when the AP report comes out, we'll probably find out if all of this is true, but in any case, there doesn't seem to be much in here that matches the usual narrative about Nutting rubbing the Pirates' money all over his body. Any accountants out there, let me know if I'm wrong.

UPDATE: Here's the AP report, which indeed looks really bad, but also doesn't contain anything that contradicts anything the Pirates are saying and features a couple of really weird non-sequiturs:

Coonelly, previously an attorney for MLB, defended the Pirates' right to make a profit, but said he would not stay with the team if he suspected any Pirates funds were being channeled to ownership.

"I would not have left the commissioner's office if I wasn't convinced that Bob Nutting was committed to putting a winning product on the field," he said. "I would not have left the commissioner's office and I wouldn't remain at the Pirates if the Pirates were simply generating resources to fund other businesses."

Still, fans and critics ask how a team that won five World Series from 1909-1979 and nine division titles from 1969-92 can be so bad.

One of the more interesting bits, however, is an ominous comment from Frank Coonelly that "you can win without an $80 million payroll," as San Diego and Tampa Bay have. Well, sure, you can, but the Padres are a surprise team that has about 40 pitchers playing out of their minds, and the Rays' payroll has risen to $72 million this year to pay for guys like Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano. It's possible to have a winning season with a $40 million payroll if you're smart and very lucky, sure, but good luck sustaining the winning after that one season. 

Bob Nutting has promised that when the Pirates are ready to compete, he'll raise the payroll to be competitive with the Brewers and Reds. Well, the Brewers have a $90 million payroll this year, and the Reds' is $76 million. I don't think it's really relevant whether the Pirates can compete without an $80 million payroll, because they've already basically promised to raise the payroll that high when they have a competitive core.

UPDATE 12:59 AM: This is already being spun by the papers - not by the folks who actually write the articles (which were much easier to understand than they might've been, actually), but by whoever writes the headlines. The Trib's front page currently reads: "Losing's not so bad: The Pirates, holder of the all-time major sports futility streak, made $34.8 million over the past three years." The Post-Gazette's headline is "Losers on the diamond, Pirates win at the bank."

It's true that the Pirates made $34.8 million, but they (apparently) used $20 million of that to pay down taxes and debt. There also (again, apparently) haven't been any distributions since then, meaning that none of the owners (including Bob Nutting) have had payments to offset taxes on the team's profits. So while the team has been profitable, I can't imagine the last couple of years have been any fun for the owners. 

The point is not that these headlines are wrong, really, but they misrepresent the big picture in a way that reinforces the popular narrative that Bob Nutting is evil. Maybe he really is a horrible human being, but this report hasn't revealed a whit of evidence to that effect, unless you're crying a river over the minority owners not getting distributions to offset their taxes. There's no evidence that ownership is getting rich(er) here. Just the opposite, actually.