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Frank Coonelly isn’t afraid of the union

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Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Pirates’ team president Frank Coonelly has released a statement expressing a lack of concern about the possibility of a complaint against the Pirates for failing to spend their revenue sharing receipts in compliance with the collective bargaining agreement:

The Pirates are not being investigated by MLB and the Commissioner has no concerns whatsoever with the manner in which the Pirates are investing its revenue sharing receipts into building a winner.

This is rather disingenuous, as the reports are that the MLBPA is looking into the matter, not the Commissioner. The statement has the feel of a party anticipating litigation, and concludes with a sarcastic reference to the union’s “concerns.”

In the course of his statement, Coonelly asserts that the team’s “revenue sharing receipts are now just a fraction of what we spend on Major League payroll, let alone all of the other dollars that we spend on scouting, player development and other baseball investments.” He also states that “while our revenue sharing receipts have decreased for seven consecutive seasons, our Major league payroll has more than doubled over that same period.” I don’t know whether this is true or not. This is, however, the guy who claimed that the Pirates’ TV contract was in the upper half of MLB, in terms of value, so I wouldn’t necessarily accept these assertions.

UPDATE: Coonelly’s statement that the Pirates’ payroll doubled over seven years is true but misleading. It’s a classic case of arbitrary endpoints. To begin with, MLB revenues have skyrocketed over that time. What matters is how much the Pirates’ payroll increased in relation to the mean or average in that time.

More fundamentally, the Pirates’ payroll in 2011 was artificially low because the team was rebuilding. In fact, the team’s payroll had barely increased at all in the previous decade at that point and had decreased from what it was in 2003. Here are the team’s season-ending payrolls, according to Cot’s, starting in 2001 (Cot’s methodology changed in 2016, which accounts in part for the higher figures in 2016-17):

2001: $46.7M
2002: $46.1M
2003: $62.3M
2004: $32.5M
2005: $30.1M
2006: $43.3M
2007: $51.3M
2008: $50.8M
2009: $48.0M
2010: $44.1M
2011: $51.8M
2012: $61.3M
2013: $71.6M
2014: $78.4M
2015: $95.9M
2016: $109.7M
2017: $109.5M

So the Pirates’ payroll hardly changed at all for an entire decade before Coonelly’s starting point. The increases starting in 2011 in large part just made up for that decade of non-spending. And if you measure from 2003 to 2017, the payroll increased only 76% in 14 years, as opposed to the 100%+ in seven years that Coonelly points to.