The Post-Gazette reported yesterday that the Pirates have had a $34.8 million profit over the last three seasons. Additionally, the Pirates paid out $20.8 million to the team's ownership group in 2008. Approximately half of that covered taxes on profits and the other half was interest on a loan made by the Nuttings to the Pirates. I realize that some of this money was used to pay taxes and reduce debt, but when you combine these two figures the Pirates have actually managed to make $55.6 million in three years with last place teams. Now here’s my first question, should Bob Nutting and the Pirates organization be faulted for running a business well? Would you rather see that they are just scrimping by and spending every dollar they have on the team or does it comfort you to know that they will not have a gun to their head any time soon to unload a player like they did with Aramis Ramirez.
Here’s the next question, what is the motivation for the Pirates to compete if they are making huge profits with a last place team? It’s common sense that trying to win is a much greater financial risk at this point. A reasonable salary range that a Pittsburgh Pirates fan could hope the team would spend is about $70 million. This will not happen next year, but it should happen in the next few years if management has any confidence in their plan.
Another way of thinking about this (and I know this has been said many times before), is you can build a winning team with less than $80 million. Look at the Padres ($38.2 million, 2nd lowest), Rangers ($55.2 million, 5th lowest), and Rays ($72.3 million, 12th lowest). These teams are pretty much locks to be playing this postseason and there is still a month of the season left. It’s obvious that this CAN be done, but the Pirates just don’t seem to be able to have the same results. Now look at the Cubs ($146.6 million, 3rd highest), Mariners ($86.9 million, 14th highest), and Orioles ($81.2 million, 17th highest). All of these teams spend a lot of money and all of them are atrocious. How are these teams able to waste so much money on players that aren’t helping them win games? In fact, that might be a better question. What is worse for baseball, the payroll habits of the Yankees or the Pirates? In a recent poll on ESPN.com, it looks like people feel that they are each pretty bad for the game. This is kind of a hidden poll so it only has 1300 total votes so far, but the Yankees received 52% and the Pirates received 48%. I really think each side is very troubling. The Yankees spend insane amounts of money each year to do their best to put a winning team on the field (they have contributed over 95% of all luxury tax payments since it began in 2003). I’m sure they also look at their bottom line, but it comes second to winning. The Yankees are putting their hard earned money right into Bob Nutting’s bottom line (he doesn't accept a salary so I can't say his pocket), which is not the intention of a luxury tax. On the other hand, how are the Pirates supposed to compete with teams that put up $10 million per year for an average pitcher? The Yankees have signed a few busts to large contracts over the last decade, but take Jason Giambi’s contract for example. If the Pirates signed a player to a 7 year, $120 million deal and he hits like crap, it would set our franchise back ten years.
This is my message to Pirates ownership. You have a marketing strategy this year with the theme of, “Pride. Passion. Pittsburgh Pirates.” This accurately describes what the Pirates once were. From Honus Wagner to Roberto Clemente to Willie Stargell to Barry Bonds, some of the greatest players in MLB history have worn a Pittsburgh Pirates jersey. That was then and this is now. Is anyone in Pittsburgh proud to be a Pirates fan right now? I know I’m not. The Pittsburgh Pirates have an amazing 123 year history. They have accomplished many things that few other teams have. But for the last 18 years (14.6% of their history) they have been an embarrassment. Put a winning team on the field or sell the team. It’s that simple. The people of Pittsburgh deserve a team that we can be proud of as fans. Respect the game of baseball and stop running a fireworks and bobbleheads business.