A Quick Payroll Update After the Joe Musgrove Trade

What’s that saying about best laid plans?

What was supposed to be a post-arbitration payroll update was in the can Sunday night for Monday morning, but we pushed it to Tuesday after Baseball America released their Top-100 prospects for 2021. Surely my projections were safe for one more day, because nothing would happen on the holiday, right? Well, it’s becoming obvious that Ben Cherington doesn’t care about your holiday plans.

For the sake of flexibility, instead of only focusing on this arbitration estimate, I will now break this into three parts, one for each payroll altering event that has happened since my last update, which was after the Josh Bell trade. For reference, it was $49,143,700 at that time.

Nik Turley Trade

This was easy. Turley was Designated for Assignment and subsequently traded to the Oakland A’s. This lowered the estimate by $12,000—the difference between minimum salaries for Turley and Sam Howard.

Arbitration Settlements

Friday was the Exchange Date for arbitration, in which teams and players submit desired salaries for pending cases if they can’t come to an accord. This usually leads to contract agreements to avoid the arbitration process, and this is exactly what happened for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team had nine remaining arbitration eligible players without contracts for 2021, and all nine settled with the team. We now have the clearest picture of what payroll will look like next season, as this finalized contracts for a lot of the roster.

Accompanying the aforementioned payroll estimate were possibilities of $41,943,700 and $41,243,700 based on the three different arbitration estimates made by MLB Trade Rumors. As I’ve mentioned before, I was going by the highest estimate, which was the model that extrapolated stats from 60 games over 162 games. This estimate totaled $22,800,000 for all nine players, while the two lower tiers totaled $14,900,000 and $15,600,000, respectively. As it turns out, all nine players settled for a total of $20,630,000, which was $2,170,000 less than the highest estimate, and $5,730,000 and $5,030,000 more than the lower tiers.

To sum it up without a bunch of zeroes and dollar signs—it seems, at least in the Pirates’ case, that the full season projections were more accurate than the partial, and my initial estimate went slightly down—$2,170,000—instead of up more significantly.

Joe Musgrove Trade

In my original write-up, I theorized about a Musgrove trade, as he has obviously been one of the hottest commodities remaining on the market. I just didn’t know it was going to happen this soon.

To replace Musgrove’s spot in the rotation, I recalled JT Brubaker, who is projected at $580,500—a 3% raise on his Major League minimum salary of $563,500 from last season. David Bednar—the only player acquired in the trade who needed placed on the 40-man roster—takes Brubaker’s place at the bottom of the Reserve List. Bednar will be 26 years old for the entire 2021 season and has seen time in the last two seasons for the San Diego Padres, so it’s completely possible he could start in the bullpen too. It doesn’t matter salary wise, however, as he would just replace someone like Tyler Bashlor for the same estimated minimum salary.

With Musgrove—who was the Pirates’ projected second highest paid at $4,450,000—now gone and replaced with a minimum salary, I am projecting a 2021 Opening Day payroll of $43,092,200. This includes all players currently on the 40-man roster, but with Jose Soriano projected to start on the 60-day IL while recovering from Tommy John, so a roster spot remains open for a possible addition. I considered adding newly minted Pirate Wilmer Difo to the projection, but just couldn’t justify having no real fourth outfielder on the Opening Day roster. Due to the team’s infatuation with infielders masquerading as outfielders, I wouldn’t completely put it past them, however.

Difo could eventually find his way on the roster after a potential Adam Frazier trade. Frazier is next in line not only as far as trades go, but salary as well. He is now the team’s projected second highest paid player at $4,300,000.

Don’t make your Valentine’s Day reservations just yet.