A Quick Payroll Update After the Tyler Anderson Signing

The last time we were here, I predicted that a signing that impacted payroll was more likely to happen before another trade. It turns out I was right, as the Pittsburgh Pirates signed left-handed pitcher Tyler Anderson to a one-year, $2,500,000 deal. That obviously only moves the needle slightly as far as the final payroll goes, but I wanted to touch base for two reasons—minor league signings and Trevor Bauer.

When Bauer’s deal was first announced, it sent shockwaves through the baseball world, in part due to a contract structure we really haven’t seen before. Initially, it was reported that Bauer’s salary for 2021 would be $40,000,000, which caused an uproar locally, as this was more than the “projected” salary of $30,005,000 for the Pirates. Of course, if you follow along with me, you know this is a poor projection at best and completely disingenuous at worst.

National publications started the ball rolling, and local outlets picked it up and ran with it. This narrative makes little to no sense, mainly because that number accounted for only eleven players who had reported salaries at the time. I don’t know if those parroting that number didn’t care enough to actually see what was included in it or knew and thought that Bauer making more than the Pirates made for a better headline than the actual fact of the matter—the team would have to pay at least fifteen more players minimum salaries, likely raising the payroll above Bauer’s salary (albeit slightly). At the time, I had the cash payout for the roster at $40,269,300. Presently, even though sources can’t seem to agree, it seems the actual structure of Bauer’s deal isn’t exactly how it first seemed. With a signing bonus of $10,000,000 and yearly payouts of $28,000,000 in 2021 and player options of $32,000,000 in 2022 and 2023, it’s now likely that the payments to Bauer won’t approach the Pirates’ Opening Day payroll in either cash ($42,281,800 versus $38,000,000) or Average Annual Value ($38,281,800 versus $34,000,000). There were also graphs and lists floating around comparing the Pirates’ payroll to other players in the league, showing the Pirates’ total payroll ranked 13th when compared to the highest paid players. While this is a different branch of the same conversation, a quick perusal showed a complete lack of understanding of the individual structure of many of the deals and how they are actually calculated and paid out—but I digress.

Look, I’m not stupid. I understand the desire to compare an entire team’s salary to one player in order to paint a negative picture on its face; however, I’ve made my stance clear on this many times. I personally don’t care what the payroll is. It could be $5,000,000, $50,000,000, $500,000,000—it wouldn’t matter to me. What I do care about is a fair and accurate representation of what it actually is. So, when I see publications or reporters who are supposed to be reporting based on facts claim that the Pirates will be paying their entire roster less than one player without actually factoring in over half that roster, I find that completely unacceptable.

I wish there was as much credence paid to the following story: “Once minimum salaries for the remainder of the roster are factored in, the Pirates will likely only slightly surpass Trevor Bauer’s 2021 salary for their entire 40-man roster.” Alas, while likely untrue, “TREVOR BAUER MAKES MORE THAN THE PIRATES!!!!!” causes ire, consternation, and increased traffic, while the former is skimmed over and ultimately forgotten.

And yes, before you ask, I’m honest and self-aware enough to admit there are some sour grapes here. I work hard to compile and calculate the most accurate number I can, and it’s published on a reputable, well-known outlet that has had the best Pirates’ payroll tracking for as long as I can remember. So, for that to be disregarded—or frankly, for most to not even know it exists—in favor of peddling a number that is half-complete is frustrating. Honestly, while it would be cool, my calculations ultimately wouldn’t even need to be cited for me to be happy. The Major League minimum is easy to find, and subtracting eleven from twenty-six certainly isn’t that difficult. Do some more pretty simple math from there, publish it with context and without being disingenuous, and I’d be fine. Getting it right is all I really care about. I genuinely care about rules, roster minutia, and obviously payroll. I want fans to have access to good, sound information when it comes to these aspects of the game, because frankly it can be hard to find. So, when those with the largest reach and platform disseminate bad information—purposefully or not, but especially if it’s on purpose—it makes me upset.

I don’t care if someone thinks the Pirates are cheap or not. It doesn’t matter to me if you think it’s embarrassing they are even close to paying what Bauer will make in 2021. All I care about is that these arguments are backed by solid numbers, figures that are reported correctly—that’s it.

*****

Now that my feet are firmly back on the ground and off my soapbox—Minor League Contracts! Since the Jameson Taillon trade, the Pirates have signed Chasen Shreve, Tony Wolters, Brian Goodwin, and Todd Frazier to minor league contracts with varying financial commitments if they make the roster.

At the moment, after the Anderson signing and heading into Spring Training, I am projecting the Pirates at an Opening Day payroll of $43,481,800. While I’m not necessarily advocating for the following moves, here’s a roadmap of how all four minor league additions could end up on the roster to start the season. The subsequent payroll adjustments are included, under the assumption that the players dropped from the 40-man roster would be traded or claimed, and no further contractual obligation would be due to them as if they were outrighted to the minors:

  • Designate/trade Sean Poppen, option Jared Oliva, select Goodwin (+$1,019,500)
  • Designate/trade Edgar Santana, option Tyler Bashlor, select Shreve (+$919,500)
  • Designate/trade Bashlor, option Michael Perez, select Wolters (+$816,500)
  • Designate/trade Carson Fulmer, recall Geoff Hartlieb, select Frazier (+$824,000)

Adding those four veterans to the team—Wilmer Difo is still waiting in the wings, hoping for an Adam Frazier trade—would increase the payroll projection by $3,579,500, moving it to $47,061,300 in total.

While I’m not sure all of these additions would make sense in totality, the team would be checking off the boxes for the most popular items of discussion now and over the offseason:

  • Find veteran leadership
  • Sign one-year trade rentals
  • Surpass the financial commitment to Trevor Bauer

Win/win/win, right?

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