Breaking Down the Pirates’ 2021 Year-End Payroll

Do you go to Spotrac for your payroll figures? I wouldn’t, since they are including the salary for He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Cot’s Contracts? A great resource for sure, but all they’re doing at the moment is tacking on benefits to the Opening Day figure.

Baseball Reference? Let’s just say they have a ton of useful features, but payroll is not one of them.

In my humble opinion, if you’re looking for the definitive payroll figure for the Pittsburgh Pirates, you have come to the right place.

As always, I don’t care what the Pirates spent on the final number. My goal is to be the most accurate, in-depth, and understandable source available for payroll tracking. It doesn’t matter to me how low or how high the number is, only that it’s as close to accurate as it can be.

For anyone who doesn’t remember or may have missed it, I covered the Opening Day payroll using the same ideology when the season started. This will be the starting point for all the following comparisons—I will show where it started, where it ended, and make note of any relevant information regarding in season changes.

Major League Salary: Over the season, the biggest changes came at the Trade Deadline, when Tyler Anderson ($691,968), Richard Rodríguez ($394,718), and Clay Holmes ($25,782) were traded, resulting in the respective salary decreases. The outright assignment of Erik González saved $355,645 in major league salary, but those savings were shifted to minor league salary, as the payrate for his guaranteed arbitration contract was the same up or down.

Some of the largest salaries were for players either selected or claimed midseason. Todd Frazier ($1,500,000) stood to raise the payroll significantly, but the team had Advance Consent on Frazier, meaning his salary wasn’t guaranteed in the event of his outright assignment and subsequent release, so the team only ended up paying him $177,419.

Ben Gamel and Chasen Shreve ($1,500,000 each) also would have resulted in a fair share of increases themselves, but the accompanying moves helped offset those increases. Michael Feliz was designated when Gamel was brought on, trading in a $1,185,484 increase for a $763,441 decrease. As for Shreve, he took the 40-man spot vacated after Frazier was designated, so that’s where his $1,177,419 salary was offset.

Major League Salary Starting Total: $51,884,000

Major League Salary Final Total: $50,191,811

Minor League Salary: This aspect of payroll is usually totally ignored by other outlets, or just tacked on as an estimated afterthought, but that’s not representative, as all 40-man salaries are factored in to final payroll figures for the year.

This was the first season where I instituted different estimates for split contracts based on service time and options (even though I’m working at retroactively adjusting all my past payrolls using the same process).

While the minimum for first contracts is $46,600 and $93,000 for subsequent contracts, I instituted different levels for minor league portions of split contracts: $186,000 for players with between 1.000 and 2.000 years of service and two options remaining, $232,500 for between 1.000 and 2.000 years of service and less than two options, and $279,000 for anyone with service of 2.000 years or more.

This still isn’t perfect, but it at least accounts for players that will have higher minor league portions than the minimum, and will account for a slight difference, albeit not material. For example, when I instituted the change towards the end of the season, payroll projections went up $658,086. Not huge, but not insignificant either.

As already stated, Erik González being outrighted resulted in a $355,645 increase, which was a large portion of the overall increase for the season.

Minor League Salary Starting Total: 1,806,800

Minor League Salary Final Total: $2,246,278

Prorated Signing Bonuses: With the team not acquiring any players on long-term deals, there are no in-season changes here to report.

Prorated Signing Bonuses Starting Total: $1,100,000

Prorated Signing Bonuses Final Total: $1,100,000

Prorated Buyouts: Ditto…

Prorated Buyouts Starting Total: $850,000

Prorated Buyouts Final Total: $850,000

Option Buyouts: I covered this at the start of the season, but in essence, the buyout for Chris Archer’s subsequent option is accounted for in the year the option would have covered, as opposed to being prorated over the life of a deal like a first option buyout would be. Therefore, his buyout hits in 2021.

Obviously, there were no further changes here.

Option Buyouts Starting Total: $250,000

Option Buyouts Final Total: $250,000

Performance Bonuses: While there were several announced incentive structures, such as plate appearances for Todd Frazier or innings pitched for Trevor Cahill, the only player to receive a bonus (that I know of) was Bryan Reynolds. As compensation for his All-Star appearance, Reynolds earned an extra $10,000.

Performance Bonuses Starting Total: $0

Performance Bonuses Final Total: $10,000

Termination Pay: There were several Pirates that were paid after being released by the team. Most notably among them has to be Gregory Polanco, who earned $2,129,032 after his release. Next in line was Kyle Crick at $305,376. If either player had been selected to the majors by a new team, this payment would have been reduced for the Pirates; however, despite some strong performances after their respective goodbyes, that obviously never happened.

This is not the case for the other players on the list. All three of Dustin Fowler, John Nogowski, and Ka’ai Tom show up here, but will also be covered below.

Termination Pay Starting Total: $0

Termination Pay Final Total: $2,518,659

Cash Considerations: The only payments the Pirates covered to another team were to the San Diego Padres for Adam Frazier. It seems that in order to receive Tucupita Marcano in return, the Pirates covered enough of Frazier’s salary to ensure that the Fathers were only responsible for the prorated minimum for the rest of the season.

Cash Considerations Starting Total: $0

Cash Considerations Final Total: $1,383,524

Credits: As mentioned, all three of Fowler, Nogowski, and Tom were subsequently signed after being released by the team. While none ever made the majors, it stands to reason that the same rules apply for minor league salaries that the Pirates were still responsible for as part of the players’ Termination Pay. So, the prorated share of the minor league minimum is removed from the Pirates’ bill for the three players—a mere $35,500.

Finally, here’s to hoping this is the last time I have to cover the practical side of the contract for He Who Shall Not Be Named. This season was the final guaranteed year of the deal, with two club options remaining at $10 million each. The option for 2022 can be bought out for $1 million; however, it has yet to be made clear what exactly happens to that payment. One would hope that the Pirates don’t have to pay it, but they’ve really had to make no decision on the contract up until now—they simply haven’t had to pay it while it sits on the Restricted List.

If for some insane reason the payment can’t be voided, the team could, in theory, pick up the option and simply continue to not pay the salary for 2022, at which point it would still be an item on the ledger.

Whatever it takes for a payment not to have to be made, obviously.

Credits Starting Total: $(8,000,000)

Credits Final Total: $(8,035,500)

2021 Opening Day Payroll: $47,890,800

Final 2021 Payroll: $50,514,772

As usual, for the record, I have the Collective Balance Tax figure at $45,314,772. This is what I’ll use for comparison’s sake when the official figures are (hopefully) reported around December. If and when that happens, I’ll probably write something up comparing my total to the official calculation, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

That’s it—that’s the final payroll for your 2021 Pittsburgh Pirates. You can be sure to follow along all offseason while I update my projections in real time, working towards a total for Opening Day 2022.

As I’ve said already, I don’t think you should be expecting much to follow along with, but all we can do is wait and see.