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Demilio: Making Sense of the Pirates’ Payroll



Ask any Pirate fan out there what the biggest problem is regarding the team, and a lot would say spending, and those opinions are valid.

Since taking over as owner of the team, Bob Nutting has not been known to be a big spender. Whether you blame Nutting, the broken economics of baseball or whatever – there really are no wrong answers.

The Pirates don’t make splashy free agent signings or trades where they take on large contracts. In fact, the biggest contracts ever can be looked at two ways. In terms of total value, Jason Kendall’s six-year $60M extension is the biggest. If you look at average annual value (AAV), the biggest contract goes to Francisco Liriano, who signed a three-year $39M contract in 2014 – that’s… not great.

Pirates’ fans are rightfully frustrated by the lack of spending over the years. But on a day where I see some misleading statements, notably from Pat McAfee earlier today, I just want to take the time to make sense of some things.


I reference McAfee, a Pittsburgh legend in my eyes, because he claimed today that 14 MLB players are making more than the Pirates payroll. While technically not wrong, there are some things to dive into here.

First, 14 players are making more than the Pirates’ active 26-man payroll – only the active roster. The combined salaries the Pirates current active 26-man payroll equal $29,186,132. There are four teams who have a lower active-26 man payroll – Baltimore, Texas, Miami and Cleveland.

So, while the number is extremely low, frustratingly low even, there are four teams with lower active payrolls in baseball.

Additionally, there are other costs associated with payroll other than just the active roster. Injured players are still getting paid, the club is still on the hook for Felipe Vazquez’s salary, and retained salaries from players who, for example, were traded, all need to be included.

When looking at every component in total, the Pirates 2021 payroll equals $54,384,667, still a very low number even for a rebuilding team. There are two teams with lower payrolls than Pittsburgh – Baltimore and Cleveland.

The purpose of this piece is not to defend Nutting or the organization. When the Pirates are ready to compete again, Nutting needs to show his commitment to the organization to allow Ben Cherington and the front office to have the flexibility to build, and more importantly, sustain a winner.

The purpose of this piece was to explain how the Pirates’ payroll can be broken down, answer some potential questions and to address some potentially misleading statements.

For the visual learners, the Pirates payroll is broken down here:

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