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Demilio: Offseason Another Reminder of Pirates Unwillingness to Spend

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Pittsburgh Pirates

You get a massive contract, you get a massive contract, you get a massive contract!

This MLB offseason has already seen a huge amount of spending on free agents. So far, seven players have either signed for or agreed to $100M+ contracts — Aaron Judge ($360M), Carlos Correa ($350M), Trea Turner ($300M), Xander Bogaerts ($280M), Jacob deGrom ($185M), Brandon Nimmo ($162M) and Edwin Diaz ($102M).

Add in two more players in Carlos Rodon and Dansby Swanson, who are both expected to land nine-figure deals, and we’re quickly approaching double-digits.

The healthy pay days to the top of the free agent class ensures the sport is in a good place financially.

It also reminds us of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ unwillingness to spend top dollar on any contracts, whether in free agency or locking up the team’s own core.

While teams have been handing out bags full of cash left and right to free agents, the Pirates, while fairly active, are still reluctant to open up their wallets.

The team has already signed three free agents — first baseman Carlos Santana (one-year, $6.725M), right-hander Vince Velasquez (one-year, $3.15M) and a reported deal with lefty Jarlin Garcia (one-year, $2.5M plus a club option).

Add them all up and the Bucs have spent $12.375M on free agents so far this winter. The next lowest total given out by a team who has signed at least three free agents this offseason? The Boston Red Sox, who have signed four players for a combined $141.5M.

This is of course nothing new for Pittsburgh. Santana’s $6.75M deal is the largest guarantee given to a free agent since the Bucs signed reliever Daniel Hudson to a two-year $11M deal in 2016.

Since taking over as Pirates’ GM in 2019, Ben Cherington still has yet to give a free agent a guaranteed multi-year deal.

The biggest free agent deal ever given to a player by the Pirates was a three-year $39M deal with lefty Francisco Liriano, way back in 2014.

But it isn’t just free agency.

At the beginning of last season, the Pirates extended third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes for eight-years and $70M, which became the largest deal in franchise history.

The extension eclipsed the six-year $60M pact with catcher Jason Kendall… which was signed in 2000.

The Pirates join the Chicago White Sox, the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland A’s as the only teams in the league who have not signed a player, whether free agent or extension, for at least $100M.

The Bucs are also one of two teams, along with Oakland, who have yet to sign a player for more than $13M annually.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Owner Bob Nutting receives plenty of criticism for his lack of financial commitment.

Commissioner Rob Manfred also gets a share of the blame for allowing the broken economics of baseball to continue to get out of hand.

No matter who or what you place the blame on, the Pirates’ unwillingness to spend has been even more evident this offseason.

Could the Pirates be big spenders one day? “Big” is a loose definition, but they are going to have to commit more financially if they want to become serious contenders again.

Bryan Reynolds already requested trade after a lack of progress in extension talks. Oneil Cruz, the team’s most promising player, will want to get paid or he will walk in free agency — if he’s not traded before he’s eligible.

When it comes to free agency, the Pirates will one day need to sign players for more than one year at a time. They’ll have to get out of their comfort zone of what they have historically done on the free agent market.

Until then, it appears as though the Pirates will be bargain hunting while they watch others shop at an unfamiliar place — the top of the market.

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