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The Pirates: Improving the Team, or Just Their Bottom Line? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Sunday, 03 January 2010 20:25

PiratesRob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs an article today (see Pirates: Money's being spent strategically) that continues to look into whether the Pittsburgh Pirates are possibly pocketing revenue-sharing dollars. Pirates president Frank Coonelly provides some data on how the club has spent $11 million in long-term capital improvements since 2007. As reported by Biertempfel:

"Our investments have been strategically made to build a foundation that will allow the club to compete over the long-term," Coonelly said. "While we have made painful cuts in our business-operations expenses, we have continued to increase our spending on our baseball foundation."

Coonelly provided limited data about what has been spent the past two years on player acquisition (via the draft and internationally) and development. The $11 million influx for baseball capital improvements included:

  • Construction of an academy in the Dominican Republic for $5.4 million;
  • Renovations to Pirate City, some of which were paid for by the city of Bradenton, Fla.;
  • Equipment and facilities upgrades at PNC Park and Pirate City, such as the installation of ProBatter video pitch simulators;
  • Purchasing a low Class A team and relocating it to Bradenton. The cost of that franchise was around $3 million.

Coonelly adds that since ’07, “the Pirates have increased their budget for the draft by $8.3 million and upped their budget for international free-agent signings by $1.87 million. In that same span, the team has nearly doubled its domestic scouting staff (14 to 25) and increased its international scouting staff (19 to 33).”

Looking back at that bulleted list, the point of criticism of the organization has been in how revenue-sharing has helped the Pirates turn a modest profit, as opposed to improving the on-the-field product at the major league level. Out of four bullets, two can be said to improving the player development, while the other two could be said to be more advantageous to ownership’s bottom line (Renovations to Pirate City, and purchasing a low Class A team and relocating it to Bradenton).

Some numbers to consider when asking whether “investments have been strategically made to build a foundation that will allow the club to compete over the long-term.”

The end of year player payroll for the Pirates in 1999 (11 years ago) was $23,682,420, or $30,751,608 when accounting for inflation. In 2009, with increased revenue-sharing, a vastly deeper well of centralized dollars to live off of, PNC Park coming online in-between, and hosting an All-Star Game, the 2009 EOY player payroll was $47,991,132, or an increase of just $17,239,524 over an 11 year period.

By comparison, the Marlins, who have ranked last in end of year player payroll 3 times since 1999, ranked no higher than 21st (2005) since; has not hosted an All-Star Game; and does not yet have a baseball-only facility to call their own (far less revenues). had a $14,650,000 end of year payroll figure in 1999, or $19,023,016 when accounting for inflation. The Fish posted a $37,532,482 end of year player payroll in 2009, or a difference of $18,509,466. Records for the two clubs over the 11 year span? The Pirates have gone 759- 1019 (.427) finishing no higher than 4th in the NL Central, with no winning season to show over the period. The Marlins, with less money, have gone 875-905 (.492), finished over .500 five times, and won a World Series.

Profitability is not a cardinal sin in sports. Losing consistently, is. The Pirates have had a cycle of unloading talent and being ultra conservative in the free agency sphere. They have not wrapped up what little young talent they have developed, such as the Rays (Longoria) and Rockies (Tulowitzki) have done.

Finally, it should be noted that Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington are exceptionally smart men; possibly some of the smartest in all of MLB. The issue lies in how funds are being directed. That lies at ownership’s feet. The losing ways of the Pirates seem destined to continue, no matter who is at the helm on the baseball ops side, as long as the direction from the highest levels within the Pirates organization does not change.

Here is the NL Central, by end of year payroll for 2009, and their ranking in terms of the other 30 clubs in MLB

Rank

Club

Payroll

3

Cubs

$141,632,703

9

Astros

$108,059,086

11

Cardinals

$102,678,475

15

Brewers

$90,006,172

24

Reds

$72,693,206

28

Pirates

$47,991,132


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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