Pittsburgh Pirates: Tim Williams rushes to defend payroll, Huntington

(UPDATE:  A registered user at Pirates Prospects posted a link to this article on their website.  It was quickly deleted by a moderator.  So much for objectivity and debate.)

I’ve never had any interaction with Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects, aside from him passive-aggressively claiming that “nobody reads” isportsweb after I questioned the accuracy of an article from one of his contributors on Twitter.  And to Tim’s credit, he runs a regularly updated Pirates page with some useful player information, podcasts and interviews featuring personnel within the organization, and season preview books for sale.

But when it comes to talking ownership, don’t expect Tim Williams to be remotely objective.

His latest apology piece, “The Reality of How the Pirates and Cardinals Build Their Teams” was posted only hours after I dared to question whether the ownership of the Pirates was seriously committed to spending the resources necessary to keep the Pirates in playoff contention in 2014.  (But I’m sure the timing of Williams’ article is just coincidence, as I’m told that nobody reads isportsweb.)  In it, Williams draws some completely inaccurate comparisons between the Pirates and their NL Central rival Cardinals, and fails to explain why ownership is apparently incapable of fielding a competitive payroll.

 

McClatchy; image credit espn

1.  So first, a comparison.  I personally don’t believe that owner Bob Nutting has held to his promise to provide the Pirates with a competitive MLB payroll.  Despite largely taxpayer-financed PNC Park opening in 2001, the Kevin McClatchy-turned-Nutting ownership has never fielded a payroll that ever cracked the top 15 in baseball.  A few years ago, Nutting curiously placed the onus on Pirates’ fans to fill the stadium prior to him increasing payroll- and the fans still held up their end of the bargain!  Attendance has increased each of the last five years, from a 19,479/game average in 2009, to a high of 28,210 here in 2013.

Yet the Pirates’ 2013 payroll only ranked 19th in the Majors, and GM Neal Huntington has baldly indicated that it will be significantly confined in 2014 as well.

Still, I try to give Nutting credit for the few glimpses of financial generosity that he has provided the Pirates, including large expenditures on amateur drafts, and taking on salary this past August for a pennant run.  When there are positives to be found, I certainly try to point them out.

I have yet to see any objective critique of ownership expenditures- or lack thereof- from Tim Williams, and I’m not holding my breath that I will see them anytime soon.

 

2.  In “The Reality of How the Pirates and Cardinals Build Their Teams“, Williams mentions 9 times that the Pirates “can’t afford” a payroll similar to the Cardinals, but never once explains why:

“The truth is that the Cardinals can afford to do things that teams like the Pirates can’t.

The Pirates can’t afford $17 M per year over seven years on a guy like Matt Holliday.

They can’t afford to keep a star catcher around like Yadier Molina once he’s eligible for free agency.

They can’t afford Adam Wainwright for almost $20 M per year.

You might be able to argue that they could afford one of those salaries, but certainly not all three of them plus a guy like Beltran or Peralta.

The spending by the Cardinals does mean that they have one advantage over the Pirates: they have more room for error.

The ability to spend money means the Cardinals can hide their weaknesses, and it also means they don’t need to rely on the drafted players to carry the team. It’s the opposite with the Pirates.

They can’t make a big splash like St. Louis, but they can make lower key upgrades by going with internal options, bounce back candidates, and not-so-flashy guys like James Loney who get the job done.

The Pirates have to rely on developing impact players, as well as taking risks on bounce back candidates.”

Similar city sizes; image credit ballparktravel

Williams never once mentions the fact that the two organizations are nearly identical in market size (St. Louis 20th, Pittsburgh 23rd).  He doesn’t mention the MLB financial documents leaked on Deadspin in 2010, showing that the Pirates were in far better shape financially than they’ve let on to fans.  Williams doesn’t mention that the Nutting media conglomerate is doing well enough financially to have purchased Seven Springs Ski Resort for a rumored 9-figure deal in 2006, and recently added smaller, neighboring Hidden Valley Ski Resort for $7,500,000.

As readers, we’re apparently just supposed to believe that the Pirates can’t afford to spend more on payroll, because Pirates Prospects says it’s so.

 

3.  Finally, Williams attempts to create inequalities between the Pirates and Cardinals that simply do not exist.  He alleges that St. Louis was built on high-priced acquisitions, and was not “built on the draft” like Pittsburgh was.  This inaccuracy was quickly picked up on by message board readers, including one poster with the handle of GoBucs21:

“So Tim wrote that the Cards weren’t built on the draft.  Yet, six of their 8 regular position players were drafted and developed in the Cardinals system.  One of them was Yadier Molina.  A ninth draft player, Matt Adams played a significant role.  By the end of the season, three of their five starters were pitchers they drafted.  If you add in Wacha, he would make the fourth.  I would say that the Cards were built through the draft.

“Tim really wants to say the Cards bought their success but…[they] used their organization to acquire Holliday, Westbrook, and Wainwright.  Exactly one key player was a FA signing…Beltran.”

It’s essentially revisionist history to not only discredit the Cardinals’ success, but to insulate the Pirates from ever being held to a similar payroll standard.

 

4.  In what’s clearly been a busy few days for Pirates Prospects, today Williams hurried to gloss over a fairly bizarre Huntington statement that has Pirates’ fans around the internet furious:

Apparently not worth “market value” to the Pirates; image credit post-gazette

“The unfortunate reality of the market is, if he’s into that, he’s gonna pitch somewhere else,” Huntington said. “We’ve got funds we would gladly allocate to A.J. If he or others want a market-value deal, they’ll sign elsewhere.”

With loyal Pirates’ followers seething over the organization’s very public dismissal of a 7.0 WAR player from 2012-2013 in Burnett, Pirates Prospects offered the following:

“This is something Huntington has been saying for a long time, and it’s true. If Burnett really wanted to get paid, he could enter the market and the Pirates would have no chance of getting him. Or they could get him, at a sacrifice to other positions.”

Again, an assumption is implanted in readers that the Pirates simply cannot afford to pay market value for ANY free agents, without further elaboration given.  Just because, I guess.

 

In summary, Pirates Prospects will continue to draw readers due to its variety of Pirates’ information, and constantly updating content.  And that’s cool.  But when it comes to an objective look at ownership and management, it’s best to look elsewhere.  Williams clearly values his contacts within the organization highly, and like many in the media covering the Pirates, fears that critiquing the organization will potentially lead to a loss of access.  Thanks for reading.

Comments

  1. alvarez09 says

    I can’t believe someone would write this. I’ve thought for a long time that any criticism of Tim came from being jealous of him. The guy stepped up and writes about the Pirates for a living. Give him some credit.

  2. Scott219a says

    Best article I’ve read on the lousy ownership of the Pirates. 20 years of nothing and now we finally have a decent team and this group of bandits is going to screw the fans. With bleeding hearts like Williams defending this garbage, we need more Pirates fans voicing their objections to this cheap money grabbing madness. Comments like NH are completely unacceptable, his job is to put the best 25 players on the field to compete. Added revenues from the 2013 Pirate success, along with 25 mil each team gets in 2014 and the money is there. Wake up Pirate fans, it’s your team and you deserve better than this.

    • McCutchenistheTruth says

      1) Each team is not guaranteed to get 25 million dollars
      2) Even if they are, which they aren’t, it’s asinine to expect all 25 million dollars to go payroll. Some (a small amount) could justifiably go in Nutting’s pocket while other goes into other parts of infrastructure, like paying non-player employees, making improvements to physical buildings, such as Pirate City and the Pirates Dominican complex. Now granted, the Pirates should have more income going into next year than they ever have before, and a good amount. I’m not denying that. The opening day payroll in 2013 was 66 million. I think 80 million is a low, but fair increase. If there is an extra 40 million in income (far from guaranteed), then about 40% would go to payroll. Fair-ish but low. 85-90 seems closer to fair for me. That would be a 21 to 26 million dollar increase, which would be anywhere from just north of 50% on 40 million to north of 63%.

      3) On the gap between the Cardinals and Pirates, sorry Tim is correct. Part of it is the awful TV contract the Pirates are in. Part of it is the Cardinals still most likely having much better gate revenue than the Pirates, due to better attendance and justified higher prices for actually being good for a while now. I’m not sure how to fill in the other parts, but according to Forbes, in 2012, the Pirates had a revenue of 178 million compared to 239 million for the Cardinals. Now granted, that doesn’t take into expenses, but even if you assume the Cardinals spend 30 million more than the Pirates yearly on non-baseball player payroll, than they would have an extra 30 million more to spend than the Pirates on payroll and come out with the same profit margin. Now, the Pirates made more in 2013 than they did in 2012 no doubt, but I have a hard time thinking they closed the gap substantially. I think it’s completely justifiable to say the Cardinals have 20 million dollars more to spend on payroll and the Pirates, and it could be as high as 50 million dollars. So for point 2 on here, I agree with the Tim. The Pirates cannot afford to spend money like the Cardinals. On point 3, yes plenty of the Cardinals are homegrown or were acquired by trades, but Holliday could have never been extended/resign, Molina probably would have walked in free agency and Adam Wainwright would have most certainly walked had the Cardinals had the same amount of revenue as the Pirates in the past half decade or so. Now granted, maybe that is part of Mr. Krug’s point. The market sizes are similar. It is quite possible that once the Pirates current TV deal runs out (not entirely sure when that is, but I know it’s not soon) and if they establish themselves as a contender, increasing ticket revenue further and allowing prices to be justifiably raised, then at that point, it would be wrong and disingenuous to claim the Pirates and Cardinals aren’t on even footing. However, at the moment, all signs I see point to the Cardinals have a fairly substantial financial advantage
      4) The offseason isn’t over. At this time last year, Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano were still free agents. I would preach a bit more patience if anyone cared.

      5) I’m sure no one will believe me, but I don’t work for P2 and I don’t know Tim personally, nor does he know me.

      • James Krug says

        Thanks for reading, and for the detailed thoughts. I agree that the Pirates’ TV contract is awful, but keep in mind that the Pirates themselves negotiated it!
        I also agree that the Cardinals’ attendance is better- that’s not up for debate. But I owe it largely to the Cardinals running a superior product out on the field for the past decade+. The Pirates gained a huge amount of attendance last year from the first season that they had a quality product. At this rate, they should be able to come much closer to St. Louis’s attendance in no time, as long as the Pirates stop alienating the good will they built up over this past magical season.

    • James Krug says

      Thanks for taking the time to reply, everyone. Your readership and passion for the Pirates is greatly appreciated!

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