Pirates clean house

This year has been a year of upheaval for the Pirates’ leadership. In January, it was announced that Bob Nutting was replacing Kevin McClatchy as the controlling owner of the ballclub. Furthermore, in July Kevin McClatchy announced that he would step down from his position as CEO of the club at the end of the 2007 season. It’s not clear to me if they are seeking a replacement for this position or if its responsibilities will be shifted to others.

Fast forward to September when the Pirates announced that they had relieved Dave Littlefield of his responsibilities as General Manager. This announcement was followed quickly by the announcement that the Pirates had hired Frank Coonelly as the new President of the Pirates. Just under 2 weeks later, the Pirates announced that they had hired Neal Huntington, formerly of the Cleveland Indians, as the new Pirates’ General Manager. That seems like a lot of changes, right? Well, the Pirates weren’t finished.

On Friday, they announced that they had relieved Jim Tracy of his managerial duties. In addition to Tracy, they also announced that they had fired Brian Graham, senior director of player development, Ed Creech, senior director of scouting, and Jon Mercurio, director of baseball operations.  So, when the 2008 season starts up next spring, almost the entire top leadership of the club will be different than it was this year at the start of the 2007 season.

I’m not really sure what to think about this. If I thought it were definitely going to result in better performance, I’d be all in favor of it. However, I’m not convinced that this will make any difference. This is mostly because the Pirates’ payroll is so far below that of other teams in their division. This year the Pirates payroll was $38.6 million. The next lowest payroll in the NL Central was Cincinnati, with a payroll of $69.7 million, which is almost twice as high as the Pirates’ payroll. It only goes up from there. Milwaukee had a payroll of $72 million, Houston had a payroll of $87.8 million, St. Louis had a payroll of $90.3 million and Chicago had a payroll of $99.9 million. So, the Pirates have a payroll of between 1/2 and 1/3 that of all their competitors.  In order for the Pirates to succeed in that environment at least one of the following conditions must be true:

  1. The Pirates leadership is brilliant and vastly outperforms its opposition in management of the team.
  2. The leadership of all other teams in the division is consistently grossly incompetent.
  3. Key players on all other division rivals have serious injuries, thus greatly reducing the teams’ ability to win.
  4. The Pirates must be very lucky for the entire season.

It seems unlikely to me that any of the above conditions will be true.  So, if you ask me, the Pirates won’t win the division until they bring their payroll in line with other teams in their division.  Some of you may point out examples of teams who were successful with a low payroll.  Let me suggest that those teams’ successes are noteworthy because they are unusual and not to be expected.  Thus, while it is theoretically possible for the Pirates to succeed with a low payroll, in practice it is unlikely that they will see much success as long as there is such a disparity in payroll between them and their division rivals.

1 Response to “Pirates clean house”

  1. October 21, 2007 at 7:09 am

    have you read Moneyball by Micael Lewis? It’s all about how the Oakland A’s have a low payroll (the lowest?) and yet win. Lewis is a good writer.

    I see your point, but if money was the only factor in a good “team,” my workplace would be a ghost town. Librarians get paid squat in terms of the real world and we are only 10% of the staff. And yet we have folks that have been at the library for upwards of 30 years and we’re generally a very good team.

    But I know very little about baseball, so I’ll shut up.

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October 2007

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