The Intersection of Cheap, Sane, Wise, and Winning

“The Pirates prefer profits over winning.”

That was the questionable conclusion drawn by John Perrotto, this morning, in his column for the Beaver County Times.

As support for his contention, Mr. Perrotto cited Neal Huntington’s comment that the Pirates will not pay “market value” to A.J. Burnett and other free agents and the whispers of an anonymous “team insider” (I don’t know whether that was a high-level vendor or an executive usher.), who said that the team would increase payroll by an insignificant amount.

Perhaps the Pirates are cheap. And maybe they aren’t. It is true that their player payroll was in the bottom third of Major League Baseball last year. But there is no way of knowing whether that means they are cheap without knowing the exact amount of their revenues.

A cheap team would refuse to pay market value for players who could help them win – even though they have the money to do so. But if you don’t pay players market value because you don’t have the money, you might get  called cheap, but the truth is you are being responsible, sane, and wise.

And . . . speaking of sanity and wisdom . . . How much of either of those traits were displayed by the Minnesota Twins last night when they signed starting pitcher Phil Hughes to a 3 year, $24 million contract? And how rational and intelligent were the Royals when they recently signed starting pitcher Jason Vargas to a 4 year, $32 million contract.

In the last three seasons, Hughes had xFIPS of 4.90, 4.35, and 4.39. Vargas had xFIPs of 4.45, 4.45, and 4.29.  -  They are #5 starters – being paid $24 million and $32 million respectively.

That may be “the market,” but it sure isn’t “value.” And it’s the kind of thinking that is part of the reason why the Twins won 66 games last year and the Royals won 86 games, while the Pirates won 94 and went to the playoffs.

As things stand now, the Pirates fifth starter is Jeff Locke. For $497,500, the Pirates, last year, got an xFIP of 4.19 form Locke -  20 points better than what the Yankees got from Hughes and 10 points better than what the Mainers got from Vargas.

If the Royals and Twins don’t have a Jeff-Locke-type at AAA, they certainly could find one in some other team’s minor league system for about $7.5 million less than they are peaying Vargas and Hughes per year to give them 5th starter production.

The Pirates could use another veteran starting pitcher. Refusing to sink $32 million into Jason Vargas, however – just because it may be market “value” – does not make them cheap. And throwing $24 million at Phil Hughes would not make them wise.

The Pirates cannot spend for the sake of spending – if they want to win. If winning matters to them, they need to get real value for their dollars, regardless of whether that value comes at “market value” or not.

Pirate fans should be pleased that, in the words of John Perrotto, the Pirates “are still counting every last penny.”

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