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August 30, 2010

On the Beat

No Problem with the Pirates

by John Perrotto

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The Pirates lose a lot of games yet make a lot of money. If that sounds a big incongruous on the surface, imagine how Pirates fans feel. They have suffered through 18 straight losing seasons, a record for major North American professional sports, yet find out their team is turning a big profit.

The Associated Press, which somehow gained access to the Pirates' financial records—all Major League Baseball finances are kept strictly confidential—reported that the franchise made a combined $29.4 million during 2007 and 2008, finishing $15 million in the black in '07 and $14.4 million the following year. The Pirates then told the media they turned a $5.6 million profit in 2009, meaning they cleared $35 million in a three-year span despite going 91 games under .500 during that time with a 197-288 record.

Not surprisingly, the Pirates' finances have been the buzz around Pittsburgh for the last week. Angry callers have been filling the sports talk airways with venom about the franchise seemingly pocketing the money they receive via MLB's revenue-sharing system instead of spending it on improving their roster.

However, Commissioner Bud Selig says he has no problem with how the Pirates are spending the money they receive through revenue sharing. He also said he is heartened that Pirates president Frank Coonelly recently said the team could have a "significant" payroll increase next season.

"Let me say this to you: We constantly check everything," Selig said. "I've read already where they said they were going to raise the payroll. And so, that's fine, sure. They said they're going to do it."

Revenue sharing is collectively bargained between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association. In January, both sides issued an unprecedented press release in which it was announced that the Marlins had agreed to follow the revenue-sharing guidelines and commit the money toward improving their team. Selig said the MLBPA also investigated the Pirates' finances and felt they were correctly spending their revenue-sharing money.

The Pirates opened the season with a $34 million payroll, which was the lowest in the major leagues. They say their 40-man roster payroll projects to finish the season at $44 million, which would still be smallest in the big leagues. The Pirates' tentative payroll projection for next season is said to be $50 million.

The Pirates are quick to point out that they have spent $30.7 million on draft signing bonuses from 2008-10, more than any other major-league club. They gave this year's first-round draft pick, high school right-hander Jameson Taillon, a club-record $6.5 million bonus. Selig says that is a show of good faith on the Pirates' part to their fans that they are trying to build a winning organization.

"I know there's frustration, and I understand that. And I'm not unsympathetic," Selig said. "But I really think they're on the right track. I got an analysis of the draft this year, from a series of general managers independent of that, and the Pirates' draft rates really well. I have to hope that the results will eventually show."

Western Pennsylvania wasn't the only region where there was anger and dismay over the amount of profits the local major-league team has been making in recent years. Deadspin.com created quite a bit of unrest in South Florida when it published leaked financial documents for the Marlins and five other teams. Local politicians were so upset that they started calling for the agreement pertaining to the Marlins' new stadium that is set to open in 2012 to be revised in light of the franchise's profitability.

The Marlins long said they were not making a profit. However, the records published by Deadspin showed they generated nearly $50 million in operating income in 20008 and 2009. The Marlins made $37.84 million in 2008 when they had a payroll of just $24.8 million then finished 2009 with an $11.1 million profit.

Marlins president David Samson reversed field after the documents were published. He claims that the Marlins were saving money in order to pay their $155 million share for the new ballpark that is currently under construction in the Little Havana section of Miami. Samson said to ensure that the Marlins could meet its obligation that the franchise needed to show it had paid down debt and had assets to borrow against.

The Marlins released a statement via its official website on Saturday that included this gem of a line: "We would much rather you debate the merits of our team on the field, root for wins, bemoan losses and analyze on-field strategies."

---

The Dodgers-White Sox-Manny Ramirez drama will be over today, according to multiple sources. The White Sox claimed the mercurial left field off waivers last week. The Dodgers have decided to give Ramirez to the White Sox in exchange for them paying off the remaining $4 million on his contract.

White Sox general manager Ken Williams is not talking about Ramirez, though. Major League Baseball can fine teams up to $250,000 for tampering if they talk about a player under contract to another team, which Ramirez still was as of press time.

"I heard those reports, and I guess you have to ask the question," Williams told reporters. "I can't answer it. I can answer it in my mind, but I can't. It's against the tampering rules. It's a large, large fine. Now, I know that a lot of others who speak on such subjects and you guys may be cheated as a result of my unwillingness to go down that road. I prefer to abide by the major-league rules, so I can't talk about it."

The White Sox will add Ramirez to their lineup as the designated hitter, a spot where they have been primarily using Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen usually has an opinion on everything. However, he refused to talk about Ramirez.

"Kenny has to go through what they have to do," Guillen said. "If this guy comes here, I guess he's playing. That's all I can say about it. We'll wait and see what happens."

The White Sox players know they could use another big bat in their bid to win the American League Central. The White Sox trail the Twins by 4 ½ games.

"Hopefully he comes in here and helps us out—if we get him," second baseman Gordon Beckham said. "That's the extent of what I think about it. If he comes, we need him. If he doesn't, we'll be OK."

---

A pretty strong sign that Cubs' interim manager Mike Quade's chances of getting the job on a permanent basis are slim came last week when general manager Jim Hendry traveled to Cleveland to interview former Indians manager Eric Wedge. While Wedge was the first to interview, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, manager of the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa farm club, is still considered the favorite to replace the retired Lou Piniella.

The Cubs have gone 4-2 since Quade was promoted from third base coach. Quade insists that Hendry interviewing others for the job does not bother him.

"Not a distraction," Quade said. "Probably a different word is curious. Jim was up front with me, and we covered everything. He's going to interview people, and this is going to give him time to do that and not have some crush at the end of the season. He knows I'm good with it, and he's been up front with me. There are a lot of good baseball people out there."

Quade was known for his intensity as a coach, a job in which also included working with the Cubs' outfielders. He says the intensity remains now that he is in charge.

"I've got to do this my way," Quade said. "I'm probably more involved than most seasoned major-league managers. I want to run a game. I want to set the defense. Tram (bench coach Alan Trammell) takes care of all the infield defense and positioning. I want to be on the forefront on the top step and say, 'Hey, here's what we're doing.' I'm just managing a ballgame. Believe me, you understand the enormity of it and everything else. Once it's 7:05, I enjoy it. Actually, I find it relaxing, to a certain extent."

---

MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Yankees are considering having A.J. Burnett join Javier Vasquez as the latest starter demoted to the bullpen and giving Sergio Mitre a shot in the rotation. Meanwhile, there are rumblings that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova might receive a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. … Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan is wearing out his welcome in Washington, angering management for taking a cheap shot at Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson with an elbow on a play at the plate Saturday night and angrily firing a ball into the crowd in Philadelphia earlier this month. … The Rangers believe left-hander Cliff Lee's recent ineffectiveness is due to fatigue and plan to give him extra rest between starts in the next few weeks. … Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello credits a cut fastball he taught himself at Triple-A Toledo as the reason he has been more effective since his demotion to the minor leagues earlier this season. … The Brewers are likely to give a September call-up to Double-A Huntsville reliever Jeremy Jeffress, whose promising career has been derailed by two suspensions for recreational drug use. … Double-A Binghamton right-hander Jenrry Mejia will be about the extent of the Mets' September call-ups.

---

Scouts' views on various players:

Mariners closer David Aardsma: "He's started throwing his split-finger pitch more as we've gotten later into the season and that's made him much more effective. The thing I like about him is that he never gives in. He goes after hitters, even when he falls behind in the count."

Royals utility player Willie Bloomquist: "He's not a big stat guy and he'd be really stretched as a regular, but his managers appreciate him. You can play the guy literally all over the field and know he'll catch the ball. There's value in that when you're building a 25-man roster in the real world more than in a fantasy league."

Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli: "He's a pretty patient hitter and he handles the breaking ball well for a young guy, but he has to develop more pop if he's going to be (Jorge) Posada's eventual successor. The pitchers seem to like to throw to him but, for me, he's a career backup, albeit a real solid one."

Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome: "We're finally seeing why this guy was such a big deal coming over from Japan a couple of years ago. He's putting together great at-bats, waiting out pitchers to make mistakes over the middle of the plate then crushing them. He's made himself a lot more attractive trade bait for the offseason, if nothing else."

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan: "I think he's much more equipped to handle closing now than he was early last season when he failed so spectacularly in that role with Washington. His slider has turned into a nasty pitch and he throws it for strikes. Hitters can't just sit on the fastball anymore. He's matured and he's a better pitcher now.

Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval: "He's lost his right-handed stroke and he's doing all his damage from the left side. He still hits the ball as hard as anybody but pitchers have really started exploiting his lack of plate discipline this year. He has some adjustments to make if he wants to get back to the elite level he was at as a rookie last year."

---

Three series to watch with probable pitchers and all times Eastern:

Athletics (65-64) at Yankees (80-50), Monday-Thursday August 30-September 2
Trevor Cahill vs. Dustin Moseley, 7:05 p.m.; Vin Mazzaro vs. Phil Hughes, 7:05 p.m.; Brett Anderson vs. A.J. Burnett, 7:05 p.m.; Dallas Braden vs. CC Sabathia, 1:05 p.m.

Phillies (73-57) at Dodgers (67-64), Monday-Wednesday August 30-September 1
Roy Halladay vs. Hiroki Kuroda, 10:10 p.m.; Kyle Kendrick vs. Carlos Monasterios, 10:10 p.m.; Roy Oswalt vs. Clayton Kershaw, 3:10 p.m.

Rockies (68-61) at Giants (72-59), Monday-Wednesday August 30-September 1
Jorge De La Rosa vs. Jonathan Sanchez, 10:15 p.m.; Esmil Rogers vs. Madison Bumgarner, 10:15 p.m.; Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Tim Lincecum, 10:15 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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