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MLBPA head Weiner: Pirates' plan gets our approval

UNIVERSITY PARK — The Pirates' Opening Day payroll of $34.9 million is the lowest in the majors, but it did not sound alarm bells at the players' union.

Earlier this month, the Pirates sent the Major League Baseball Players Association an annual statement detailing how the franchise spent its portion of revenue-sharing funds. MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner on Monday gave grudging approval of the Pirates' budget-conscious strategy for rebuilding the team.

"Are we happy with the current state of the Pirates' payroll• Of course we'd like to see it higher," Weiner said at Penn State's Dickinson School of Law. "Is it tough to see when they sign a player like Nate McLouth and then trade him• Is it tough to see some of the other things they've done• Sure. But, to date, we have been convinced the Pirates have a plan.

"You guys (in Pittsburgh) have as beautiful a ballpark as there is in the major leagues. You've got a phenomenal fan base and history. (Ownership has) a plan in place, so we'll continue to monitor it. We've been satisfied so far."

The Pirates' payroll is about $15 million lower than it was on Opening Day two years ago. That's the result of a slew of trades that swapped higher-priced veterans for prospects and major leaguers in the low-cost stages of their careers.

Although the Pirates have slashed payroll, the amount the team receives via revenue-sharing has remained constant. The Pirates — who have turned a profit every year since 2004 — are believed to have received about $35 million in revenue-sharing money on top of about $40 million from baseball's central fund last year. Team president Frank Coonelly has disputed those figures, saying only that the total income was less than $75 million.

As part of the collective bargaining agreement, every club that gets revenue-sharing funds must reveal its figures to the MLBPA.

"We've been in touch with the commissioner's office and with people in the Pirates' (front office) over the years about how things are going," Weiner said. "To date, at least, we have been satisfied that the new administration there understands the conditions of the basic agreement. I can't get into the specifics, but it appears to us that they have a plan."

Weiner joined the union in 1988 as general counsel. In December, he succeeded Don Fehr as executive director and yesterday spoke about upcoming issues affecting the players, including the expiration of the CBA after the 2011 season.

Weiner said he expects negotiations to begin "no later than next spring." Topics on the table likely include realignment, increased drug testing and an international draft.

The "Super 2" rule, which enables a small percentage of players to become eligible for arbitration a year early depending on their service time, could be a contentious issue.

"The initial intention of that was to avoid roster manipulation," Weiner said. "The number (of service days) moves around, so no one knows exactly where it's going to be until the end of the year. But it's become quite predictable."

Under the current rule, the Pirates could keep top prospect Pedro Alvarez in the minors until later this summer to ensure he wouldn't be arbitration-eligible until 2014. Alvarez's contract has a clause that lets him void a $1.63 million club option for 2013 if he is arbitration-eligible.

Note: Pirates right-hander Hayden Penn, who cleared waivers Saturday, accepted his assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis.

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