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Bob Nutting: Bucs can win the NL Central

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates owner Bob Nutting believes that, even with the smallest payroll in the NL Central, the Pirates have enough pieces in place to win the division this season.

Nutting delivered that message Saturday morning to Pirates players during his annual spring training talk to the team. Nutting then watched the first portion of workouts on the fields at Pirate City.

"I really believe the level of expectation is different this year," said Nutting, whose team finished fourth in the division last season with a 72-90 record. "We all got a glimpse last year of what this organization can do. We need to build on that. We're here to win a National League Central championship. That's the goal that we're absolutely committed to getting done this year."

The Pirates are on track for an Opening Day payroll of about $52 million, which is about where it was at the end of last season. Of that total, $22.75 million will be paid to new arrivals A.J. Burnett, Erik Bedard, Rod Barajas, Clint Barmes, Casey McGehee and Nate McLouth.

Defending World Series champion St. Louis is expected to have a payroll of $119 million. That amount would have been significantly higher had the Cardinals been able to re-sign slugger Albert Pujols.

The Houston Astros, who have begun a massive rebuilding phase under new ownership, have the second-lowest payroll in the division, about $60 million.

When they acquired Burnett last week from the New York Yankees for two low-level prospects, the Pirates agreed to pay $13 million of the $33 million Burnett is owed over the next two seasons. Nutting said the Pirates "no question could have done the Burnett trade for significantly fewer dollars." But to accomplish that, the Pirates would've had to surrender better prospects.

"We are all committed that we are not going to sacrifice our future or high-end prospects," Nutting said. "If we need to stretch farther in dollars, it's more appropriate and better for the long-term future of the club. I'm very comfortable with that choice."

Nutting did not respond directly when asked if president Frank Coonelly, who faces charges stemming from a drunken-driving incident, will be subject to internal discipline.

"As a father with three daughters who are driving, I was very concerned, very disappointed and thankful that nobody was hurt," said Nutting, who added that Coonelly's actions were "unacceptable in every way."

The commissioner's office will not get involved in what it views as an employer-employee matter. Nutting did not indicate when, or if, Coonelly would be penalized by the team.

"We're going to try to move forward from this point," Nutting said, "but in no way minimizing my disappointment or his disappointment in the actions."

Additional Information:

Projected payrolls

Here are projected 2012 payrolls for NL Central teams:

Cardinals, $119 million

Brewers, $116 million

Cubs, $110 million

Reds, $85 million

Astros, $60 million

Pirates, $52 million

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