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Nutting says attendance will not affect Pirates' payroll

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates owner Bob Nutting on Thursday insisted that a possible future payroll increase will not depend on an increase in fan attendance.

"We're not artificially handicapped by extreme limitations on dollars, as we have been in the past," Nutting said. "I don't see there being an artificial constraint as we move forward."

The Pirates' player payroll this year will be about $50 million, the second-lowest in the majors. Last year's Opening Day payroll was $39 million, down from $48 million in 2009.

The team drew 1.613 million fans last year at PNC Park. Attendance was 1.577 million in 2009 and 1.609 million in 2008.

In a recent interview with a website devoted to Pirates coverage, president Frank Coonelly was asked if the franchise can afford an $80 million payroll. Coonelly responded:

"Today, no, but we will be able to support that payroll very soon if our fans believe that we now have a group of players in Pittsburgh and on its way here in the near future that is competitive. We need to take a meaningful step forward in terms of attendance to reach that payroll number while continuing to invest heavily in our future, but I am convinced that the attendance will move quickly once we convince our fans that we are on the right track."

Coonelly yesterday declined to elaborate.

Nutting said payroll increases will not hinge on increased attendance. He added that he expects more fans will show up as the team improves, which will require a higher payroll.

"I don't want to speculate and pick a number (for payroll)," Nutting said. "What's critically important is that we are in a position to allocate every year the dollars needed to have a competitive team on the field.

"In the past several years we've been intensely focused on the draft and infusing talent into the system. Those were very appropriate allocations."

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Pirates Spring Training 2011

Pirates Spring Training 2011

Images from Pirates spring training in Bradenton, Florida.

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