Pirates notebook: MLBPA encouraged by team's spending increase

Rob Biertempfel
| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 12:30 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates are out of the doghouse with the players' union.

Years of low payrolls and even lower win totals caused the MLB Players Association to cast a suspicious eye toward the club. Thursday, union head Michael Weiner said the Pirates appear to have turned a corner.

“I think the answer is yes,” said Weiner, who stopped by McKechnie Field on his annual spring training tour. “There were some concerns, and we expressed them. We had some meetings with (president) Frank Coonelly and others from the administration. I think over the course of the last couple years, the Pirates have made a sincere effort to compete. Their payroll has increased and it projects to continue to increase.”

The Pirates ended last season with a 40-man roster payroll of $61.375 million. This year, the figure will climb to around $78 million — although it still will rank among the lowest in the majors.

Starting next year, each team will get an additional $25 million from the national television deal with ESPN. However, the Pirates still lag behind most other clubs when it comes to local TV revenue.

Weiner said MLB's revenue-sharing system is designed to deal with the disparities in local revenue, but the plan might be revisited when it's time for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“It's a good thing that major league teams — and not just big-market teams, but all across the markets — are experiencing substantial growth in their local media rights,” Weiner said. “That's a great thing for the health of the game. Hopefully, the revenue-sharing plan can deal with the local revenue disparities. If there is an issue, the next time we bargain we can make adjustments to that revenue-sharing program.”

Weiner also said that any changes to the jointly approved drug-testing program — such as stiffer penalties or expanded testing — likely won't take effect until at least 2014.

“I'm confident we'll come to a consensus before then,” Weiner said. “We're not going to change the rules midstream, at this point.”

Bonilla's back

Growing up, Pedro Alvarez did not have one favorite baseball player.

“I liked a lot of guys,” Alvarez said. “(Ken) Griffey. Manny (Ramirez). Bobby Bonilla. Wade Boggs. A wide range of players, and all for different reasons.”

Certainly, Alvarez and Bonilla have much in common — sturdy third basemen with big, power swings. “And Bobby's a New York guy, too,” Alvarez said, grinning.

Bonilla now works for the players' union and came with Weiner to McKechnie Field. Bonilla smiled when told he was one of Alvarez's role models.

“Well, that's good. That's cool,” Bonilla said. “He swings the bat really well. He had some nice success last year, and he has to build off of that.”

Any advice for Alvarez?

“Young players have to continue to have fun,” Bonilla said. “When they're having fun, usually good things are going to happen. When they're worried about things they have no control over, it just doesn't work. It really wears you down. I tell Pedro to keep building on what he did last year but make sure he's truly having fun out there and realize what a privilege it is to wear a big league uniform.”

Bonilla also caught up with coach Bill Virdon, who was the Pirates' coach in the early years of ex-manager Jim Leyland's tenure.

“I'm sure Bill can still handle that fungo. He wore me out with it,” Bonilla said. “This place has a special place in my heart and always will.”

Taillon shines on big stage

Jameson Taillon looked good Thursday in his final outing before going to pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Taillon worked two innings, struck out three and allowed one run on one hit.

“I feel like I handled that situation on that stage pretty well,” Taillon said. “Being around the guys in camp has helped me with that. I felt pretty comfortable out there.”

Taillon will throw a side session Saturday, then fly the next day to Phoenix to meet up with the Canadians. Although he was born in Florida and grew up in Texas, Taillon can toss for the Great White North because both of his parents were born in Canada.

Joining Taillon on the flight to Arizona will be closer Jason Grilli, who'll pitch for Italy.

“We'll be friends for the plane ride, but when we get there, that's over with,” Taillon joked.

A first-round pick in 2010, Taillon likely will start the regular season at Double-A Altoona.

Around the horn

Gaby Sanchez played the final four innings at third base, his first time at the position since 2009 when he was in Triple-A. “You never know what's going to happen,” Sanchez said. “It means more opportunity, being able to play both (first and third).” ... Catcher Russell Martin (sore right shoulder) will try to take live batting practice Friday. If all goes well, Martin could be the designated hitter Saturday against the Detroit Tigers. ... Right-hander Jeff Karstens (shoulder) will throw a bullpen session Friday. He'll need to throw at least two live batting practices before being deemed game-ready.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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