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Record MLB revenues unlikely to change Pirates' free-agent strategy

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington (right, with manager Clint Hurdle before Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Oct. 3, 2013.

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 9:40 p.m.

Baseball's changing free-agent landscape figures to have limited impact on the Pirates' long-term plans.

Though baseball is enjoying record revenues and Pirates owner Bob Nutting indicated he would like to increase payroll — the Pirates ranked 27th in 2013 — don't expect the club to become frequent purchasers of big-ticket free agents.

Some analysts project that the value of a “win above replacement player” has climbed to $7 million because of the new revenue. That would mean A.J. Burnett's 2013 performance, which equated to four wins above replacement, is valued at more than $20 million.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said the team's plan remains to find stars through the draft and development and attempting to sign core players to long-term deals.

“The core of our team needs to be homegrown,” Huntington said. “We can't build through free agency.

“At the same time, we always talk about supplementing, whether it's a free agent at the right spot … or trades.”

Like most clubs, the Pirates try to lock up young stars through their arbitration years — and perhaps buy out a season or two of free agency — using long-term deals that control costs. The Pirates signed Andrew McCutchen to a six-year, $51 million deal in 2012.

“We have to make sure it's the right deal and the right player and get as many of those as we can,” Huntington said.

But with record revenues flooding the game, players and agents could become less receptive to agreeing to deals that buy out a player's arbitration and delay free agency.

Moreover, two of the Pirates' core pieces, pitcher Gerrit Cole and third baseman Pedro Alvarez, are clients of agent Scott Boras, who generally is opposed to such contracts and typically advises players to test arbitration and free agency.

Boras last week declined to say whether the Pirates had reached out to either player about a long-term deal.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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