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Cost of doing business increasing for Pirates

| Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, 10:15 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Second baseman Neil Walker was one of seven arbitration-eligible players tendered by the Pirates late Monday. Those players will head to abitration if they do not agree to contract terms by February.

The Pirates have a full 40-man roster heading into the annual MLB winter meetings, which begin Monday in Orlando, Fla. The payroll for that group would come to about $70 million once all of the contracts are settled.

But things will change.

The team has glaring needs at first base and shortstop. There are questions about the starting rotation that will linger beyond spring training. And a talent upgrade in right field would be welcome, too.

The Pirates had a $75 million payroll at the end of the 2013 season, and the front office already has indicated a modest increase is expected for 2014. The club will have more cash on hand after finishing with the second-highest home attendance in franchise history and getting its share of the payout from MLB's new television deal.

The Pirates have not divulged their player acquisition budget, but considering past spending trends, it seems likely general manager Neal Huntington could have about $15 million to go shopping on the free-agent and trade markets.

Late Monday night, the Pirates tendered contracts to seven arbitration-eligible players: Charlie Morton, Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Melancon and Vin Mazzaro.

Garrett Jones, Kyle McPherson and Michael McKenry were non-tendered — a formality, as all three players already had been designated for assignment.

Earlier in the day, the Pirates signed newly acquired backup catcher Chris Stewart. The Wall Street Journal reported the one-year deal is worth $1 million.

If the seven players who were tendered do not agree to contract terms before February, they will go to arbitration hearings. According to projections by mlbtraderumors.com, those players likely will get deals worth a total of about $20.2 million — more than doubling what those same players made in 2013.

Six players — Andrew McCutchen, Wandy Rodriguez, Jose Tabata, Jason Grilli, Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin — are under contract for 2014. Combined, they account for $41.75 million (including $5.5 million which will be paid by the Houston Astros toward Rodriguez's salary).

The Pirates also have several pre-arbitration players — guys with less than three years of service time in the majors. Those players must accept whatever salary the Pirates give them and generally make around the league minimum of $500,000.

It seems impossible Huntington could fill all of the Pirates' needs this offseason solely by signing free agents. The talent pool is thin, especially for shortstops. Also, prices are shooting high, especially for pitchers.

Having a full roster, of course, is no obstacle to adding players. If the Pirates trade prospects to get major-league help, they could clear space by dropping current 40-man players. Players who could be clinging to 40-man spots might include Snider, Jerry Sands, Ryan Reid, Andy Oliver and Chase d'Arnaud.

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

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