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Pittsburgh sports talk with the Trib columnist

Wakeup Call: Elephant in the room

Some sporting thoughts before sunrise …

>> My Wednesday column is about Major League Baseball sticking it to the Pirates with the new collective bargaining agreement, with reaction from Frank Coonelly.

>> Most of the reaction I heard from readers about the pact, if I might say, really missed the point. People fussed over the draft/international aspect, I’m guessing because they’ve been convinced for so long that this is the only way for a Pittsburgh team to be successful in baseball.

Hello? Salary cap?

Just because it’s unrealistic, just because the owners lack the will/gumption to do what’s been done in every other North American sports league, doesn’t make it a non-issue. It remains issue No. 1 in baseball inequity.

>> This won’t get nearly as much attention, but that the Pirates hired five new professional scouts. For those who don’t know, those are the scouts who see and study other major-league players, for the most part. That means they’re the first line in making trades. Their recommendations carry much weight.

I have written for years now that the Pirates have been terrible in this area, even though that has put me in the crosshairs of the all-trades-were-good crowd who somehow equate every criticism of general manager Neal Huntington as some broader assault on “Moneyball.” It never was intended to be anything other than what it was. The Pirates were terrible in this area.

This would appear to be large — very large, actually — step toward addressing that.

Maybe one of these guys can identify a shortstop.

>> Here are the National League MVP ballots for myself and our Rob Biertempfel.

>> Never lose sight of where the Steelers rank in our city. The Penguins turned in a superb 15.36 TV rating for the Sidney Crosby return, second-best for any regular-season game in team history. The Steelers’ ratings often are triple that.

The Penguins have great demographics, but the Steelers remain king.

>> Because of Thanksgiving, we’ll conduct our weekly chat today at noon, a day earlier than usual.


  1. Mark says:

    I never in a million years thought I could be any more depressed about the state of the Pirates, guess I was wrong. This team has it’s only advantage stripped from them, and it’s ridiculous. Maybe in 5 years, the owners will grow a set regarding a salary cap, you know, for the best of the game, probably not though. Great article Dejan, wish it could be under better circumstances.

    DK: I appreciate that, Mark.

  2. Eric Bowser says:

    Once again, Frank proves his agenda to be the next commissioner is more important than supporting the Pittsburgh Pirates. The man is not a leader and does not care to publicly criticize his peers in the sport or the man who has the current job as commissioner.

    What a joke.

  3. Dan1283 says:

    Five more years of watching salaries go up, payrolls go up, and the Pirates get left behind. What is there to root for? I’ll continue to watch because I love baseball and I have affection for almost all who wear a Pirates uniform out on the field, but it is simply ridiculous that the small market owners won’t band together and fight for a cap when it has done wonders for the other sports. Look at the teams that succeed in the NHL and the markets they come from. Same with the NFL.

    Even a cap of $120 million would be ridiculous impossible for most teams to reach. But at least it would be PROGRESS!

    DK: Your last point isn’t accurate, I don’t think, Dan. If there were an actual salary cap in baseball, there would have to be full revenue sharing to match, as there is in the NFL. In that setting, all teams, including Pittsburgh, would have much, much more money to spend.

  4. pghboyinca says:

    I beleive the Pirates are comfortable with the status quo, they make money and can claim the system is keping them from spending. They were spending a pittance in the draft compared to what they were underpaying in payroll compared with teams of similar market size. Any discussion to the contrary is inaccurate and delusional.

    There are a lot of great sport realted topics in Pittsburgh right now and the Pirates are not one of them. Let’s hope the Steelers go to 8-3 and the pens stay healthy (if they do no need to wish for anything), great week ahead of us……

  5. Sec.143RowMSeat24 says:

    The reason a salary cap hasn’t been mentioned is everyone knows it will never happen. We all know it’s the only way for true equality as we’ve seen it mostly with the Penguins. True it’s in the NFL but in my lifetime it’s pretty much always been that way. With the Penguins and the NHL it’s been only a few years and the results are clear as day. If you can’t win in either one of those leagues it’s because your organization has been run poorly. The only advantage you have is being run correctly. The reason we got there with the NHL though is because teams were losing money. I’m not sure if any MLB team is losing money, if so it’s very few. Winning isn’t everything, money is.

  6. JAL says:

    JAL’s The Pirates of Stone County Road Morning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

    3- 2011-12 Pirates Prospects Off-Season Calendar

    4 Pirate Offseason Stats

    5 Yahoo Free Agent Tracker;_ylt=AvN8KLXkNW0TcRjzSCagLIMBbgM6?slug=jp-passan_ultimate_free_agent_tracker_baseball_110211

  7. JAL says:


    6—Pirates Prospects

    The Day the Pirates Were Forever Eliminated From Contention

    Winter Leagues 11/22 — New Pirates Diaz and Fox In The Games

    7 Rumbunter

    New MLB CBA Spells Doom for Young Athletes, Pirates Fans

    One Problem with Clint Hurdle

    8 Green Weenie

    New CBA, New World

  8. JAL says:

    9 Bucs Dugout

    MLB CBA: What Are The Best Ways Around The Draft Rules?

    10 WHY GAVS

    Jake Fox, Shairon Martis, and Baseball’s New CBA

    11 MCEffect

    New CBA Puts Pressure on Prospects

    12 Raise the Jolly Roger

    The new CBA is not kind to the Pirates

  9. JAL says:


    13 USA Today

    Scott Boras says new draft rules will ‘hurt all of baseball’

    14 Washington Post

    Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement is a remarkable moment

    15 NY Times

    Baseball Extends Its Labor Tranquility

    16 Houston Chronicle

    Clint Barmes will make the Pirates better in more ways than they think.


    17 PBC Site

    MLB, union announce five-year labor deal

  10. JAL says:

    Steelers Blogs

    -Behind the Steel Curtain

    2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Semi-Finalists Include Donnie Shell, Jerome Bettis and Dermontti Dawson

    Terrible Towel Talk, Episode 15: Steelers, Penn State, Coach K and Mike Brown

    NFL Week 12 Power Rankings: BTSC’s Turkey Week Edition Might Surprise You

    -Steelers Depot

    Mike Tomlin Press Briefing—Chief’s Week

    -Steelers Gab

    Talks with Goodell “Very Productive” According to Tomlin

  11. Officer Mancuso says:

    The world will little not nor long remember when I finally gave up on the PBC in utter disgust, but for the record, it was after the 2011 All Star break.

  12. JUCOFan says:

    Before becoming president of the Pirates, Coonelly was Senior Vice President in the Commissioner’s Office, where he was in charge of various matters including arbitration hearings and draft bonuses. Sure does make his benign reaction to this change interesting, no? Me thinks we have a fox in the hen house.

  13. leefoo says:

    What’s really scary is that, in #13, for the first time in my life, I totally agree with Scott Borass.

    What a joke. Nov 22nd, 2011……the day Baseball officially died in Pgh.

  14. Kevin_W says:

    What a joke MLB is. This new CBA is aweful for the Pirates. Agree 100% with @Mark about the of the Pirates. There is no hope. None. On the day they announce this terrible CBA, I received my ticket renewal package from the Pirates. How ironic. I think I’m finally giving up on them after 19 years. This is the last straw. They have finally begun to build through the draft and, wham, take that Pirates, stay in the cellar where you belong.

    DK, thanks for you article today about the issue. You are spot on, again. Seems like everyone nationally is reporting the agreement in such glowing terms. Are they clueless? The major sports television media is ESPN and they are located firmly in Boston/NY territory. Wonder why they think this is such a great deal? Hmmm.

    DK: There long has been an enabling factor for Major League Baseball in this record from the national coverage it receives. Most of that emanates from New York and Boston, not coincidentally.

  15. Naje says:

    Great column DK…and even better use of the word stick.

    And really good points above about the cba, salary cap and the pro scouts (stop the presses and thank the heavens…PBC were operating like the Bengals scouting department).

    DK: Thanks, Paul.

  16. J.D. says:

    If Coonelly was really in tight with the commissioner’s office, he would not have spent $48 million on the draft over the last 4 years.

    The biggest problem with reigning in spending on the draft is that it will be harder to buy two sport athletes out of their commitment to play football or basketball, think Joe Mauer, Zack Lee, and Bubba Starling. This will lower the quality of play long term, which is never a good thing.

  17. @suckmeter says:

    Sucks the Pirates will have to pay a luxury tax if they spend over the draft cap. Does that go to the Yankees to help pay their player per diems?

  18. SeanE says:

    DK-could not agree more regarding the need for a cap AND a floor on salaries in baseball. I don’t think, however, that the previous process of paying over slot for high school kids was sustainable.

    The Pirates spent 17 million on the draft last year. While this is a lot of money to the Pirates it is nothing to teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. Under the previous system, there was nothing to prevent those large market teams from upping the ante even further to pay over slot to even more players. What if the Yankees all of the sudden said we are going to pour $ into the draft? This is a bidding war the Pirates can’t win. While the Yankees (and others) have not taken this strategy as of yet, what is to say they wouldn’t have in the future? I am guessing they threatened just that. Had this occurred, it would then result in all the familiar (and correct) screams about the rich getting richer.

    In the new system the best players will be chosen in the proper order. Teams won’t pass on players because of signability issues (see Matt Weiters) and teams won’t have to worry about breaking the bank to sign elite talent….see Strassburg. Teams that draft well and develop players will succeed. Teams that don’t will fail. Finances won’t play a role until arbitration years.

    And maybe, just maybe, this is a small first step to baseball getting its financial house in order.

  19. David says:

    If they would implement a hard cap that would be fine but since they now have harsh punishments for draft spending and international spending why not use the same for the luxury tax, sounds fair, right?

    Set the luxury tax threshold at 150 million.
    For going up to 5% over a team has to pay a 75% tax
    For going 5-10% over a team will pay a 75% tax and can’t give anyone a contract over 100 million
    For going 10-15% over a team will pay a 100% tax and can’t give anyone a contract over 75 million
    For going 15% or more over a team will pay a 100% tax and can’t give anyone a contract over 50 million

    DK: You’re right. But which teams would that inconvenience?

  20. diehard says:

    Wasn’t Selig supposed to retire at the end of this past season? Is he ever going to go away and stop screwing with the game? We’re going to restrict teams’ spending on the draft – okay, fine. Coonelly must have cringed when he saw that he might agree with Boras. I even agree with Boras until the end of the article (Kids will stop playing baseball because of this? Um, no they won’t Scott. 8 year olds aren’t thinking about $100 million contracts (normally)). Selig’s probably thinking he’ll look heroic because they avoided the NFL/NBA strife. No Bud, you’re still inept and need to retire 15 years ago.
    Best thing for pro sports in America – Selig, Goodell, Bettman. Long cruise, leaky boat. :-)

    DK: Give Bettman credit. He got this done better than anyone.

  21. Thundercrack says:

    “Funny, but I don’t remember anyone crying foul about the Red Sox signing first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to a seven-year, $154 million contract last year”

    Excellent point DK. It seems to me that these changes to the draft were basically an issue of owners vs owners —-not owners vs the players.

    We’ll see how these changes play out. But I don’t think there will ever be a salary cap until many more teams are in very bad financial trouble and/or there is a major work stoppage.

  22. radio wave says:

    To change the subject for a moment:
    I have not checked out the Panthers hoops yet this season, but it seems they are having difficulty with the weak home schedule so far.
    A loss to a decent Long Beach team, and difficult victories against non worthy opponents.
    Where do they need to improve?
    And everyone travewl safely and enjoy a Happy thanksgiving with friends and family.

  23. Turner Ward says:

    I count myself among the rare Pittsburgh sports fans who actually root harder for the Pirates than either the Steelers or the Penguins. This is a sad day, because it seems MLB is actually content to allow the low-revenue teams to stay at the back of the line.

    The problem is not only that they’ve stopped the Pirates’ ability to acquire elite talent where they can actually afford it, but that the Pirates and the rest of the league actually act like this system works. It seems this blog is the only place in the world where people still bring up the idea of a salary cap. The owners have completely dropped the discussion.

    It really seems like the people who run this league are content to ruin it just so they can keep NY, Boston, Philly, Chicago and LA at the top of the attention ladder. It’s a real shame; the sport may actually become unwatchable in a few years, especially if all involved – including the PIT, MIL, TB, etc. owners – continue to turn a blind eye to the growing revenue/salary disparity.

  24. Eric Bowser says:

    David, that is the huge problem that I have with this CBA because the punitive thresholds are so severely prohibitive for a small market team but yet, the luxury tax was virtually unchanged and did NOTHING to address the problems between the have’s (big market/large reveue teams) and have’s not(small market/low revenue teams).

    I think the lone positive about payroll is the enforcement that the 40-man roster must be 25% higher than the revenue sharing money received, so if you received $40 million, your 40-man roster must be $50 million.

  25. Drew71 says:

    Dejan – They don’t need a salary cap. Rather, an almost-hard-slotting penalty system on total high-end payroll spending, as harsh on the top side as the new almost-hard-slotting penalties for the draft, would be fine and balanced.

  26. Thundercrack says:

    As I posted on another blog yesterday, I am not all “doom & gloom” about all these changes to the draft. Not yet.

    Drafting and paying players is one thing. Developing them into players that contribute on the major league level is another thing.

  27. Bizrow says:

    Slick Frankie once again shows his true agenda and continues to master at double talk. Snake oil, anyone?

    I wonder how they will end up spinning the CBA as an excuse for 22-23 consecutive losing seasons?

    Meanwhile, Nuttin must be sayin…. More money for me, good….

  28. Drew71 says:

    Dejan – Two more comments:

    1) Good column. Sums up appropriately without the wild foot stomping I’ve been doing the past few days. The CBA, while having some positive elements, which you fairly pointed out and I had initially ignored, is still in the whole terrible. And yet your balanced yet direct way of presenting it helps me tame my overreaction. So now that we’ve all relaxed a bit, we can rationally and calmly take Bud out back and beat him into next week.

    2) In my vitriolic, frothing madness, I had totally missed the 5 new scouts. Good. For. Them. Seriously. I give plenty of blame for the club’s many, many inept moves. It is only fair to recognize a significant expenditure, and presumably an upgrade, in one of the areas where they so often botched it.

    DK: Thanks, Drew. Oh, and Maple Leafs 7, Lightning 1. Good for the sport.

  29. Milo Hamilton says:

    I appreciate everyone’s views on the new CBA. Good points made by all. I, however, find it very hard to get worked up over the whole thing. We all know that baseball’s system is weighted toward teams that choose to spend big on their major league payroll. That hasn’t changed. Big spenders make the playoffs every year. But teams in similar size markets as Pittsburgh & teams in the bottom 10 in payroll also make the playoffs. Every year.

    I choose to focus on the incompetent management of the Pirates. Not the admittedly screwed up system that other teams in similar circumstances seem to be able to figure out.

  30. In regards to MLB, perhaps the rest of the league should start a grass-roots movement to camp out in front of Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park (for starters) and protest the largess of the privileged few franchises and the power they wield within the league.

    “Occupy Yankee Stadium” would be a good start. Until there is any kind of parity in the league, MLB is too much like Congress: the top tier generates revenue on an exponential scale while the majority struggles to show modest gains.

  31. Vinqtin says:

    Here’s an idea to close the gap between the rich and poor in MLB. Get rid of the monetary luxury-tax penalty and institute a system where draft picks are lost for exceeding the luxury-tax cap limit. Since teams like the Yanks and Sox “draft” players from other teams (every July), they don’t need to have as many picks available in the amateur draft. Then teams can choose how they want to build their teams and you won’t be able to have your cake and eat it too.

  32. JAL says:


    No, Selig said he plans to retire when his current contract runs out in 2012

  33. Milo Hamilton says:

    It’s not the big market teams fault the system is as it is. There are way more have nots than haves. Until they actually stand up for themselves, why should the Red Sox care ?

  34. jackdeloplane says:

    The Brewers, Astros (a few years ago), Rockies (a few years ago), have all proven its not the size of the market but the brains in the front office to acquire the talentthat’s important. given the current environment, there is nothing to stop the Pirates from being successful. Except. The. People. In Charge.

    Teams with the funds to acquire high-priced free agents can also spend themselves into middle of the road finishes. See Cubs, Chicago.

    it just takes the ability to evaluate and sign talent. then manage it. Add in a sprinkle of good fortune, and viola, you have success.

  35. Dan1283 says:

    “DK: Your last point isn’t accurate, I don’t think, Dan. If there were an actual salary cap in baseball, there would have to be full revenue sharing to match, as there is in the NFL. In that setting, all teams, including Pittsburgh, would have much, much more money to spend.”

    DK, you had to go making me yearn for it even more didn’t you! LOL! Have a great Thanksgiving with your family. Thanks for taking the time, as you always have, to go back and forth with us “Littles”, as one Tony Kornheiser so affectionately refers to his followers.

    DK: You do the same, Dan.

  36. Milo Hamilton says:


    I’m a little. I’m listening to Kornheiser right now.

  37. Dan1283 says:

    I’m a loyal Little as well Milo. Best radio show on the air today, although I feel I know way too much about an awful Washington Redskins team!

  38. PhillyJake says:

    Coonelly does bring up a good point about richer teams in the draft.

    I wonder why none of the richer teams drafted Bell last year. Surely they could have overwhelmed him as we did.

    DK: I thought Frank made an excellent point there. Agreed.

  39. Arriba Wilver says:

    I don’t know. It seems like when people like FC talk about the potential “benefits” of the draft slotting system, they analyze it like it is a hard slotting system for each round. And it isn’t. For example, he says that this allows a team to pick the best player because they know what it will cost when they pick him. But the don’t, really. The penalty comes into play, as I understand it, if teams overspend on the total of the first 10 rounds. I guess the bonuses drop off drastically after the first round, but still . . . it’s not as clean as they seem to make it want to sound.

  40. JUCOFan says:

    No arguing that the new draft economics prevent the Pirates from overwhelming players like Bell in the future. The only advantage a small market team had was the ability to spend above slot in the draft and big dollars in the international markets for prospects, then to develop these players and use the 6 years of player control to keep them on the major league roster until they were free agents and no longer affordable.

    Big market teams had no incentive to overwhelm prospects with dollars in the draft. They more than filled the void with small market free agents. Now that advantage is gone and Coonelly idly stands by with garbage like “it’s been in the works for a long time”, and non-sense like this preventing large market teams from flexing their “muscles” should they choose.

    Analyze this for a minute. Why is he standing idly by? One, he’s a spin master for the MLB front office. Two, and more importantly, this actually BENEFITS small market owners economically. They now have an artificial constraint on spending that keeps more money in their pocket. It hurts them competitively. That may be where the fans heart is, but the owners heads are in their wallets.

  41. Milo Hamilton says:


    Every time I feel a draft in the house I want to call Harley & Aaron.

  42. Turner Ward says:

    @Jake – It’s not worth their effort to overpay him in the draft. They won’t have to instruct him for 5 years in the minors or deal with growing pains when he is a 0-6 player. They’ll just throw $100 million at him after he becomes a free agent. If he doesn’t pan out, nothing lost on their end.

  43. JAL says:

    Pirates filling spots in the minors

    Pirates sign six players to Minor League deals

  44. Bizrow says:

    Bucs need to fill spots in the majors ;-}

  45. Bizrow says:

    After all, isn’t the minor league system flooded with talent as is?

    That being said, Happy Thanksgiving to all that visit this nut house.

    Dejan, the comment on us being like the squirrel from Ice Age, with no clue where we’re headed, was a classic, and a great description of this place.

  46. JAL says:


    Actually, all teams fill out minor league teams with minor league free agents. Particularly at AA and AAA

  47. Dan1283 says:


    I’m offering a new service in town. $100 to come over and plug back in your TV for you.

  48. diehard says:

    I’ll give you that Bettman has done better of late, but he still needs to overcome two major mistakes in the promotion of the league as a whole – Versus and the Colin Campbell era. (Though Shanahan has been a pretty good step, with the exception of the non-punishment for the attempted goalie decapitation.)

  49. Milo Hamilton says:


    Any luck in getting the Sheehan boys to come up from DC & shovel your driveway ?

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