The Pittsburgh Pirates are projected to have the lowest Opening Day payroll in Major League Baseball, at about $57 million per Cot's Contracts. Part of the reason the Pirates are in that position is because they punted on the free-agent market, dipping in their toes only to sign downmarket players like Jarrod Dyson, Luke Maile, JT Riddle, and Guillermo Heredia -- a group that will make, in whole, about $4 million for the 2020 season. (Derek Holland was added on a minor-league deal.)
All of this is notable because it comes even after the players union has filed grievances against the Pirates and their application of revenue-sharing funds in each of the last two years, according to Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic. The union has also filed second grievances against the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
The union's contention is that the collective bargaining agreement requires teams to use revenue-sharing money to improve their on-the-field product. Teams are technically allowed to use those funds in other ways, such as hiring staff and purchasing technology. They can also use them in the draft or on the international free-agent front, although those opportunities are more limited now by bonus pools and caps.
If the Pirates have complied, it hasn't been by spending at the big-league level. Pittsburgh's payroll has dipped by nearly $20 million over the last year, and has declined in each of the last four seasons. The Pirates' exact revenue sharing payout is unknown, but leaked financial documents a decade ago revealed the Pirates were making a sizable profit despite their wretched product.
The Pirates (who changed management this winter, hiring former Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington to run the show) are reportedly considering extending several of their young big-league players, including outfielder Bryan Reynolds, shortstop Kevin Newman, and starter Joe Musgrove. None of those deals would likely have a major impact on the 2020 payroll. In other words, expect the union to file another grievance against the Pirates next spring.
The Marlins, for their part, lowered their Opening Day payroll by $28 million between 2018 and 2019. The drop-off came after the Marlins dropped their payroll from $115 million to $99 million the previous year. Obviously this most recent winter is not included in the grievance, but the Marlins are slated to enter the season with a $69 million payroll, or the 27th-highest in the sport.
The Rays, meanwhile, have ranked in the bottom-three of payroll for six consecutive seasons. That includes reducing their Opening Day payroll from $76 million in 2018 to $60 million in 2019. Again, this most recent offseason has no bearing on the grievance, but the Rays were the only team of the three mentioned here to increase their payroll on a year-to-year basis.