The Pittsburgh Pirates are big spenders.
Don't laugh. It's true.
Maybe the Pirates don't hand out nine-digit contracts to the Crawfords, Texieras and A-Rods of the league, but over the past few years there is one area of the game where they have made a splash - the amateur draft.
In the 2011 draft the Pirates set a Major League Baseball record by allocating $17 million to their draftees. That includes an $8 million bonus for the first overall pick, Gerrit Cole out of UCLA, and another $5 million for the seemingly unsignable Josh Bell.
According to the official Pirates website, in the four years that the organization's current front office regime has been in place, the Pirates have spent approximately $47.7 million in the draft.
That number is easily tops among all 30 clubs and doesn't even include resources devoted to signing international players - where the Pirates have also been major players over the past few years.
So why is this important? Anyone can spend frivolously in the draft and claim the "biggest spender" title, right?
This is an enormous deal to us Pirates fans, those of us who have watched the team draft guys like Bryan Bullington, Daniel Moskos and Sean Burnett because they were more "signable" than the likes of Prince Fielder, Jered Weaver and Matt Wieters - all either superstars or stars in the making.
This is a complete 180 from the days when we were told after drafting Bullington first overall out of Ball State in 2002 that he will be a solid number three starter. Yup...a number three starter.
Bullington, incidently, went on to quite a Major League career in which he amassed a total of one win while compiling a 5.62 ERA. I would have been thrilled with a number three starter in retrospect.
Everything changed four years ago. The Pirates held the second overall pick in the 2008 draft. After Tampa Bay Rays selected shortstop Tim Beckham, the Pirates broke out the checkbook and drafted Pedro Alvarez out of Vanderbilt. This was a big-name player that was going to command big bucks. Granted, Alvarez is struggling right now, but the general consensus is that he still has star power.
In 2009, the Pirates drafted Tony Sanchez, a catcher from Boston College. Sanchez had an eye-popping season for the Eagles, but I wasn't in love with the pick at the time. He suffered a broken jaw in his first season in the Minor Leagues and has strugged this year, but a catcher with his type of potential is rare.
Those were two exciting years of drafting for Pirates fans, but the past two have been enough to make a fan pack up, move to Pittsburgh and buy season tickets so he can be there when the World Series trophies start pouring in.
Here are four names to rememeber - Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, Gerritt Cole and Josh Bell.
Taillon and Cole are two big, hard-throwing pitchers who both have ace pitches and could be dynamic at the top of the Pirates rotation for years.
Stetson Allie is another right-handed pitcher who throws gas. He's been known to hit triple digits with his fastball and, while currently starting in the Minor Leagues, projects to be a lights-out closer once he reaches the Majors.
Josh Bell. Has there ever been a riskier pick?
Bell was projected as a first-round talent. He is a five-tool, switch-hitting outfielder with the demeanor and work ethic that makes an athlete great. The problem was his full-fledged commitment to the University of Texas.
Bell actually wrote to each team prior to the draft, urging them not to draft him because he was going to play ball for the Longhorns. He wanted an opportunity to experience college baseball and college life. Five million dollars later, he's being introduced at a press conference wearing a Pirates jersey.
Ten years ago, these four guys - along with Alvarez and Sanchez - would be suiting up for other teams because the Pirates management would not have made the financial commitment to draft and sign them.
Now, they're going to come up and join Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker to form a extremely talented core of home-grown talent.
See PIRATES, Page B4
Aside from spending in the draft, the Pirates made a splash when they re-signed outfielder Jose Tabata to a six-year contract last week. Realizing that the 22-year old offensive sparkplug is a key to their future, the Pirates once again spent their money wisely.
The team is beleived to be working on extentions for McCutchen and Walker as well. I don't think I even have to mention the dozens of quality players the Pirates have traded, instead of re-signed, in recently years. It's just another sign that this new management regime not only knows what they're doing, but has the financial backing of the owners to make it happen.
So while the small-market Pirates will never be able to outbid teams like the Yankees, Red Sox or Angels for the big-name free agents, they can compete by drafting the best players available, re-signing key pieces their team and not trading their best wide receiver for a worthless draft pick...sorry, but football season is right around the corner.