Pirates prove that the current structure in baseball doesn’t work for fans

July 18, 2010 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America - 18 July 2010: The view from behind the plate at PNC Park prior to the National League game between the Houston Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates Paul Maholm.

The Associated Press released information this morning that should make Pirate and general baseball fans sick and Yankee fans even more appreciative of what they had in George Steinbrenner.

The AP reports that the Pittsburgh Pirates have been able to turn a profit over the last three years – the same Pittsburgh Pirates that haven’t had a winning season in over 18 years.

According to the financial documents that were obtained by the AP, the Pirates took home $15,008,032 in 2007, $14,408,249 in 2008 and $5.4 million 2009. That’s chump change compared to what a team like the Yankees have been able to take home, but they also win.

The Pirates claim that principal owner Bob Nutting doesn’t take a salary and that may be the case, but it’s also clear that they’re not using all of their resources to win on the field. How could they be? If they were, former All-Stars like Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth and Jack Wilson wouldn’t be suiting up for other teams tonight. Nor would arbitration eligible or players close to becoming free agents like Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, John Grabow, Xavier Nady, Adam LaRoche, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Ronny Paulino and Sean Burnett be playing for other clubs right now either. (Let’s not forget that the Bucs also dealt Jose Bautista – the current home run leader in the AL – to the Blue Jays for 20 shake weights and an instructional shake weight at-home video.)

The Bucos say that they’re trying to win through the draft and with players like Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie either on the big league roster or in the minors that may be case. They say that they’ve paid nearly $12 million for amateur draft picks and have raised their draft expenditures to $31 million over the last three years.

Again, that may be the case but considering they’ve passed on players such as B.J. Upton, Tim Lincecum, Jason Heyward and Buster Posey (taken in the same draft as Alvarez, so this may be a poor example) in recent drafts, are they truly committed to using their resources to build through the draft? Granted, other teams passed on those players for various reasons too and the Pirates’ drafting on a whole has improved. But let’s not forget that this is a club that has consistently been accused of only selecting prospects that will sign manageable contracts. So are they truly using all of their resources in their draft programs or are they still penny-pinching wherever they see fit?

That said, nobody should blame the Pirates’ ownership for making a profit. After all, business is business and people don’t start businesses to not turn a profit.

But it was late Steinbrenner who mastered the art of making money while winning. And it’s not like he used witch magic in order to accomplish both; he knew he first had to be in a profitable market, and then he had to have a product that people would buy. Obviously New York and Pittsburgh are two different animals when you’re talking about generating revenue, but credit Steinbrenner for putting a winning product on the field and using most to all profits on continuing to win. Let’s not forget that the Mets play in the same market as the Yankees and have been unable to match their cross-town rival’s success.

The biggest problem that the AP article brings to the public’s attention is not that the Pirates have found a way to turn a profit. The biggest problem is that baseball’s revenue sharing doesn’t work like it should.

First and foremost, teams like the Pirates aren’t required to use the money they get from the Yankees in revenue sharing on the field. They’ve also obviously figured out how to turn a profit while losing, so what’s the incentive for lower market teams to produce winners? If they haven’t already, what’s stopping the Royals from using the same approach? Owners can still make money while fans continue to suffer watching losing season after losing season, and that’s not right.

This further proves that baseball needs a salary cap. Can it survive without one? Yes. Can lower market teams still compete? Yes – the Marlins, Rays and now Padres have proved that. But can they compete on a consistent basis? No, because they can’t outspend the Yankees in order to keep their players, which is just one of the many reasons why the current system can’t stay in place.

If baseball truly cared about its fans, then a salary ceiling and floor would be put in place. But if the league (and therefore, the owners) cares mostly about turning a profit, then the current system should stay. Because after all, if a perennially losing team like the Pirates can turn a profit in this current system, then any team can.

And they don’t even have to win in order to do so.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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