You can criticize the Pittsburgh Pirates for a lot of things; A LOT of things. The way they have seemingly mishandled developing Pedro Alvarez, failing to bring in mid-level free agents (looking at you Edwin Jackson), or failing to keep star players in Pittsburgh longer than a few years. However, there is one thing that is not the franchise's fault: they do not have 214 million dollars to spend.
"Oh the small market excuse, here we go again."
A valid point made by most fans in the Steel City, the team has been bad for more reasons than not having money. Yet, realistically, does anyone truly expect them to spend $24 million a year on one player? As good as the Pittsburgh Penguins are, and as committed as the Lemieux-Burkle partnership is to putting a winning product on the ice, do you think they would really be able to put $24 million dollars on one player while also paying several millions to the rest of the team? I am skeptical and judging by how badly the organization floundered in the NHL's pre-salary cap age, I don't believe I'm off base.
According to stationindex.com, Pittsburgh has the 23rd largest TV market in the country, between Portland and Charlotte. The Detroit Tigers -aside from being owned by Mike Illitich who is worth $1.7 Billion- show their games to the 11th largest market in the country. Combine the market size with the ridiculous TV deals, and you have the ability to strike gold and spend it on the franchise.
In 2009, Forbes had an article on baseball's monster television deals. The first example given was Detroit's deal, worth a collective $1 billion, split between the Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers. Among other teams, the Angels were also listed in the article (hello, Albert Pujols).
This year, the Texas Rangers -winners of the last two American League pennants- announced a TV deal worth $3 billion, effective 2014. With that type of money, the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Philies may see a new villain in town. Not too bad, considering the ownership had changed once Tom Hicks put the team up for sale a few years ago. It also doesn't hurt that the Dallas-Fort Worth area is made up of nearly 6.5 million people.
The mega-TV deals are extremely profitable for big market clubs, who have the ability to gain that much moola. To be honest, placing blame on these franchises for simply taking advantage of their fortunate situation is ill-advised. The real blame goes to the league's front office who, in one hand, punish the small markets for spending millions in the draft and, in the other hand, allow big market teams spend over $20 million per year on one player, something no small market will encounter until the value of the dollar drops.
I know this is a broken record argument and yes, the Pirates DO need to be more aggressive and, more fair to their fans when it comes to the free agent market. But the league needs to throw the low-end teams a bone. A salary cap? Great idea but the owners would never approve. Revenue sharing? It hardly seems to be working now. A strike? Doubtful but is it wrong to dream, at this point?