PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly expects the team's payroll to increase next season -- but not to the point where the last-place team can afford to sign a premium free agent.
The Pirates began the season with a major league-low $34 million payroll, though Coonelly says the end-of-season figure will be about $44 million. That's about $6 million less than two years ago.
"We do have capacity to increase the payroll, we do have the authority [from ownership] to increase the payroll," Coonelly said.
He warned the Pirates won't return to the days of signing past-prime players -- he mentioned Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa -- merely to bump the Steelers off newspaper pages in January. Instead, they will be looking to sign or trade for affordably priced players who can make an impact but don't require an oversized investment.
There are also no plans in the near future to push the Pirates' payroll close to that of two NL Central rivals in similar-sized markets, Milwaukee ($81 million) and Cincinnati ($72 million).
The Pirates, closing in on a record-setting 18th consecutive losing season, also won't go after players merely in an effort to get back to .500 if they won't help beyond that. The Pirates' biggest struggle the rest of this season may be avoiding their first 100-loss season since 2001.
"If Neal [Huntington, the general manager] identifies a player who can help us win in 2011, either on the trade market like [catcher] Chris Snyder, that we brought on as a significant investment or on the free-agent market, we will pursue those players," Coonelly said. "We're working hard as we speak to identify players who can help this team win more in 2011 and beyond."
The Pirates' strategy is to continue to build through the draft -- they've spent $11.9 million on picks this year -- and the international market. But they won't pay $30 million for a single player like the Reds did with pitcher Aroldis Chapman.
"We said from the beginning that we couldn't effectively build this team through free agency, we had to build this team through homegrown talent," Coonelly said. "We've put a lot of money and a lot of effort into rebuilding the minor league system. We want to have the type of pipeline where players can constantly feed the major league roster, force competition for the major league roster and sustain winning. That's the primary method of building. And we're a long way into that."
Coonelly also said Friday he plans to evaluate the staff and front office at the end of the season. Manager John Russell and Huntington are signed through next season, although it appears neither has been told for certain that he will return.