PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh's Kevin McClatchy lashed out at other baseball owners Friday for a return of free-agent spending that he fears may steer some clubs close to bankruptcy.
McClatchy, the Pirates' managing general partner, warned of a growing division between big-payroll and small-market clubs that could lead to contentious owners meetings and a much harder stance during the next labor negotiations. The current labor deal with players runs until December 2006.
"I don't know what happened, maybe they drank some funny water, but they all decided they were back on the binge," McClatchy said. "When somebody goes out and pays an average pitcher $7 million a year, then anybody who's an average pitcher says they need $7 million a year. That's very difficult, and when you're giving pitchers $18 million in arbitration, that also makes it difficult."
NL Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens agreed to an $18 million, one-year contract with Houston, a record one-year salary for a pitcher and the equivalent of nearly half the Pirates' projected $40 million payroll. The Pirates' payroll is about $10 million less than that of the Washington Nationals, owned by the other major-league clubs.
Some teams criticized the New York Mets for giving a $22.5 million, three-year contract to former-Pirate Kris Benson, then for giving Pedro Martinez a $53 million, four-year contract and Carlos Beltran a $119 million, seven-year deal.
"I don't know about the bank vault being open," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said Friday. "We competed for Pedro and for Beltran with other clubs that were right there where we were and pretty much ended up paying."
The Pirates' payroll is about $10 million less than that of the Washington Nationals, owned by the other major league clubs.
After two offseasons with relatively few huge contracts, McClatchy was admittedly stunned with what he called a series of signings that were "ridiculous -- at best."
McClatchy's sharp talk mirrors that of the Orioles' Peter Angelos, who said first baseman Carlos Delgado's $52 million contract with Florida reflects baseball's "fiscal insanity."
McClatchy also questions how teams that only recently were talking about financial stress agreed to huge contracts. Arizona signed pitcher Russ Ortiz for $33 million and third baseman Troy Glaus for $45 million, both over four years.
"What you don't want to see is some of these teams spend themselves into bankruptcy -- that's not good for any of the league, that becomes a liability on all of us," McClatchy said. "I'm not sure if some of these people are writing checks with money they necessarily have, and that's a negative thing.
"You wonder how, since they were in a tough financial spot, some of the spending is going to work, how they're eventually going to be able to pay their bills. When you're drawing 1.7 million, and you take your payroll up too high, you just do the math," he said.
The Pirates, by contrast, have signed no free agents to major-league contracts and have handed out only two multiyear contracts -- shortstop Jack Wilson's $8 million, two-year deal and right-hander reliever Salomon Torres' $2.6 million, two-year deal.
McClatchy is rooting for NHL owners to reach a labor agreement that includes a cap or some other harsh salary restraint, something he said baseball badly needs.
"I'm disappointed, very disappointed in the other owners, and I think as we go toward a new collective bargaining agreement, there's going to have to be some sort of constraint put on because these other guys can't control themselves," he said.
McClatchy, who serves on baseball's executive council and long-range labor committee, is promising to be more outspoken in future owners meetings.
"I've think they've created a hawk," he said. "A lot of us are concerned and are definitely going to speak up."
Despite McClatchy's glum financial talk and the Pirates' 12th consecutive losing season in 2004, the team's annual Fanfest opened Friday to what was expected to be record crowds. Attendance was way up during the first week of the team's winter caravan, which featured Wilson and promising pitcher Oliver Perez.
Season ticket sales are up about 30 percent, partly because buyers who keep their seats the following season get the opportunity to buy 2006 All-Star tickets.