Dejan Kovacevic notes that despite being in the NL’s smallest market, Milwaukee ($70 million) will have a payroll far in excess of the Pirates. And while acknowledging the Brewers have advantges in terms of attendence and parking income, the Post-Gazzette scribe raises a pair of other reasons why Pittsburgh has been so thrifty.

A) The Pirates’ ownership is not spending all it could.

That charge is common in public and baseball circles, largely because national revenues keep increasing while the Pirates’ payroll remains flat.

In 2001, the first year of PNC Park, their payroll was $52 million, or $2 million less than the self-imposed limit this year. This despite the revenue-sharing check being about $22 million higher now, national television monies nearly doubling, and other money-making properties such as the Internet growing exponentially.

As a private company, the Pirates have no legal obligation — nor do they choose — to open their books or even discuss specifics of financial matters, other than to say all profits are going back into the business.

B) The Pirates are spending less now so they can spend more later.

Almost all of their current players, veterans and youngsters alike, are signed through 2009. But the payroll will have to increase markedly to keep the group intact, even before that span expires, because arbitration will bring hefty raises for many.

No public commitment has been made yet to that effect, but CEO Kevin McClatchy (above) yesterday made clear his stance that the current payroll represents only the current experience level on the roster.

“Our thinking is to develop the players we have, and that alone keeps the payroll low in the early stages of that process,” McClatchy said. “That’s a natural course, if you have young, talented players you can put out there, which we do. If we went out and signed other players at this stage, those young players wouldn’t be out there.”

Neither principal owner Bob Nutting nor McClatchy will talk about how their operations compare to those of other teams, including the Brewers. But McClatchy did say, “I’m very comfortable with where our payroll is.”

Milwaukee has a mostly young group, too, but upper management is of the mind that the time is now to fortify it.

Mark Attanasio, a 49-year-old Los Angeles investment banker, bought the Brewers in January 2005 and inherited a franchise with a measly payroll of $27.8 million and more than $100 million in debt. He immediately hiked payroll to $40.8 million, then to $54.5 million last season and, now, its $70.9 million ranks 19th among MLB’s 30 teams.

Attanasio’s commitment in the past few months has included an offer of $12 million a year to try — in vain — to keep outfielder Carlos Lee from leaving through free agency, and the four-year, $42 million deal struck with pitcher Jeff Suppan shortly thereafter. The latter deal was done over dinner at Attanasio’s house.

Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin allowed yesterday that “not everyone thought Suppan was a great signing” at that price. And he added that, a year earlier, he never would have entertained it.

“We had a group on the field, kind of similar to where the Pirates are now, where it just didn’t make sense for us to do it,” Melvin said. “But, if you look at where our team is now, we saw great value in Jeff. You look at teams like Minnesota and Oakland, they build that core, establish a window, then go for contention. That’s what we’re looking to get started here right now.”