3B Aramis Ramirez and right handed P Carlos Zambrano each signed one-year contracts with the Chicago Cubs yesterday, worth $9 million and $3.75 respectively. Ramirez and Zambrano were the only remaining arbitration-eligible Cubs who had yet to reach agreements for 2005 with the club.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dejan Kovacevic writes Sunday about Kevin McClatchy’s no-frills franchise and their lower-than-low payroll.

It does not appear that the Pirates will have the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball in the coming season. But it is possible. And, if it should happen, it would mark the first time since that 1997 Freak Show outfit stunningly stayed in contention on a subatomic budget of $9 million.
The 2005 payroll cannot be determined definitively until after the season when all transactions can be calculated. The same is true of all teams.

Current projections, though, have the Pirates in line to rank 29th of the 30 teams.

An analysis of the salaries of the 25 players most likely to come north from spring training shows that the Pirates would start the season with a $33.4 million payroll, minus an unknown portion of outfielder Matt Lawton’s contract being picked up by Cleveland.

The Pirates finished last season 28th with a payroll of $32.5 million.

General manager Dave Littlefield appears to have no less than $5 million left to spend within the budget given to him by ownership. That was made clear last week when he offered contracts to two free agents, outfielder Jeromy Burnitz and right-hander Pedro Astacio. If both had signed, the cost would have been roughly $5 million. But, with the free-agency pool dry, Littlefield might not be able to spend all of his money.

The team projecting the lowest budget in the majors is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who should start the season in the range of $32 million. They finished with the lowest payroll the past three years, including one of $24.4 million last season.

The Pirates and Devil Rays might have little company at the bottom, even from those teams accustomed to such depths.

The Milwaukee Brewers, who ranked 29th last year at $29.6 million, will increase to $41 million. The Cleveland Indians, who finished just ahead of the Pirates last year at $34.3 million, will end up at $42 million-$45 million. The Montreal Expos, who ranked 26th last year at $41.2 million, will top $50 million as the Washington Nationals.

The Detroit Tigers, Florida Marlins and Cincinnati Reds, all below $50 million last year, will top that figure easily. The Kansas City Royals, the other team below $50 million last year, are cutting payroll from $48 million to $41 million.

In the Pirates’ most recent winning season, 1992, they ranked 12th with a payroll of $32.59 million. In their first season at PNC Park, they ranked 18th at $57.76 million.