PITTSBURGH -- Payroll has been a hot-button topic in Pittsburgh for years and likely will be as long as the Pirates' payroll figure remains among the lowest in the Majors. The Pirates opened the 2011 season with the 27th-lowest payroll, though the decision to take on salaries at the Trade Deadline increased that payroll figure by season's end.

The Pirates will not publicly announce where they expect their 2012 payroll to be, as some teams do. What is known, though, is that the organization does have the financial ability to push its payroll over $50 million.

Though the club's end-of-season payroll was above $50 million in 2011, the Pirates have not opened a season with a payroll above that mark since 2003. Keep in mind, though, that just because the Pirates have the financial flexibility to push past the $50 million figure, it doesn't guarantee that they will.

"As we have said from Day 1, the decisions that we have made about payroll have been baseball decisions," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We wanted to go with younger players. We wanted to trade free agents to add depth into the system. As this club matures, the payroll of this club will increase. It may not increase at the pace that everyone wants it to in the same way that the progression of our wins and losses have not."

The Pirates have already shed $32.8 million from their books by not exercising club options on Ryan Doumit, Chris Snyder, Ronny Cedeno and Paul Maholm.

The club has nine remaining arbitration-eligible players, and those players will receive raises as a part of that arbitration process. However, the Pirates will not tender contracts to all nine.

"We're going to non-tender some players that people don't want us to non-tender," Huntington said. "We're going to tender some players that probably surprise some people. But those are the business decisions that we have to make. Every year, arbitration is going to organically drive up payroll higher."

Where the Pirates are expected to add significant payroll dollars is through whatever moves the organization makes to fill holes at first base, catcher, shortstop and on the mound. How much the payroll increases will be determined by how aggressive the Pirates end up being in the free-agent and trade markets.

Caravan ready to roll; PirateFest tix on sale

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have moved their winter caravan to December and have compressed the annual event to three days. Even still, players, coaches and broadcasters are scheduled to visit 16 communities from Tuesday, Dec. 13 through Thursday, Dec. 15.

As always, the caravan will be immediately followed by PirateFest, which will take place at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center from Dec. 16-18.

The first day of the three-day caravan includes three private events in Pittsburgh. Over the next two days, five separate groups of players, coaches and broadcasters will make stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The full schedule of events can be found at www.pirates.com/caravan.

Confirmed participants for the caravan include: Clint Hurdle, Andrew McCutchen, Joel Hanrahan, Kevin Correia, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Daniel McCutchen, Alex Presley, Brad Lincoln, Michael McKenry, Jeff Banister, Nick Leyva, Luis Silverio and Ray Searage.

Tickets for PirateFest, the organization's annual baseball carnival, are already available for purchase at pirates.com. The session on Friday, Dec. 16, is for season-ticket holders only. The event will be open to everyone else from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. ET on Saturday, Dec. 17 and from 12 p.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $4 for children 14 years of age and younger. A full schedule of PirateFest events will be released closer to the event date.

Tight groin keeps Marte out of winter ball action

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates outfield prospect Starling Marte remains out of winter ball play due to groin tightness. Assistant general manager Kyle Stark described Marte's current status as day to day.

Marte, who is playing for the Leones del Escogido club in the Dominican Winter League, exited a Nov. 1 game when he first felt the discomfort. He has not played since.

Marte has been getting treatment at the Pirates' academy in the Dominican Republic, and the Pirates hoped to have a better read on his status on Wednesday. In his first 13 winter ball games, Marte hit .340 with eight runs scored, three doubles, one homer, five RBIs and five stolen bases.