There are many things one encounters while writing about the Pirates, none more prevalent than the overall mistrust of Pirates ownership. That is something Bob Nutting has actually earned.
Believing he will never spend money on high priced free agents is pretty much like understanding we’re all made of star stuff. It’s true based on a long history and obeys the laws of the universe he operates in.
That said, it’s frustrating when someone writes a piece about Ke’Bryan Hayes going 5 for 5 and the comments are littered with ‘oh they’ll trade him this off season’ or ‘he’s calling his agent to get out of here’ and so many more. There is a ton of evidence that the Pirates actually do quite a good job of retaining players they manage to develop, their biggest problem has been not developing enough.
See, the real problem is the trust between ownership and fan has been fractured so severely that many can’t see anything good. If Hayes had come up and gone 2 for 65 the Pirates would be called on the carpet for not knowing how to develop talent. A truth nobody could really argue. Instead he’s come up and hit .370 and the attention turns to him having one foot out the door. I could list all the players like him who have come up and played a season or two before signing extensions that carried them past arbitration but that won’t matter because the Bucs let Gerrit Cole go.
There is very real reason for negativity, I never discount that, but in a way it’s like raising a child. When you punish a child for bad behavior you have to give them a way to make it better. They have to apologize to their sister for cutting the hair off that doll or call Grandma and say sorry for acting up at Christmas.
Two things have happened here, one the Pirates never say they’re sorry for breaking your trust, so healing never has a chance to begin. And they never really changed the behavior so you just continue to wait for the next Christmas tantrum.
Oh, there was one attempt at saying they were sorry, and it came in the form of an action that only further fractured the trust. Trading three top prospects for Chris Archer. After allowing the competitive teams from 2013-2015 the club felt the wrath of trying to sell a still competitive team in 2016. Many fans understood the dismantle because the guys they let go had either lost it or were headed in that direction but they didn’t explain it as a window closing with an eye toward opening a new one. Instead they tried to paint trades like Walker to the Mets for Bastardo and Neise as ‘trying to compete’. Everyone knew it wasn’t a good move, including the Pirates but they wanted to get something for Walker and retaining him, aided by hindsight, would have been equally stupid.
Andrew McCutchen was fading but perhaps they could have found a way to extend him to keep the face of the franchise in place. Well, this isn’t a club that can afford to have 14-17 million a year sitting on the bench and Cutch, while a beautiful person, had shown a history of being more of an issue if he didn’t start where and when he wanted. Trading him was the right move from a team building aspect, but again, they’d rather believe you are too stupid to see it for what it was. Wanting to get something for a guy who they knew retaining was not in the cards.
Sometimes this sort of move will be welcomed, for instance should the Pirates find a taker for Polanco this off season they should rightly accept a bag of balls. It’s not to cast an unfair light on Gregory its simply because they have zero plan to retain him beyond next season and anything they could get would be better than nothing. This will absolutely be met with cries that Bob Nutting doesn’t want to win or Ben is exactly the same as Huntington. When it comes to things like this, yes, he absolutely will be just like Neal because this is the type of move a club like this has to make.
GM’s by their nature are guarded, they tend to tell you what they think you want to hear and that leads to fans feeling lied to or misled. Sometimes a GM spends so much time trying to make sure your rose colored glasses are still perched on your nose that they wind up believing the statements themselves, this is exactly what Neal Huntington did.
Neal actually did a wonderful job rebuilding this club from the ground up, but when it came time for him to start the process over again, this time with his own players, he found it much harder to make the hard choices. If he had, we’d have already been well into the next window opening, instead we’ve passed it onto a new face.
What does success look like for Nutting? For instance say Ben get’s the job done and this window opens in a year or two, things fall right and they win. Let’s not even take it all the way to championship, let’s just say they win and are near the top of the division for 3 or 4 seasons. The success will be in spite of Nutting right?
Bob Nutting isn’t going to sell this team, he doesn’t want to and the league won’t ever force him to. The other owners won’t ever support something like that because the same thought process of being ‘good for the league’ could easily be turned on them. There is a better chance that the league adopts a cap than to every see Nutting leave. And spare me the comments that there has to be a floor, caps don’t come without them, they’re baked in, always.
The draft will come, the Pirates will select one of the top guys available and yes, they’ll sign him. No the player won’t want out immediately, no they won’t trade him. Of all the things MLB has done wrong the slotting has eliminated much of the drafting of ‘sign-able’ talent. It has taken one arrow out of the quiver for the Pirates, no team has spent more on the draft than Pittsburgh, so they actually didn’t benefit from this until this coming draft.
None of this is to tell you how to fan, at the end of the day if this team wins everyone will jump on board, that’s just how it is. They’ll jump back off just as quickly mind you, but the only thing this club can really do to improve relations is to win. Easier said than done surely, but apologies and placating the fan base won’t help. Only winning can rebuild the trust and even that won’t spare Bob Nutting. He’ll be hated in this town for as long as he wants to be involved. No matter how much charity he gives to, no matter who he allows to be signed, no matter how his team performs.
Many of us have survived more than a few owners and front offices, and that comes with a realization. Since free agency was implemented in baseball, Pittsburgh lost the ability to compete with regularity. Partially because they’ve run the club like morons and partially because the game is rigged. Even the Tampa Bay Rays, envy of every small market, have never won it all. They could at any time, and they certainly do an excellent job of remaining relevant but at some point close but no cigar will be just as maddening as never close and can’t remember what cigar’s look like.
The point is the Pirates changed the face of the management, but the man who hired them is still the picture of failure. Could they succeed? Of course, but expecting the new hire to be a reset button ignores the reality that everyone noticed the real issue remained.
They’re selling hope, hope that they have secured a change in philosophy from a guy who’s never shown willingness to do so. Hope that they recognize where they are and aren’t afraid to tackle the challenges ahead.
Time heals all wounds, but in Baseball only winning will get that done.