One of the most often brought up reasons for optimism that Cherington will be afforded the money he needs to get the job done when the time comes has doubled as the answer to that question. Many including myself have presumed he and Travis Williams would never have taken this position if they weren’t given some assurance they would indeed be afforded the ability to get the job done.
Now, that presumption could apply for anyone they hired couldn’t it? So why did everyone jump to that for these two? Williams is easy, he left an upward pointing career in another sport altogether to take the team president role with the Pirates, and it’s hard to imagine he’d do that without some kind of assurance. That said, it’s also hard to imagine he was equipped with the baseball knowledge to really understand where they were, beyond the record. It’s not like he was talking to Cherington before he accepted to talk plans and options.
Ben Cherington has real baseball experience, he’s won a World Series and he built the team, he also followed that success by butchering the next phase in Boston but it’s fair to say he still has a solid reputation. Working in the Blue Jays system in a lesser role, Ben’s name came up for most openings around the league and he passed on even interviewing for most of them. So why did he choose the Pirates to dip his toe back in?
How do you go from running a club like the Red Sox to wanting to run a club like the Pirates? Again, he’s said he has assurances he will have the money he needs when the time comes but let’s face it, he could have gone elsewhere and not had to play a game like that, he could have jumped in somewhere and been afforded the freedom to do this exactly as he’d like and not wait for resources. Probably could have started closer to the goal elsewhere, so again, why here?
Alright, so it took a while to get here, but here’s what I got. After 2021 the Pirates have exactly 3 Million dollars committed. That’s the buyout figure for Gregory Polanco and it’s all that’s on the books for the Pirates as of now as they head into 2022. Obviously that could change as he could extend some players or even bring someone in but that’s an incredible reality.
Why is that appealing to a GM you ask? Well, he isn’t stuck with anything. This team will be exactly what he envisioned much quicker than if he had taken over a club that had say 50 million committed that far out.
That’s not to say there isn’t anyone on the club he’ll want to keep, instead it’s a situation that gives him the ability to choose for himself every single facet of who’s on this club. He doesn’t have to find a place for anyone to make room. He doesn’t have to sacrifice a roster spot for an aging veteran who isn’t part of his plan. The Pirates are the baseball equivalent to a blank canvas and if he has the vision to create, he can paint whatever he wants.
Its a truly odd situation too, this simply doesn’t happen and ineptitude helped get us here. The rules allow for it, baseball is set up to create situations like this by creating 6 year windows depending on when you get called up where you really don’t have to commit anything to players. Sure, he’ll have to pay them and arbitration will make some of them wind up being expensive, but the point is, he can extend who he wants and move who he doesn’t. He’s not married to anyone and that’s just not typical.
So, there’s one big reason this franchise was probably appealing to Mr. Cherington, but what if Bob Nutting lied to him about the ability to spend commensurate with what he doesn’t spend now? This is more of a blame laden statement that actually means what if he doesn’t win here? Doesn’t that hurt his reputation?
Does it? Is there anyone in the league that wouldn’t just assume Nutting was the problem? In other words, its a fairly safe opportunity. If he fails most people will assume he had handcuffs on and paid for his own parking spot at PNC. True or untrue, everyone in the league will see the basic facts, he has just about the cheapest owner in baseball and his team president is a hockey guy.
I don’t say that to denigrate Travis Williams as much as to say right or wrong he too provides cover for Cherington should this go south. For all the success he enjoyed in the NHL, he’s never experienced anything in MLB and it’s an easier sell that he didn’t help the situation than trying to convince a college student to eat ramen.
Everything could go great too, it really could. When your team stops being a middling franchise and topples all the way to the bottom of the league the talent infusion can be incredible. In his first draft since joining the Pirates he picked near the top of the board and brought in some really nice talent. He traded Starling Marte for more elite talent too. Now it doesn’t mean Nutting has told the truth, but that talent will still play, the problem has been and until proven otherwise will be keeping said talent in town beyond their rookie deals.
The point of all this is, for Ben Cherington this position is a low risk, high reward shot at being a GM again in the league. Sounds a whole lot like how he’ll have to approach bringing in even more talent.