For years it has been a rallying cry for some within the Pirates Fanbase; plastered on social media, echoed in response to almost every transaction made by the team and even placed onto t-shirts to wear into PNC Park. The financial shortcomings of Pittsburgh Pirates Owner and Chairman of The Board, Robert “Billionaire Bob” Nutting are known far and wide, mostly recently punctuated in a satirical jab by The Onion concerning the possibility of the team being a front for the mob. Much of this criticism has roots in the Pirates salary ranking, which has often sits in the bottom five across all of Major League Baseball, ever since he became the principal owner of the Pirates back in January of 2007; although he and his family had taken a more active role with the team beginning in 2002 and acquired controlling interest some time in 2005. It is also built on the implications that many of Pittsburgh’s player transactions are made in order to pad his wallet and build up Seven Springs because the Pirates are just giving players away, won’t ever sign anyone with talent to an extension or refuse to bring in a free agent that is worth anything. Each of these beliefs, not the ones that deal with his pocketbook or a ski resort, are based on some extremely real examples that took place during Nutting’s tenure. None of this can be disputed. It is a fact that at times Nutting has been a very cheap owner or at the very least didn’t do enough when he possibly could have. However, this doesn’t mean he has never spent or is going to be unwilling to do so in the future; and the manner in which General Manager Ben Cherington has gotten him to open up, even in the slightest thus far, gives me hope.
Following his arrival in November of 2019 it became well known that Cherington was almost certain to move the Pirates most valuable trade chip at the time, Starling Marte; which ultimately came to be on January 27, 2020. Marte, who’s $11.5 million option had been picked up earlier in the off-season, was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for high upside prospects Brennan Malone and Liover Pegeuro. Tied into the deal, aside from the Pirates agreement to retain $1.5 million of Marte’s 2020 salary, was $250K of international bonus pool space for Pittsburgh. Now I know that as soon dollar signs are mentioned, many believe this is actual currency, being exchanged, whereas it is truthfully only the ability to spend this money; and very quickly this is exactly what Cherington, but more accurately Nutting, did.
After having spent near the majority of their international bonus pool for the 2019-20 signing period, listed at $6,481,200, the additional space was invested in bringing 16 year-old Australian outfielder, Solomon Maguire, into the organization to the tune of a $594K signing bonus. With the bulk, and possibly all of their funds depleted it seemed as if this could be the last international player for the Pirates before the originally scheduled closing date of June 15, 2020. However, after it was extended to October 15th, Cherington looked to take full advantage of the situation, as long as he had permission from Nutting.
Prior to the in-season trade deadline Cherington was able to find a suitor for an unlikely trade chip in the form of Jarrod Dyson. His asking price for the speedy, defensive minded, aging outfielder was the ability to spend more international bonus pool space; $243,000 to be exact. Approximately a month later he sent Minor Leaguers, left-handed pitcher Domingo Robles to St. Louis and right-hander Conner Loeprich to Baltimore, for more space. His end goal was $1.25 million, which he put to use in signing 19-year-old Taiwanese right-hander Po-Yu Chen, who according to Fangraphs was the 22nd ranked international prospect in his class and was the last member of their top 40 yet to be signed.
In all it was estimated that the Pirates spent over $8 million total, on 49 players, with the final $1.5 million plus being acquired from teams that chose not to spend to their limit. Now I know that this may fall on deaf ears because this amount of money is just a small drop in the bucket of what many would like the Pirates, and Nutting more specifically, to spend, but to me it’s a start. He didn’t have to invest any of this money and Cherington got him to. That’s a win in my books; no matter how insignificant it may seem. And to build upon my small sliver of hope, just a few days ago, Cherington, got Nutting to pony up again in a major way as they gave Shalin Polanco the second largest signing bonus of any international amateur free agent in the ball club’s history, coming in at $2.35 million. Add in the two other two known contracts (Darlin Diaz and John Zorilla) and that total grows to $3.3 million or already over half of their allotted $5,899,600.
For those of you that fall squarely in the “Spend Nutting, Win Nutting” camp, I am sure that all of this doesn’t do much, if anything, for you because it is money that the Pirates are supposed to use anyway. However, at least in some small way, it chips away at the first half of your mantra as Nutting did in fact spend.