10-23-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)
This obviously goes without saying, and is more than likely an understatement of how many of you actually feel based on the barrage of comments that often follow many, if not most of the articles myself and Gary write. It doesn’t even have to be an piece that deals with anything remotely resembling team spending-ex. my Through The Prospect Porthole articles-to cause remarks about Nutting and his propensity for frugal spending to fill our story’s threads; with some that appear to be a copy and paste, placed under every single post that mentions the Pirates.
As much as this annoys me on occasion; to spend the time researching a topic or player, writing and editing an article, only to have countless “Spend Nutting, Win Nutting!”, “Sell The Team!”, “The Owner Has Zero Interest In Competing!” and comments of the like plastered below something I did out of pure enjoyment of the game and love for my team…I at least understand and can empathize with the sentiment. No one likes to see their ball club at-or towards-the bottom of the standings more often than not. Although, in many fans’ recollection of events-a narrative of sorts-Nutting has become the supervillain; because every plot involving any type of injustice needs one.
However, in the Pittsburgh Pirates tale of woe I would see him more as the underboss in a much larger organizational deterioration. Kind of like when you had to make your way through Boom Boom in each level of Super Mario Brothers III in order to finally face Bowser (aka King Koopa), with the fate of the entire Mushroom Kingdom hanging in the balance.
Yet, this isn’t even where my main point of contention lies, as this paradigm exists on a much larger scale than the one that resides at 115 Federal Street; and is honestly beyond the reach of anyone that covers, blogs/podcasts about or is a fan of a team in a situation similar to the Pirates.
No, the issue I have survives on misinformation spread throughout the Pirates Fanbase, in an attempt to make Nutting into a Bowser. As if making him crumble, would bring peace and harmony to our own little Mushroom Kingdom.
Often it starts with blanket statements, made out of frustration at the current state of the Pirates; mostly dealing with the teams record and the likelihood they will be able to contend at some point. Most, if not all of these declarations contain the same messages; including, but not limited to: 1) The Pirates will never be competitive as long as Nutting is the owner. 2) Nutting will never allow the team to extend players who are performing well. Once the get good, they will be traded. 3) The Pirates need an owner that is willing to spend money because Nutting will never increase the payroll. Or my personal favorite. 4) The Pirates have been rebuilding since 1992, or in some dramatic cases for the last 40 years.
The first of these assertions is the easiest to disprove because it seems as if some fans magically get amnesia anytime you point out what took place between 2013 and 2015; or if you want to get really specific, in 2018 as well. While it’s not a great track record, the Pirates have 4 winning season and three playoff appearances in the 14 years Nutting has been at the helm; something their previous owner Kevin McClatchy cannot claim. Of course this doesn’t mean that history will repeat itself, so maybe just attach again to the end of the sentence in order to make it relevant.
The second is almost just as easy to discredit by simply pointing to the extensions offered to Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison and Francisco Liriano. While a couple of these attempted, and allowed for the their superstar and a strong starter to be present through a preconceived window, the others tried to keep it open. Even the eventual disastrous Archer trade added payroll in the short term in an attempt to be competitive.
Now, number three can be resolved by a painless Google search. In 2008, Nutting’s first season as owner the Pirates team payroll-including benefits and bonus-totaled $65 million. By 2017 it peaked at $118 million, with the number falling around $111 million during what many see as our last competitive season in 2015. Sure there’s the always referenced lack of push after the 2016 to keep the party going, most often punctuated by Neil Walker being traded to the Mets for Jon Niese or bringing in Juan Nicasio and Ryan Vogelsong to sure up the pitching staff. Less frequently credited in a ball club going from the second best team in MLB with 98 wins to one that managed only 78 is the fact that Andrew McCutchen went from a 5.0 WAR All -Star player to being below replacement level at -.3 WAR or that Gerrit Cole fell from 4.3 to 1.5. And you better not even mention that Josh Harrison had 2.0 WAR compared to Neil Walker’s 2.2 WAR from the year before, or that John Jaso topped Pedro Alvarez’s performance from the year before. It was all Nutting.
Then you have the fourth and final claim, which is the go-to when all else fails; the Pirates are always rebuilding. After the 1992 run for a Championship, the Pittsburgh Associates knew they couldn’t keep the group they had assembled together, but they pressed forward for a few more years. This was until Kevin McClatchy came on the scene. In his time as the team’s CEO and lead owner McClatchy employeed two GM’s-Cam Bonifay and David Littlefield,who did nothing more than tread water; with any mention of a rebuild being nothing more than lip service.
Finally when Neal Huntington took over at the end of 2007, a rebuild-the first since 1986-actually took place. Obviously it wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t hear too many complaints when it was in full swing. So, that makes this the third rebuild in 35+ years, and only the second of Nutting’s time as the Pirates owner; with the first one going pretty well.
On top of these, there are so many regular inaccurate posts concerning revenue sharing versus the Pirates payroll-which is not even close to a baseball organizations total expenses-that it just makes me want to scream. Do you think each team gets Monopoly Money to play around with in each MLB Draft? Is the International Bonus Pool Space just that; space with the ever expanding payroll that no one comes to collect on? Do coaches, scouting members, analysts and other staff members work for free? Does MLB just donate Rapsodo, Trackman and other devices to every Major League team? Are improvements to Major League and Minor League Complexes on the house? Do the Pirates get credit for being only one out of 11 MLB ball clubs to pay their players for extended Spring Training?
Obviously, after many Pirates Fans read this article I will be proclaimed as a Nutting Apologist, but truthfully I don’t even care anymore. Is Robert Nutting a terrible owner? Yes. Is he cheap? Yes. Will getting rid of him fix the Pirates? Absolutely not.
But keep treating Nutting as the King Koopa. See where that gets you. See where that gets our favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. The battle in MLB is bigger than just one man.