3/24/23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
It hardly matters the subject, if you cover a Sports team, you’re going to see popular debates crop up. Some are just for the day, some last decades but either way, they’re polarizing and once people have decided which side they’re going to defend, good luck chipping them off the wall they’re protecting.
Well, you know me, I love looking at all the angles surrounding a subject and today, that’s what I’m going to try to do with some debates going on right now.
Travis Williams – PR Genius
I’m sure plenty of people posted the quotes that came from Williams, but this is the one that seemed to garner the most attention at least on my timeline.
This is clumsy. A term I’ve used far too often to describe Pirates communication efforts over the years. It spurned instant anger, and even if you don’t have Twitter, I suggest clicking on this, reading the entire quote and some of the replies.
Travis has a job to do, and that job doesn’t really entail building a baseball team. Frank Coonely for instance, was very hands on with Baseball Ops, stepping in on and approving moves Huntington wanted to make. Williams’ role is different as the Pirates made a change to the position when they brought both he and consequently Cherington into the fold.
Let’s start there, because the first thing to say here is, what Travis says in this quote is 100% accurate, purely from his perspective. It is his job to ensure fans enjoy the experience at PNC up to the point where the players on the field are concerned. Then it becomes Cherington’s issue.
That said, a baseball executive just can’t say things like that. Nobody at any level in any organization can get away with saying so flippantly that winning isn’t essential to the experience. You can’t say it in any way.
I can, you can, I mean you can go to a game, have a great time and on your way back to the T or parking garage you can talk to everyone you went with about how it was fun even though they lost, but team president, nope, can’t come out your face hole.
Williams hasn’t spoken to the media much since being brought in, and statements like this, well, you can see why. You all can laugh at Bob Nutting when he has his rare sit downs with media as he parrots that the goal is winning championships. You can smack him in the nose for not showing that intention with his wallet. Hell, you can just make fun of his clothes while he does it, but at least he knows enough to keep saying it anyway. Feel me?
I also think to a degree, Travis is speaking to “any given game” here, not losing as it relates to overall record as many automatically assumed, but when you make a clumsy statement, you kinda reap what you sow.
It’s hard to believe he worked for the Penguins, a team that so rarely missteps on this stuff.
A better way for him to put the same message forward would be to outline everything he did, and at the end instead say “We want you to remember the team winning, Cruz hitting one in the river, and how great your experience in the ballpark was, all of the above are part of the fan experience.”
Problem is, I truly don’t think Williams thinks of it in that way. I think he truly sees his role as more about venue management, community involvement, and while internally I’m quite sure that’s the case, again, it just can’t be painted as such publicly.
We often claim to want transparency, and then we get it….
Travis Swaggerty Isn’t Treated Fairly!
A whole lot of this dates back to last year when Swaggerty was called up for a very short stint and sent back down, even as the Pirates struggled to field a competent outfield most of the season.
Add into that now, in the last 5 Spring games, Canaan Smith-Njigba has played 5 games, 4 of them starts while Travis has played 5 games, 1 of them as a starter. That matters because in theory, if you want someone to show you they deserve to make the club, you aren’t asking them to do it against late inning replacements in Spring, you’re asking them to do it against the other team’s starters, or at least more of them.
Swaggerty has really had a nice Spring, it’s not his fault who he faces, and so has CSN, I really think if it came down to cases, most fans would probably shove Jack Suwinski back to AAA and keep both of them on the 26-man, but that isn’t happening and despite the passion surrounding this, I’ll give this my best swing at explaining.
Jack has a strikeout problem, he had it all last season too mind you, but a player who takes 326 at bats and hits 19 homeruns with an OPS over .700 in the Majors is always going to trump two guys who had nice 40 AB Springs. Just is.
The Pirates could be wrong here, but options being what they are, there is zero permanency about this choice right now. The allure of adding 200 at bats to his share of playing time and hoping that translates to 10 more homeruns is just too sexy.
Think about it this way, if Jack winds up being Joey Gallo, that’s not great, but also not without value. The Rangers traded Joey Gallo for 4 of the Yankees top 30 prospects. Moral of the story, homeruns sell, and homeruns spawn opportunity.
I’m not even here to tell you it’s a slam dunk Jack isn’t switched with whomever is left out of this mix come May, but to ignore what he did against actual MLB pitching in lieu of what two guys have done against a mixture of NRIs and AA pitchers sprinkled with MLB arms is just not a fair fight to begin with.
Travis has been handled strangely. First things first, he wasn’t this management group’s pick, and they’ve already shown that isn’t how they determine who is or isn’t a worthy prospect. Even so, they don’t have the same incentive to prove they were right about their number one pick as they will with say Nick Gonzales.
He has indeed had a wonderful and encouraging Spring and if he’s sent down I truly don’t see it being the end of his story here, if he keeps it up in AAA. Now, if it’s a 1 to 1 comparison between Swaggerty and Smith-Njigba, it’s a pretty even race really. CSN is an on base machine and a good defender, Swaggerty is an elite defender but gets on base at a lower clip. Both have some power, neither come close to Jack in that department.
I get why it seems unfair to Travis, but I also don’t think fairness comes into play on things like this. I may not be completely sold on Cherington’s vision as it comes to player evals, but I sure as hell want him to have autonomy making his choices, and I’d like to believe he thinks he’s making the right choices for the team. Even if he’s wrong.
The Dopey Pirates Should Cut Ji-man Choi
Here’s the premise. The Pirates, if they had opportunity to get a redo of the offseason, would hit the reset button on their first acquisition Ji-man Choi.
The overriding belief being that they didn’t know they’d get Santana, Joe or of course Andrew McCutchen.
All that could be true, probably is, after all, in baseball you never know until you know, but it’s known that the Pirates were the first team to reach out to Carlos Santana and they came in hot folks. They of course couldn’t know he’d sign, but they were pursuing him even as they made the deal for Choi. Once they secured Choi, it’s not like they were forced into following through on Santana.
So to me the premise that they just acquired and signed all these guys in some rare orgy of spending, then sat back, breathed a bit and now think to themselves, well horse hockey, we don’t need all these guys, is silly.
The reason this is coming up is because MLB changed an obscure rule. In the past when you took a player to arbitration, as soon as the case was settled, the money was guaranteed. Now, teams can cut a player before the season starts and basically back out of the deal. It’s obviously more complicated than that cause you know, it’s MLB and no rules are just a to b, but that’s the gist.
The idea has some merit. Choi is likely not a starter on this team, and keeping him probably artificially keeps a young player in AAA as a result, and being Pirates fans, you can’t dismiss the allure of saving money.
That being said, and of course factored in, I think the Pirates are actually just hedging their bet here. Santana is 37, Cutch isn’t a Spring chicken and Choi has only played more than 100 games twice in his career.
I just don’t see this as being a real option for this club and further the team has multiple times mentioned Choi by name as a veteran in the room who brings value off the field for youngsters. Williams, Shelton, and Cherington have all, on the record pointed to this, and this player, and lets just say, the entire brain trust doesn’t spend all offseason building up value in an intangible only to turn around and say it doesn’t really matter right before the season starts.
This rule could come into play at some point though, you might see in the future, guys like Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl, taken to arb having this option in their back pocket, instead of having to make the decision entirely in the offseason. So in the future, maybe fewer non-tenders, but with this player, this year, I don’t see it, nor do I see the logic.
It’s also not a 100% step out of financial responsibility. You’d still have to pay a percentage of his salary, just nowhere near all of it.
Pirate Fan Class Wars
Another interview tidbit from Travis Williams, noted PR expert and fan enthusiasm wonk. This time Trav was explaining why the Pirates chose not to have Pirates Fest this year.
He used a lot of words, but the gist is they hadn’t had a Pirates Fest since before COVID and in their infinite wisdom they looked around and thought hey, lets see if we can’t find a way to make sure season ticket holders feel special.
Sounds nice right?
Well it is, but maybe not when it’s ALL you do. See, there have always been season ticket holder (STH) exclusive events, but there have also been in tandem events for everyone who consider themselves to be fans.
In saying they wanted to focus on STH as the most “loyal” fans it sets up a weird class war. First, not everyone can afford season tickets and more than that, it takes away all responsibility on the Pirates that there are so few STH in the first place.
Again, I have no problem with STH being treated as special. They are, and lord knows they’ve dealt with some bad baseball in the process, but fans in say Morgantown who make the trek twice a year, well, they deserve to have some chance to get together and meet players too.
Bottom line, this isn’t a franchise that can afford to pretend any paying ticket customer is less than another.
When pressed on whether there’d be a Pirates Fest next year, he declined to say noting they haven’t done their budget yet for next year.
I’ll go out on a limb and guess there’ll be one next year, the outcry has just been too loud to ignore. It might not be what we used to have, but I have to believe even they aren’t that dumb.
Reynolds Extension by the End of Spring?
I’ve always been straight with you about this subject. I’m not a journalist, but I have enough people I talk to that it’s been pretty easy to stay plugged in, well, until about a month ago anyway.
I knew they were going quiet, and I told you all that, but today Jason Mackey from the PG confirmed that the two sides have “hushed” media communication.
Jon Heyman reported that the Pirates are trying to get the extension done before the season begins, I’ve also told you this.
Point is, even I feel better about reports when they come from real reporters so I certainly don’t expect anyone to act like some dude already told you all this.
That said, this situation is poised to come to it’s apex very soon and I believe it will get done.
The silence is intentional, because whichever side you think is in the right (gee let me guess) it benefits neither to push out a play by play of this negotiation. I can say with some confidence that there have been real discussions of numbers, and according to Jason Mackey again, “the two sides are in a better place than they were”.
The long and short of it is, at this point, neither side wants to pressure or “hurt” the other, and that in and of itself should make you feel like progress is being made. As long as they’re quiet, they’re working.
Now, Heyman having a report, chances are the agent talked at least to a pacifying level, but again, there’s really no incentive to do so aside from perhaps feeling that they’ve waited longer than they’d like for a reply or counter.
This stuff is so messy, but all in all, it’s going exactly as most imagined it would if they indeed didn’t want to move the player, which of course, they don’t.
Another theory on why this was put out today, goes back to our first controversy, Travis Williams interview. It was such bad PR the Pirates likely felt it necessary to leak something at least semi positive, or at least promising. I’m not sure I buy this because it really only gave people another chance to recall how few large extensions this team has handed out and how bad their initial offer was perceived to be.
Eyes open, I expect this to be sewed up one way or the other by the first homestand of the season, and I give them that long for press conference/home buzz purposes.
2 thoughts on “Debating Some of the Pirates Controversies”
I appreciate Wiliams’ choice of words. I think that it was important for him to outline the key difference between him and FC. It’s been clear to me that his role was behind the scenes but what does that mean? Does he influence what happens on the field? It’s now clear that he doesn’t. I appreciate the fact that BN has committed so much to improving what goes on in and around the stadium. Is it the most important aspect of what the team does? No, but, the experience is important. I started my working career working as an usher at the Fulton Theater. in 1975 we charged folks $3.50 to see a movie and a ton for a popcorn and a coke. Yeah, we needed a movie that was popular to succeed but it was drilled into us that for people to continue to come we had to escort them to seats making them feel special. We had someone stationed near the front doors to frequently wash finger prints from the glass, pick up debris from the front of the building, clean cigarette butts from the ashtrays, vacuum the lobby and more. It’s the difference between shopping at Nordstroms or Kuhl’s. To reiterate, the product must be good as well but a commitment to the overall experience is huge.
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1. Yeah, just needed to cache that in something like what you posed, probably starting with “We understand throughout this organization that our foremost concern and desire is to return the World Series trophy to Pittsburgh. We believe in Ben and our baseball ops staff, just as they believe in us to ensure we take care of everything else in our fans’ experience outside the field.”
For what it’s worth, Penguins PR has mostly had it easy since 2005–not that hard to sell Crosby and a perennial contender. The in-person experience really suffered upon the move to the new cookie-cutter arena, in my opinion. The place is absolutely dead for a number of reasons, but most of those point back to mismanagement of the gameday experience. This year has been different. The team has looked bad while expectations remain high, and the PR heads have made the org look very tonedeaf with promotional posts very shortly after the players stink up the joint. They don’t make the ridiculous overt gaffes, sure, but we are on the cusp of seeing what the PR folks (and other non-hockey ops personnel) are really made of.
2. There might be a little bias toward BC guys over NH guys, but the dude hasn’t hit well or even played much period above High-A. I just don’t see it.
3. The guy was barely even healthy enough to return in time for the start of the season–a wrist injury at that, right? Just silly and too early for that in my opinion. Now, I am certainly open to the view that they acquired too many vets in the winter and maybe didn’t have everything planned out neatly, but Choi still makes sense to me for reasons you noted, unless it’s a lack of due diligence like Aki Iwamura’s absolutely shot knees.
4. Every time I think they can’t get any dumber, man. This is so simple, just giving everyday folks something, whether Pirate Fest or another form. I just don’t know how they continue to botch it so badly for so long.
5. It’s frustrating how many people are not only ignorant, but often willfully ignorant about these things. So many still insist he’s traded by July, “sAmE OlD pIrAtEs” which I’m sure you see more of than I do. I wish there was some kind of “serious only” filter online, haha.