“What we need is to have everyone believing in what we’re doing, the moves we’re making,” Bob Nutting after firing David Littlefield in September 2007.
The quote was from several years ago, and yet four years later the moves the Pittsburgh Pirates make still have people not believing in the team. The problems with the Pittsburgh Pirates are many. Some fans believe the true horror of 19 years of losing lies in the lack of bold moves by their principal owner. Scattered throughout a mind blowing losing streak are endless stories of failure.
As we wrote a few years ago, it’s hard for people to find Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting as being innovative. It’s hard for people to believe in Bob Nutting period. He is perceived as a loser who cares little about the storied franchise. He seems more businessman than owner. Can you imagine comparing the Nutting ownership group to the World Series bound Rangers ownership group headed by Nolan Ryan?
If you are from the beloved City of Champions, you have an opinion about Bob Nutting. We would guess it is a strong one. The man from West Virginia is polarizing. We don’t think he is rolling in profits, but there is no question he is profiting.
The Nutting legacy is one of losing. The man sets a new record with each loss. It has to be embarassing, yet it never comes across that way in the media. Nutting even appeared to have an ever so subtle “I told you so” attitude in his interviews during the Bucs surprising start to the 2011 season.
But there is one area where Bob Nutting is winning.
He is growing the monetary value of his asset, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
If you are fan of the team, this should be valuable to you. Obviously, it’s very hard for the casual fan to get excited about the basic improvements in the Pirates franchise.
The team has assets in the Dominican that should foster future talented players. The team owns the High-A Bradenton Marauders franchise. The recent Amateur Draft expenditures are at the highest level in Major League Baseball. The team negotiated a new television deal with ROOT Sports last season that will be looked at for years as television deals grow in size. The team has a new broadcasting partner in KDKA Radio for the 2012 season. The team was in first place in 2011.
But despite all of these very important moves, Bob Nutting still has a big time image problem. He can’t put a winner on the field at the major league level. He trusts his baseball men to make perfect decisions with very little financial flexibility and baseball simply doesn’t work that way.
Mistakes are made by every team in the league, but when a team such as the Pirates makes an error in evaluating a player, its impact is felt throughout the organization. When injuries hit the Pirates hard in 2011, the team simply couldn’t recover.
The offseason errors in talent evaluation the team has made have left holes in the Pirates lineup. The holes have caused the vicious losing cycle to continue.
Simply put, the Pirates Baseball Club is simply underfunded and with Nutting not interested in selling, there seems to be no end to the losing. Well, at least until Nutting has some of his debts paid down. Even then, there is no guarantee the money needed to compete in the NL Central will ever be available.
But losing baseball games doesn’t impact the value of the team.
Many sports franchises increase their value, but fans in Pittsburgh feel stung a little bit when reading that the value of the Pirates is increasing each year. We understand that every team owner wants to build their brand. Build their empire.
The catch is that teams typically achieve those goals and have the support of their fans.
Pirates fans came out to support the club in 2011. The pain of the past 18 years was ignored, but as the frustrating losses piled up after the All-Star break, fans stayed away. The team failed to reach two million in attendance. It was a mark that seemed a virtual lock in July.
As happy as Bucco fans were about the improved 2011 team, most fans are now skeptical for 2012. It’s hard not to be although we believe the Bucs will again be competitive out of the gate. But the Pirates are in another galaxy when it comes to perception. The Pittsburgh Steelers can pass on signing Max Starks prior to the season and public lynchings aren’t demanded. Yet the Pirates look to be letting starter Paul Maholm walk away and the die hard fan base seems highly upset.
Why is that?
We think it boils down to the fact that Bob Nutting hasn’t engendered the trust of Pirates fans. Think about it. Trust in ownership is a huge factor in how a team is perceived. Pirates fans don’t trust the Bucs to put a winner on the field in 2012. That’s the bottom line.
The question dujour is this: with Paul Maholm gone, who will fill the innings void in 2012? Despite the fact that Maholm pitched like shit in his last handful of starts, it’s a fair question. When you take a look at the free agent market it becomes even more questionable. Stroking a nearly ten million dollar check for a pitcher with serious question marks must have made Nutting nervous. So if the Dollar General has questions about spending roughly as much as one sixth of his payroll on one pitcher, you can rest assured his baseball guys are going to think twice.
We can’t even begin to think about how the team plans on replacing Ryan Doumit, one of their few strong hitters when he was healthy in 2011. Hence, the present state of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Adding to the dilemma is the fact that key pieces from the 2011 pitching staff are broke dick.
Without warning it was announced Charlie Morton had successful hip surgery last week. Kevin Corriea will be coming back from injury. He was seen in a hip California eatery recently so all seems on pace for his return. Jeff Karstens pitched so damn well in 2011, fans can’t fathom him repeating his success in 2012. The one positive? James McDonald appears to be healthy and ready for 2012.
So with only so much cash to go around, Maholm seems to be out. We have no earthly idea where the Pirates expect to find starters for 2012. Maybe they will come via trades. Hence the panic.
We think the big hangup from the fans is this- the Pirates have failed to find major league ready players in past offseasons.
Arguably, two of the bigger impact players the Pirates have added in the past few years are Derrek Lee and James McDonald. Both were added at the trade deadline.
Lee and McDonald didn’t have a choice but come to Pittsburgh. Both were solid acquisitions, but until the Bucs land a difference-making-free agent in the offseason, the reactions to letting a player like Maholm walk will continue to escalate negative public opinion. Unless, and this is big, a rather big name pitcher can be had in a trade.
The fans simply have no confidence in the Pirates finding a pitcher to replace Maholm. The mentality stems from Nutting’s past. This past offseason is a perfect example why we can’t blame the fans for looking at 2012 in a negative light. Unless some moves are made quickly, it’s hard to see anyone getting pumped about buying season tickets for next year.
And who can blame them? The underlying factor is, and always will be, dollars. Just look at some history:
The draft, until recently, has lacked boldness. Remember the $10 million dollar signing bonus that turned into a $6 million dollar bonus for Matt Weiters? The Bucs lacked boldness and took Danny Moskos instead of a catcher that would make the decision on Doumit and Snyder a moot point. It was years ago, but many fans still point to this failure. Moskos bombed as a starter and is now a bullpen arm that has had little impact in the Bucs performance.
Under Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly, the draft has been approached differently. It’s perhaps the Pirates best story in recent years. The team seems poised to have their minor league system ranked as one of the ten best in baseball.
But until one or two of those players have a prolonged impact in Pittsburgh, it doesn’t ease the pain. We think Pedro Alvarez returns to his slugging ways in 2012, and the sting will ease, but with Pedro playing so poorly this season, the draft argument is yet to gain footing. Prospects are heart breakers to most Pirates fans who haven’t been fortunate enough to see Jameson Taillon or Gerrit Cole sting a catchers glove.
The recent draft success is a major turn from the saga of Miguel Sano. At the time, Bob Nutting said he “hoped” the team would land Sano. We despise the word hope. It’s a word used by losers. As you know, the team missed the opportunity to sign Sano. The team feared it was bidding against itself and Sano’s asshole agent signed the talented teenager with the Twins organization.
Most fans forget about the Pirates landing Luis Heredia. We think it is because like Sano, he is a teenager and it seemed the Bucs had him locked up all along. Heredia’s 2012 season could point to big things for the Bucs future. If Heredia pitches well, the future appears bright for the Bucs rotation. Many fans imagine a rotation that includes Gerrit Cole, Kyle McPherson, Luis Heredia, Jameson Taillon and a multitude of talented fifth starter options.
It’s all very exciting, but it’s not immediate. When a team loses for 19 consecutive years, any talk of the future is difficult to hear. If you’ve made it this far in this long ass post, you know that the Pirates farm system is improved. Hell, it should be after spending so many millions of dollars. But will it ever be enough? It’s a difficult question to answer.
The Pirates spend lavishly to attract the best players available now. The Josh Bell signing was a bold, calculated move that was a 360 degree turn from the days of Weiters and Sano.
The Pirates seem to be learning from the ghosts of this American Horror Story. But will it ever translate to wins? Unless the Pirates start investing in major league talent this offseason, speculation among the fans will continue. The sooner the Pirates address starting pitching, the sooner ticket sales will improve.
Before the 2011 All-Star break Nutting said money is the easy part. He was talking about adding talent to ensure the Pirates played meaningful games in September 2011.
“The easy decisions are the dollars. We’ve built in that flexibility. We only need to make decisions based on the interests of the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
Of course the money didn’t help in 2011. The Bucs feel good 2011 season had a horrid ending when the pitching went to shit. Even though the Pirates added payroll and sent young talent to get veterans Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick at the trade deadline, few fans believe the Bucs will do it again. We think it’s only a matter of time until Huntington and his men land a talented starter or big bat. They can’t all be failures–can they?
Perhaps Huntington can write a different ending to the American Horror Story in 2012. An ending that has been 20 years in the making. Perhaps Huntington has already targeted players that will improve the pitching staff. Maybe Huntington knows more about Maholm’s second half collapse than we give him credit.
It seems obvious that Maholm is a good investment. Too obvious.
We know one thing. Bob Nutting is going to limit the amount of dollars spent at the major league level making Huntingtons job of writing a positive ending to 2012 even more challenging. We would guess it’s almost to the point where Frank Coonelly and Huntington are sick of asking Nutting for anything.
So there is no question 2012 is a pivotal season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The fans want wins. The streak needs snapped. If winning baseball is played at PNC Park it will ensure the fans will return. But if the Pirates limp out of the gate, it won’t be pretty considering the disappointing ending to the 2011 season. But to achieve wins in 2012, money needs invested on improving a major league team that lost ninety games in 2011.
The dilemma is pitching. The Pirates talented arms like Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole, Luis Heredia, and Kyle McPherson aren’t ready. The young pitchers who had so much success in Altoona like Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, and Jeff Locke aren’t ready.
So what will Huntington and Coonelly do? If Nutting cared, he would go on the record saying he is desperate for a winner and is inreasing the amount of payroll that Coonelly and Huntington will have to invest in 2012. He would say that he owes it to the fans of Pittsburgh. Don’t worry that won’t happen. And in that lies the answer to what happens in 2012.
If the option on Maholm is any indication, nothing bold will be done at the major league level. There are simply too many holes to fill and too few dollars allocated toward building a bridge until the talented prospects arrive. It all makes little sense, unless we know the ultimate motive of the man behind the hollow quotes.
If Bob Nutting wants people to start believing in the moves the Pittsburgh Pirates make, it starts with him.
“There has to be a positive mindset, a winning mindset.” Bob Nutting, September, 2007
Quotes for this story came from two Dejan Kovacevic articles. One from 2007 and one from this season: