He came, he saw, but the Pittsburgh Pirates haven't conquered...yet. Either way, you can see owner Bob Nutting's plan starting to come to fruition.
In recent years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have done a lot of losing. Yet, in 2023, they have been the biggest surprise in baseball. Let's examine how this is suddenly possible for the small-market franchise and its detested owner.
Bob Nutting has not exactly been a crowd-pleaser for Pirates fans since purchasing the team in 2007. Nutting has faced criticism from some (or most) fans and observers for the team's perceived lack of spending on player salaries and reluctance to make big moves in free agency.
In 2018, the Pirates traded top prospects Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and pitcher Shane Baz to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Chris Archer. That trade, which has been called the 'worst trade in franchise history' by MLB analysts, was the boiling point for Bob Nutting.
Despite these challenges, the Pirates have a dedicated fan base and a strong baseball tradition in Pittsburgh. The team has made efforts to invest in player development and build a sustainable model for success, focusing on building a competitive team from within. Bob Nutting knows that winning solves all issues.
The Pirates are consistently at the bottom payroll tier out of the 30 MLB teams, spending around $70 million on their players annually. However, despite being a small-market franchise, the team still has had windows for success under Nutting's tenure. After all, the Pirates made the playoffs three times between 2013 and 2015 after not making the postseason since 1992. Now, it looks like the window for Buccos' success is again here.
The recent contract signings of Bryan Reynolds ($106.75 million- 8 years) and Ke'Bryan Hayes ($70 million-8 years) show Nutting is willing to pay the Pirates' core players. This, coupled with the fact that the team is in 1st place in the NL Central, has made Bucs' fever soar across Western Pennsylvania.
The signing of fan favorite Andrew McCutchen, who won the NL MVP with the Bucs in 2013, has also excited fans.
"We have a young and competitive group of players who are taking themselves seriously" said Nutting in an interview with WTAE, while adding that "it felt different in Bradenton this spring".
Nutting is not wrong. The 2023 Pirates feels different and looks different in the best possible way. Being a small market in a league without a salary cap presents many difficulties. For starters, players want to go to teams that will pay them more money. Keeping players like Reynolds long-term is vitally important for the Pirates. Nutting and general manager Ben Cherington have done that, and developed drafted players in the organization. This development of drafted players is the formula for success for a small market franchise like the Pirates.
The Pirates aren't just winning games so far in 2023; they are dominating. The Bucs rank 2nd in the National League in runs, averaging 5.38 per game. The team also ranks 1st in the NL run differential (+48). The pitching has also been impressive. The Pirates rank 3rd in the NL in team ERA (3.55) and 1st in saves (13).
An excellent balance of veteran leaders and young potential stars is what makes this team great. Seasoned players McCutchen, Carlos Santana, and pitcher Rich Hill have taken the leadership role by the horns this season. Young players like Jack Suwinski, Rodolfo Castro, and Reynolds have also done their part. The team's bond in the clubhouse is as strong as it's been in decades.
Offseason additions Connor Joe and Austin Hedges have provided for the Bucs in ways few expected as well. Joe leads the Pirates in OPS thus far, while the defense and leadership of Hedges have not gone unnoticed. Sunday, Hedges made one of the best plays you'll see by a catcher all season.
While Nutting's master plan continues to work like a charm, the Pirate wins keep piling up like a plate of food on Thanksgiving. The best part is that they don't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Sit back, relax, and watch the Bucs Raise the Jolly Roger. This year, you're sure to see it often.