A closer look at the Pirates, Under the Nutting Ownership

Just once I’d like to see a Pirates owner spend “whatever it takes.”  

The closest this organization has come in the last 30 years was in 1992, when the Bucs’ payroll ranked 4th in the National League at $33.94 million.  Pittsburgh drew the seventh-highest number of fans in the NL that season. They are never going to be tops in either category, but this was the first bit of proof that if they are in the upper middle, they can in fact (nearly) get there.

In 2012, it was reported Robert Nutting as the 10th wealthiest owner in major league baseball. The Nuttings built their wealth in the publishing industry. Newspapers no longer have the revenue streams they once enjoyed. Not to say the Nuttings are struggling, but their income generator isn’t what it used to be – unless you think Seven Springs is more important than it really is.

Even with advertising revenue dwindling, his own personal assets however, have likely never been higher with financial markets soaring higher than we have ever seen.  So on the one hand, the Nuttings’ primary revenue stream is facing secular decline. On the other hand, the stock market increase has more than made up for that.

When the Nutting family became majority owners sometime around January of 2007, the Dow Industrial Exchange closed at 12,563 (on Jan. 15, 2007). The Dow currently sits at just over the 26,000 level. That’s an increase of over 100 percent. Just from that point alone, The family should be in a strong revenue position.

Why not play for today?

There are a ton of free agents remaining on the market. Had the Pirates kept Cole and McCutchen, the 2018 outlook might look a whole lot differently. It’s as if a team directive was to rid itself of both players at a specific time.

The longer the premium free agents are on the market, the more desperate the second and third tiers of free agents become. Pittsburgh would be in perfect position to pick off unsigned players right before spring training at reduced prices, much the way the organization signed David Freese in 2016.

Playoff hopes for the 2018 season didn’t have to end in January.

For once, why not add instead of subtract? If the organization really believes it had bad luck with injuries, suspensions, slumps and visas in 2017, all but Jung-Ho Kang could be expected back for 2018.

Why not go for it one last time before tearing it down?

Pittsburgh received no top 100 prospects back for Cole or McCutchen. Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran and Michael Feliz are all worth taking a chance on as buy-low candidates, but not as featured pieces. Prospect Jason Martin wasn’t even protected in the Rule 5 Draft – and no other team claimed him.

Outfielder Bryan Reynolds appears to be the only legitimate prospect of the group while pitcher Kyle Crick has trouble throwing strikes.

It’s almost as if the Pirates had no faith in Cole keeping his trade value up through the trade deadline. There’s a legitimate chance of him getting hurt, but that can be said about any player. The team didn’t have to deal Cole for the underwhelming return it received. One wonders if he’s already pitching through an injury that could get worse between now and July. Time will tell.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington had this to say in March of 2016. Coming off three straight playoff appearances, here’s an excerpt, courtesy of CBS Pittsburgh

“I understand that people think the ability to spend other people’s money is really, really simple,” Huntington said. “If you look at the last three seasons, nobody’s given us a chance to win, and this club is probably more talented than most people give it credit for.”

Our attendance has risen,” Huntington said. “We’ve set the franchise record each of the last two years, and that is awesome, and it’s a testament and tribute to our fan base. The reality is our attendance still sits in the middle of the pack for the industry. We have a good television contract for the size of the market, but it still sits below the large markets…so there is a limit as payroll rises.”

Some fans are raising the point that teams in a similar market size are spending more money than the Pirates – specifically, the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Royals’ payroll for 2016 sits at roughly $120.5 million. By comparison, the Pirates’ payroll is just $92.3 million.

In 2015, the Royals were at $112.8 million, while the Pirates came in at $90.3 million.

The Kansas City Royals also had a much higher attendance to build upon as they go forward,” Huntington said. “Their jump in attendance was significantly higher than ours, and as a result, they’ve generated more revenue to put back into the team. We will continue to spend what we take in, and whatever the fans generate for us, and whatever the revenue sharing is…we’ll continue to pour that right back into the team and the organization.” LINK


With $50 million from BAM’s sale to Disney and the ever-present revenue sharing, the Pirates have nearly matched the current 2018 payroll – projected to be in the $70 million area – without welcoming a single fan through the turnstiles.

Owner Bob Nutting says the Bucs have a “fantastic core of young players.”

“We’re going to see a better team this year because the plan is on track, not because we’re going to change it,” Nutting proclaimed.

Funny thing, though, the year was 2007 when Mr. Nutting spoke. He was referring to Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday.

“As we looked at where our young players are, there wasn’t a need to strip it to the core. We have a good core base,” Huntington told the Pirates website.

“We feel like we can be really interesting much sooner than most people anticipate, much like the Twins and Brewers did, much like we did in 2013.” (BY THE WAY, WHY IS BEING INTERESTING BETTER THAN BEING A CONTENDER?)

The script sounds awfully similar to the one uttered by Mr. Nutting – in 2007.

By the way, Sanchez was dealt for disappointing prospect Tim Alderson in 2009. He won the World Series with San Francisco a year later.

Jason Bay was traded to Boston in a three-way deal including the Dodgers in 2008. Bay was an All-Star for the Red Sox in 2009, finishing seventh in the American League MVP voting.

None of the players acquired for Bay – Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Craig Hansen, and Brandon Moss – distinguished himself in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform.

(Although Moss did in an A’s uniform which can be put under another classification against the GM which is, prospects given up on too quickly or not developed properly.  Remember Jose Bautista? This could be an another entire column… or 2.  Maybe just maybe along with looking how much they spend, we need to take a deeper look at the Scouts and development group behind the GM)

The definition of the term “insanity” is sometimes trite and overused, but in the case of Pittsburgh ownership it’s oh, so apropos.

Insanity — “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Or maybe it’s the fans believing the same thing over and over again.


Why would the Pirates extend Felipe Rivero four seasons plus two option years when he has one good season under his belt? Why the rush, why not let him put up a full season as a stud reliever first before offering $22 million guaranteed?

History suggests relievers struggle from one season to another. Rivero put up great overall numbers last summer, there’s no way to dispute those facts. But he compiled a 4.15 ERA in August and September.

If the Pirates were truly serious about committing to the team’s future, then why not approach Josh Bell with an extension?

Rivero had a great year but Bell’s price will increase exponentially with another season or two of continued improvement.


Outfielder free agent Jarrod Dyson is a name on some Pirates’ fans wish list. The Giants reportedly have interest in Dyson. Why would an aging outfielder choose Pittsburgh over a team like San Francisco (or any other potential contender)? Dyson would only fall to the Bucs if he has no market and no better offers. From the Pirates’ perspective, why outbid any team on Dyson when the “Bridge Year” has likely become a mini-series for the next several seasons?  Fitting with Pittsburgh being the City of Bridges.

Unfortunately, with players publicly looking to be traded i.e. Josh Harrison, the Amazon Corporation is more likely to come to Pittsburgh than any worthwhile free agents.

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