By Jared Lankes
Over the years, the Pirates front office has been battered and butchered at every turn no matter what they do. The reason for this is because people seem to think Bob Nutting, owner of the Pirates, is a cheap dirtbag that only cares about lining his wallet instead of placing a winning baseball team on the field. However, since he took over in 2007, things have been looking brighter and brighter, and the Pirates are in not only a state of relevancy but stability as well.
Let’s go back to 2007 when Bob Nutting took over for Kevin McClatchy as Principle Owner of the Pirates. McClatchy had the Pirates in a bad spot along with GM Dave Littlefield and others up, down, and all throughout the organization. McClatchy and his group failed to bring winning baseball to the city for over a decade. Then, in came the younger, humanitarian businessman Bob Nutting and literally everything changed.
Bob Nutting, upon taking over, knew the task was going to be tough in Pittsburgh. So, he needed some guys that he felt were going to be fit for the rebuild of a proud franchise mired in absolute incompetence. It took awhile to overhaul, but on September 13, 2007, the Pirates named Frank Connelly as team president after McClatchy left the organization entirely. Days before, Dave Littlefield was fired as GM, and Connelly was left as the main guy tasked to find a replacement for him. Connelly found his guy in Neal Huntington; a younger, brighter, more charismatic personality that was of the Cleveland Indians organization prior. Huntington was officially named General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 25 of 2007.
After he got all his guys in place, Nutting and company began the major rebuild, and knew it’d take change from the bottom up and that it may take awhile. One of the main things he aimed to do to accomplish such a feat was to put the Pirates back in the international market as he knew that was becoming more major in the league than ever before. So, he began planning the construction of the Pirates Training Academy in the Dominican Republic. This put the Pirates back on the map in that market and has even lead to them grabbing guys like Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, and many more. Nutting would later delve into international waters not yet tapped into such as South Korea, Lithuania, and even South Africa, to name just a few, to open up passageways to finding talent not yet discovered before.
Next came the draft. The Pirates, under McClatchy and company, drafted players they could sign cheap instead of best player out there on the board. That all changed when Nutting and his crew made their first draft choice in 2008 by picking big-time college bat Pedro Alvarez from Vanderbilt second overall. And they weren’t just drafting nice talents, they were giving these draft choices extraordinary bonuses, the literal opposite of the McClatchy era. The Pirates gave bonuses so big that the MLB had to change the rules to stop it (the biggest being the $5M bonus given to non-first rounder Josh Bell in 2011). The Pirates have put a major emphasis on the draft since Nutting and his guys came along and many players contributing today for the Pirates are guys they have drafted and developed.
Being in a small market in a league without a salary cap, the Pirates belief throughout the entire organization is that these principles of home-grown players, whether they are drafted or signed internationally, is important. Pirates can’t go out and spend big on any player even in the event a big fish player is out there and trading for a superstar and ruining the farm system for one or two shots of winning it all with a crapshoot playoff system is out of the question because, in the event they don’t win it, the organization may not recover for 5-7 years and all the hard work would go for naught. Pirates are firm believers of building teams from within, for the most part, that can compete at a high level and that getting there as often as possible gives them the best opportunity of winning as opposed to throwing all the chips into one basket and then losing the basket.
Since Bob Nutting got his hands on this organization, there has been great change and significant strides taken towards a championship club. He brought in great guys to help do the work, and they have done it well. They’ve found great deals on good international players, they have drafted way better, and they’ve made this organization a place where players feel welcome and actually want to play there. They’ve also been at the cutting edge of newer ideas such as the shift, and have been open to finding market inefficiencies such as reclamation projects and other things, that the rest of the league has since caught onto.
Is the organization where it wants to be? Definitely not. Is it close? I believe it is, and if you look up and down this organization, it’s hard to say they aren’t close. They got all the pieces they want and all the right people they need with a steadfast front office trying to find new niches everyday.
Under McClatchy and his guys, this organization was a mess. It was like if you left your sink running with the drain clogged and went on a week-long vacation and came back to a flooded house; that’s about how drowned the organization was. Under the leadership of this front office, there’s been a resurrection, a new-found hope, a belief that this organization is good enough to compete with anyone and everyone.
Say what you will about Bob Nutting, but he completely tore down this organization in an effort to build it back up and has thanks to the help of so many others, many of which we don’t hear about everyday. To bring this organization from where it was 10 years ago to where it is now is a stunning feat, and I believe the people that have helped drive it forward and continue to do so deserve a lot of credit. Additionally, there are many other amazing things Nutting has done to make this organization better on and off the field, but if I tried to fit in all his accomplishments we might be here for hours. This is just a further testament to all the fantastic work this front office has done to get this organization from the worst place any can ever get to a place of better outcomes, new-found hope, and competitiveness longevity.