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The news that Bryan Reynolds (a) requested a trade from the Pirates and (b) that it was initially unclear why he’d do that was, respectively, bound to happen, and very funny. Reynolds is a player who can make an all-star team, not a perennial MVP candidate, but he’s a poor fit for the Pirates and everyone involved knows it. As Ken Rosenthal put it, the Pirates should deal Reynolds as he asked, but because, “they cannot agree with him on an extension. They should trade him because they will not spend enough to build around him. And they should trade him because his value from this point will only decline.”
He’s going to be just 28 in 2023, but yes, the amount of time a new club would have control of Reynolds will only decline from here on out, so his value will most likely dip on that front. As of now, a new club would get three years out of him, and could extend him if both parties were amenable. That’s a thing that’s not going to happen in Pittsburgh: remember, Reynolds has three years left in town and already asked to be shipped out, so you can imagine how well the existing extension talks have gone.
None of this means Reynolds is going anywhere, of course, as the Pirates can just hang on to him regardless of how happy he is to be stuck on a team that is similarly going nowhere. This does all continue a trend with the club, though, in terms of players not being super shy about voicing their displeasure with the concept of Bob Nutting’s Pittsburgh Pirates. Jameson Taillon, who was the Pirates’ union rep at one point, spoke up at a FanFest on how he wished the team would have gone after the likes of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but that it just “wasn’t realistic for us.” As I said at the time, it was doable, with the Pirates’ resources, but Taillon was correct in that it wasn’t realistic in the sense no one in Pittsburgh would make it a reality.
That’s not just me assuming that Nutting and Co. are lying about the team’s finances — I mean yes, that’s the default for an MLB franchise and its owners, but there’s a paper trail in Pittsburgh to follow. One that’s already been followed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
…the lion’s share of the Pirates players’ payroll in many years since 2007 has been covered by ticket and concession revenues — even before accounting for the millions that Pittsburgh’s team collects from TV and Major League Baseball.
Those years when the Pirates finally went to the playoffs after a two-decade drought?
In 2013, 2014 and 2015, fans’ spending on tickets and peanuts, popcorn, and other concessions covered the payroll, based on an analysis by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of never-before-released documents created to fulfill the team’s rental agreement for its use of the baseball showpiece PNC Park.
In 2013, the first time the Pirates made the postseason since 1992, net ticket and concession revenue totaled $70.8 million — the same season the team shelled out $66.8 million on its opening day roster.
The next year, the Pirates made $80.7 million in net ticket and concession revenues while spending $71.9 million on their roster.
The Pirates defended themselves with the standard “well you don’t know what goes into actually operating a franchise, it’s more than the payroll” etc. defense, which, well, I already wrote about how that was a weak and refutable excuse back when that story ran this spring. And this year you’ve got Disney once again sending MLB a very large check to be dispersed among the 30 teams, finalizing the acquisition of BAMTech. There’s always something, as much as owners like to pretend that if they emptied their pockets, moths would come flying out.
Reynolds (or his agent) surely reads the paper, and knows what’s being kept from him. He also knows what the Pirates aren’t spending on free agents to make the roster more competitive than it is, so why should he want to stay? Taillon seemed resigned to his fate, while Reynolds wants out. Taillon did end up getting out before the 2021 season, with Pittsburgh trading him to the Yankees, and his former teammate would like the same treatment, with less pretending things are going to be otherwise in between the then and now.
Are the Pirates under Ben Cherington markedly different than they were under Neal Huntington? In October of 2019, when Huntington was first dismissed as general manager, I wrote about how we needed more than just a new name on the office door to know if the Pirates were actually going to try. There are definitely ways where they’re in a better place, with their farm system seemingly rebounding a bit, but consider, too, that their behavior at the big league level hasn’t changed much. They still aren’t spending to try to put a competent club on the field while they wait for the prospects — the Pirates’ payroll is actually significantly lower than it was in Huntington’s last season, and they lost 100 games for the second time in Cherington’s three years just last year. (It should be noted, too, that in the pandemic-shortened 2020, the Pirates were on pace to lose the most games they’ve lost this century, and the third-most of their centuries-spanning existence: 111.) While they spent $74 million on the Opening Day roster in 2019, in 2021, that figure stood at just $45 million, and $56 million in 2022. They’re currently projected for $50 million in 2023 (Cot’s Contracts estimates $14.5 million in pre-arb players, and is working arbitration projections into the overall picture as well.) It’s still early in the offseason, but this is also still Nutting’s team: the goal is to spend as little as possible until the team develops a competitive team from the farm. Given their track record since the glory days of a decade ago, though, how much trust can be put into that happening again? Do you believe they can turn things around like the Orioles seem to be doing?
Nutting doesn’t really care either way, since there’s plenty of profit to hide while pretending there isn’t any unspent money, and even fans protesting by avoiding going to games didn’t make him hit the red because of the way MLB’s revenues are generated in this modern age. Maybe the Players Association will eventually have to file a third grievance against the club for their lack of spending — that at least seems more likely than Nutting finally authorizing that the team begin to build towards competency from without, instead of just waiting for some prospects to show up from within.