Pirates’ ownership lies about spending to its own front office, too

Pirates’ ownership is throwing their own front office under the bus in public for not making the moves they aren’t being allowed to make.

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Over at Pittsburgh Baseball Now, John Perrotto writes that the Pirates’ front office was “furious” over owner Bob Nutting’s June 21 comments on there being money and opportunity to add to the team’s roster before the trade deadline. Why would something like that make a front office angry? Well, because that’s just what Nutting said to the public: in private, to the front office itself, he told them the opposite.

“Bob implied we’re going to have money to spend, and he got the fans excited,” the person said under the condition of anonymity so he could speak freely without facing repercussions. “But he told us we don’t have any money to make any significant additions.”

The Pirates will likely have to offload a salary to add an impact hitter. Multiple executives from MLB teams told Pittsburgh Baseball Now that left-handed reliever Aroldis Chapman is available in trade talks. Chapman has a $10.5-million salary.

Nutting has faced fan criticism for his unwillingness to spend on player payroll for years. Even when the Pirates reached the postseason three years in a row from 2013-15, they did not make any major acquisitions at the trade deadline.

As Perrotto notes, the Pirates have the second-lowest payroll in the majors, ahead of only the A’s. General manager Ben Cherington was promised that eventually the team would be allowed to spend as he rebuilt them, but that promise has gone unfulfilled, which makes you wonder if it was Cherington himself that was speaking with Perrotto, or at least someone high up enough to be very knowingly mad about the situation.

Pittsburgh’s team isn’t great, exactly, but they’re just three games out of the final wild card spot in the National League despite a 44-47 record, thanks to how annoyingly mediocre that whole chase is — this would be the perfect opportunity to add something and try to actually make it to the postseason even in a normal situation. The Pirates are not in a normal situation: the Pirates are in one where they haven’t made it to meaningful October baseball since 2015. The end of a three-year run where, as Perrotto wrote, the Pirates also didn’t add any meaningful help at the deadline despite having their first chances at making it to the World Series since the last time they failed at that, in the early 90s. Just to twist the knife a little more, the Pirates last won the World Series in 1979; they’re a little overdue, you could say.

We know the Pirates make more money than they spend, by a considerable amount: concessions and tickets alone have covered much, if not all, of the payroll in previous seasons, which we know thanks to reporting on the subject. This is an organization that doesn’t respect the intelligence of its fans, and, apparently, of its front office, either. Neal Huntington is gone, but — no surprises here — Bob Nutting wants Ben Cherington to be like him, too, not spending and being fine with it, since the goal is not to avoid winning, so much, but to try to do it in the least expensive way possible. And hey, if you don’t win? At least profits were higher. That’s almost like winning!

As I wrote back in January while also covering a Pirates’ story, winning requires “more than just player payroll,” yes, but teams also need that:

Here’s the thing, though: payroll is still an important part of things, and while it might not be the single-most important factor on its own given even its own deployment must be contextually appropriate, there does need to be an actual investment in the payroll. You can’t just run a roster out there full of league-minimum or close players, and hope for the best. You need to be willing to provide further investment into the team when the chance to win is there for you, which, Pirates fans need no reminder of, is something the organization did not do the last time they were relevant in this way. Which is also why they, nearly as quickly as they became relevant, once again irrelevant.

The Pirates finished in second place in the NL Central from 2013 through 2015. They did win 94 and 98 games in two of those campaigns while making the postseason in all three, so it’s not like they weren’t any good or anything. In fact, the opposite is true: they were very good, but they also built all of that off of player development and coaching that let them find some hidden gems on the cheap. Impressive, that they could do so well with so little being spent, but how much better would they have been if they had actually invested in the club? If they hadn’t ranked 26th, 28th, and 24th in league payroll in those three seasons, and had actually opened up their wallets and spent money that we know they had despite their claims otherwise? Maybe they would have won the NL Central in one of those years, and not suffered consecutive Wild Card round defeats, one of which came when they were a 98-win club. The Cardinals won just two more games than that Pirates team, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility: it’s in fact extremely possible that more spending to get a final piece or two would have won them the Central, and then, who knows?

And here we are, with the trade deadline in a few weeks, the Pirates a handful of games out of a playoff spot in no small part because they brought up mega prospect Paul Skenes, who has put up a 2.12 ERA over 10 starts while striking out nearly 12 batters per nine innings. And the support for a rotation led by him has been… well, the front office is complaining to the press about their boss lying to the public and making them look bad, so, you’ve got a pretty good sense of how things are going over there already. The Pirates will be forced to try to make it work with what they’ve already allocated, instead of having Nutting loosen the purse strings a bit to give them a better shot down the stretch. Same as it ever was, that.

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