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Insider Only Latest Pirates Buzz: Organization at a cross-roads that lacks Direction and a Plan

Pirates off-season priority should be a Retool/Rebuild

When evaluating the Pirates, you have to look into lens of how the organization is ran.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington did not fail his ball club Monday by pretty much standing pat at the trade deadline in trading Tony Watson who has been all but gone for months as a pending free agent (Scott Boras client) and then adding 40 year old Joaquin Benoit to replace Watson as the setup man.

Benoit had his welcome to the Pirates moment Wednesday night.

Anybody can see this team had no chance of being a serious threat in the NL against the likes of the Dodgers, Nationals and the defending champion Cubs who are starting to find their stride and made a slew of moves to upgrade their roster for another run.

The Pirates were 8.5 games out of the wildcard as of Monday, now 9.5 games back following two straight losses to the Reds to open the current homestand.

If the Cubs didn’t have a first half hangover and boasted a record right now similar to the Nationals which is where they probably should be, the Pirates would be 12.5 games out of first in the Central, the amount of games back they will probably finish behind the Cubs by the time the regular season ends.

Pittsburgh enters Thursday 6.5 games out of first place and floundering in losing eight of their last 10 games.

“As we looked at other opportunities to add, we didn’t find good matches there,” Huntington said Monday evening on pretty much doing nothing to improve the club for the present or in the future. “We didn’t find appropriate fits. Same on the other side. We didn’t find the appropriate compelling moves to potentially take away from this club but add to future clubs.”

The Pirates were right not to be a buyer or seller at the deadline and take things to the off-season, but hard to believe they couldn’t find a market for a pending free agent like Juan Nicasio, a player on a cheap contract having the type of season that a team in the Pirates boat should be selling high on.

Where Huntington failed the 2017 club was the months leading up to Monday.

On the heels of losing Sean Rodriquez and Matt Joyce in free agency who combined for 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in 2016, there was no aggressiveness to bolster the bench even after it became clear before spring training that Jung Ho Kang was not going to be around.

That was in-excusable as it’s still in-excusable the Pirates have no outfield depth and never showed urgency in at least adding a quality 4th outfielder caliber of player during the Marte suspension.

These were all necessary depth moves that don’t cost the farm to make that needed to be made by April and May, not July 31.

Blame lack of financial ability?

The Pirates will end up saving around $9 million this season with the Starling Marte suspension, Jung Ho Kang not on the team, Jared Hughes being cut loose and the Tony Watson trade where they move his salary commitment for the rest of the season and are only paying $181,000 of Joaquin Benoit’s remaining salary.

Maybe blame bad spending? — John Jaso $4 million per season, Daniel Hudson $5.5 million per season, Antonio Bastardo $6.5 million, ect —

After three straight playoff appearances that included a 98-win season which was a heck of a feat, this is now an organization at a crossroads that lacks direction and lacks a plan.

What is the plan?

The Pirates have an owner in Bob Nutting who hasn’t adjusted to the times that is problem No. 1.

To sign mid-tier pitchers like a J.A. Happ, you have to spend $13-$14 million per season. Pittsburgh is still operating in that $7-$8 million per range which was what it cost to sign those type of pitchers four to five years ago.

The year is now 2017 Bob.

It’s easy to say the Pirates should go out today and offer Andrew McCutchen a 4 year, $80 million extension which in reality would be pocket change for Bob Nutting.

Yet, there’s no chance Neal Huntington will be given that authority. The Pirates still operate that no player is worth 20% of their payroll, especially a player in his 30’s. If the Pirates gave McCutchen $20 million per season, Bob Nutting wouldn’t wake up and tell Neal Huntington he now has a $120-$125 million payroll to work with.

After the deadline, Huntington continued to tout that he really likes this core.

But, this core is not just a tweak or two away from competing with the Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals next season.

Pirates management are the type that always project ahead. Three years ago they envisioned a group of 3-4 high-end prospects being key contributors by this point that would keep what the Pirates were building in 2013 and 2014 moving forward.

That projection/plan hasn’t panned out that now has the Pirates operating with no plan.

Pittsburgh has seen a lot of talent leave town since 2015 for nothing that hasn’t been replaced. They always believed that talent would be replaced internally before they had to move on from some of their core where the clock is now ticking on the likes of McCutchen and others.

If the owner isn’t going to stretch the payroll to let you add to the core (which is very unlikely), the Pirates have two options:


1. Retool/Rebuild during the off-season and move assets like Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Jordy Mercer in the winter who have 2 years or less of control.

Or

2. Get aggressive with trades by moving high-end prospects for impact players with control than moving those players with control in a couple years before they hit free agency.


The second option, though, is running out for the Pirates when it comes to adding to this current group. This should have been the executed plan the last two years but for whatever reason the General Manager has showed an unwillingness to go this route.

Would bringing in a new General Manager who isn’t so in love with his own system open the flood gates for the Pirates to go option 2 this off-season?

Probably, but that’s not a route the Pirates are expected to take and despite a very bad 2017 in constructing the MLB roster, I still lean for now in the direction that the Pirates have an owner problem and not a GM problem, though, scrutiny towards Huntington is warranted on the job he’s done this season but the body of work doesn’t warrant a firing just yet.

Attendance, TV ratings are way down for the Pirates and to much of the fan base, 2013-2015 seems so long ago.

The Pirates starting with Huntington need to develop plan before the end of the season, execute it and begin selling it to the fan base.

Unless a new owner is coming through the door, a retool/short rebuild by selling high to trade popular players like Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole this winter is about the only way to go and hope the young pitching talent in the system from the likes of Mitch Keller, Tyler Glasnow can make it a quick retool.

Going into a retool/rebuild would see the Pirates endure a lot of PR pain but it would be the quickest way to getting things back to 2013-2015 again because Bob Nutting is never going to treat owning the Pirates as a hobby like many other owners do.

If he did Jay Bruce would have been a Pirate on July 20.

The Pirates will continue to be treated like one of his businesses and no matter who the GM is will continue to have his hands tied.

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About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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