Pittsburgh Pirates’ owner Bob Nutting met with the Pittsburgh media today, shortly after delivering his annual address to the players in Spring Training. Nutting said that he told the players that he is enthusiastic about the season coming up, and that the expectation is continued improvement every day, and to win the division and try to win a championship in Pittsburgh again. This is the second time a member of the Pirates has talked about winning the division, with Clint Hurdle saying that was the goal last week. Highlights of the rest of the press conference are below, along with my thoughts on each subject.
**The most notable thing for me was when the recent Yoan Moncada signing was brought up. Nutting was recently added to the Executive Council in Major League Baseball, meaning he will play a bigger role in the shaping of the game. He said that it was too early to talk specifics about the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (which will come after the 2016 season), but addressed the constant need for the Pirates to find talent.
“One of the most important things for the Pittsburgh Pirates will always be access to talent. Whether that is the amateur draft. Whether it would be an international draft, which I think would be very good for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Finding a way to level the playing field, not only when it comes to overall competitive balance, but particularly when it comes to access to talent. We were very aggressive when we had an opportunity to be aggressive with the amateur draft. When that door closed, we found other opportunities to be very aggressive, bringing talent into the organization at every level, and the international component will continue to be a huge part of that, because there is so much talent spread out, not only in Central America, the Caribbean, the Dominican, but as we’re sitting, Korea, Japan, and certainly Cuba is going to be a game changer.”
I wrote on Monday that MLB needs an international draft, especially when teams like Boston and New York can hoard all of the talent in any given year. Nutting says that this type of draft would be good for the Pirates, and I’d have to agree, if only because it would actually give them a fair chance at certain types of players. As for whether players from Japan and Cuba would be involved, that probably falls under the “too early to discuss specifics” category.
**As for his addition to the Executive Council and what that means: “I think it shows the increasing respect for the organization throughout baseball.”
**The budget is always a big topic in Pittsburgh, with the team payroll being a discussion that is brought up weekly. Nutting was asked if the team had the ability to add more payroll this year, or if they were maxed out.
“I don’t like pinning ourselves down. We’ve always had a certain amount of ability to maneuver. It’s important for us to do that. At the same time, ultimately it’s never really about the total dollars, but how intelligently and effectively we can allocate those dollars throughout the organization. I have a lot of confidence that the team we have in place is doing that well, is doing that effectively, and whether that’s early in the season, whether’s that’s the trading deadline, whether it’s later as we’ve seen in the past, having that opportunity and flexibility to react, I think has been a core to our success, and something I think we’re going to stick with.”
I’d agree that they’ve got more money to spend. Currently we have them projected at $90 M. They have added an average of $8 M per year in-season over the last few years. So I’d also expect them to add money as the season goes on, especially if they’re a contender. As to the comments about “how intelligently and effectively we can allocate those dollars throughout the organization,” I think that should be the big focus, rather than just picking out a specific payroll number, and hoping they reach that number, without consideration for how they’re reaching that number.
**Nutting was asked about new commissioner Rob Manfred, and whether he would be small market friendly. His response wasn’t surprising, since an owner isn’t going to express doubts about the commissioner.
“My take is commissioner Manfred, just as commissioner Selig, will be respectful of the entire game. He represents 30 clubs, not the New York Yankees, not the Pittsburgh Pirates. And it’s his role to find the right balance to grow the game overall. Part of that balance is the competitive balance, access to talent, things that are critical to the Pittsburgh Pirates. And at the same time he needs to find every opportunity to grow the game, both domestically and internationally.”
That said, Nutting’s later comments about adding talent didn’t suggest that MLB was a fair game.
“What we need to do as an organization is to be realistic and to adapt. It’s never going to be a level playing field. We’re never going to have all of the same opportunities as every other team. We need to be smart, take advantage of the opportunities we have. So I think that the biggest strength of the organization may be our ability to adapt to the changing circumstance. It’s one of the things that Neal Huntington has done incredibly well throughout his tenure, to be able to focus on what’s important at the time, and to be able to execute at a very high level at each turn.”
Hopefully, now that he has a bigger role in baseball, Nutting can advocate more for small market teams, and to level the playing field a bit more. Although his comments about how it’s never going to be level are a bit discouraging. At the same time, I’d have to agree, since I don’t see baseball overhauling their game to make it fair for everyone.
**The pace of game topic was brought up, as was the discussion about the new changes to speed up the game. Nutting had some interesting comments about the potential changes to the broadcast.
“We want to make sure that the game stays engaging and fun and relevant for everyone watching. Part of that will be improvements in broadcast itself, to make sure we have more information, more engagement throughout the broadcast.”
Some of those improvements he mentioned were adding additional information to the broadcasts, including stats during the game, spray charts for hitters, and how that lines up against pitchers. Basically, it sounds like MLB will be leaning heavily towards the advanced metrics in the future. Anyone who has been following the progress of their “Field F/X” type program has been anticipating this. ROOT Sports has already done a good job to add sabermetrics to the broadcasts, and that should continue, according to Nutting.
“Our broadcasts still look much the same that they did 15 years ago, and I think we have an opportunity to push forward. I really am enthusiastic about our partners at ROOT Sports that are going to be leading some of those initiatives, and I think they’re going to do a great job.”
**Nutting was asked about extending Neil Walker, and his response was about the same as what everyone else in the organization has been saying in response to that question.
“Neil has been an important part of this club, and I have a tremendous respect and appreciation with what Neil has done, and look forward to seeing him as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates this year, and for many years to come.”
That’s not saying they won’t extend him, but it’s also not saying they are pushing for it. I don’t expect an extension at all.
**As for the addition of Jung-ho Kang, Nutting talked about how that fit in with what the Pirates were doing throughout their organization, and what they expect from him.
“It’s what really is a signal of our commitment to, and willingness to access talent wherever we can do that effectively and efficiently, and have a major impact on the club. We look forward to seeing what his contributions are going to be. Have very high expectations. And we will continue to look as broadly as we need to, to bring talent in that we need to build a championship organization.”
**And finally, on that championship organization, Nutting talked about how the view of the Pirates has changed around baseball over the last few years.
“I think that the level of appreciation for, respect for the Pittsburgh Pirates has fundamentally changed. We’re getting closer to living up to the expectation of a historic franchise that I recognized when I first stepped in as control. It’s taken us a long time with incremental steps to get to where we are, and we’re not done. We’re just getting started. I think we have a bright, bright future. Many improvements and upgrades to come. Many great seasons ahead of us, starting with 2015.”