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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Bob Nutting Discusses Kang, McCutchen, 2016 Struggles, 2017 Expectations, and More

BRADENTON, Fla. – Bob Nutting met with the team yesterday morning for his annual pre-season address, and followed that with his annual interview with the media. The biggest takeaway I had from that interview was on the amateur spending, and his comments on being committed to adding amateur talent. Here were some other big topics that Nutting discussed.

**The Pirates signed Francisco Liriano prior to the 2015 season, which was their first big free agent pitching deal. That didn’t work in 2016, and they traded him away, along with prospects, for Drew Hutchison and salary relief (you know, in case you haven’t heard about that trade every day of your life since it was made). I asked Nutting if that led them to shy away from making another long-term free agent deal before they signed Ivan Nova this offseason.

“One of the things that Neal Huntington does brilliantly well is consistently reassess, act, take a step back, evaluate. He does it when things are going extremely well, which frankly is harder. He evaluates when we have a setback. He will take a broad view and so the degree of intensity of review, the number of factors that he will go through, the boards that he will put together. Was that a factor? Absolutely. Was it a defining or sole factor? Absolutely not. I think our team is simply too broad, too smart, and too process driven to get into any of the boxes.”

**Nutting said that the team preferred not to be in the current situation with Jung Ho Kang, but that they were looking forward to getting him back on track.

“We are absolutely disappointed that he has put himself and the organization in this circumstance. As importantly, he is disappointed and embarrassed that he has put the team in this place as well. I think, frankly, we’ll be well positioned to help Jung Ho get back on his feet, get himself re-established, be in a community that will support him, and at the same time we will hold high level of expectation and demands on him.”

Nutting didn’t feel it was an appropriate time to discuss the potential of a team suspension until Kang worked through the process and his trial date.

**Nutting said that the losing season the Pirates had last year wasn’t due to their offseason, but due to players underperforming.

“I really think that there are two different issues. We ended up with the season we did because the team and organization underperformed the level of talent that we had. I don’t think it was nearly so much that we didn’t have sufficient talent to make the run. We had some very good players who did not perform up to the expectations that we had. I really think it’s far more execution than what we put together.”

What Nutting says is true. The offseason was a bad one, but the players on the team underperformed so much that a good offseason wouldn’t have done much except make them a .500 team. That said, it doesn’t justify their offseason, and it’s good to see they went with a more established starter this year by bringing back Nova.

**This offseason did bring a lot of rumors involved with trading Andrew McCutchen. Nutting was asked about separating the business decision with the emotions that come from dealing the most popular player on the team.

“It is hard, honestly, just as a human being, to separate them, but I believe it is essential. My responsibility and the organization’s responsibility is to be able to make those types of choices. If we have the appropriate goal set of making the team better, doing what’s right for Pittsburgh, doing what’s right for the Pirates, then it allows you to make some tough decisions that you know are the right thing to do. We did it early on in the cycle when we did any number of radically unpopular decisions that were, in my opinion, the right long-term calls but very painful in the short-term. If anything, that reinforced to me that we need to have the discipline to make those kinds of decisions and also that the leadership team we have — the group Neal has built around him — is capable of making tough but correct long-term decisions.”

Nutting was also asked about whether the team considered extending McCutchen. He praised McCutchen for being a remarkable person, and gave the following summary, but in reality I don’t see this team extending McCutchen with Austin Meadows waiting in the wings.

“If there were a way to keep him, clearly it would be wonderful to see him in a Pirates uniform. He loves Pittsburgh and Maria loves Pittsburgh, and we love Andrew.”

**Nutting was asked about contract extensions for Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle, and said it wasn’t a concern for him at the moment.

“Neal and Clint are both really strong, really good. I love working with them. I’m very comfortable with them. I think they’re very comfortable with us and the organization. The contact extension is not something that’s top-of-mind for me. It’s not an issue at this point. But they are tremendous talents who I love.”

Huntington has also said in the past that he isn’t concerned with his contract, and isn’t going anywhere. Hurdle was asked about his contract yesterday, and whether it was on the back burner. His response: “I don’t have a burner.”

**The topic of windows gets brought up, and the Pirates aren’t a team that operates with the belief that they have a short window to contend, followed by an extended rebuilding window. In one of his responses about spending, Nutting explained their position on the subject.

“We have not embraced, as many teams have, that you have to go in cycles and you have to double down and commit to five years of a bad team in a rebuilding cycle. We believe that by continuing to infuse talent into the organization at every level we can, every way that we can, that we can create a sustained, competitive team. What you need to do is get into the playoffs, when everyone hits the reset button and goes forward. That is part of why it is so important that we’re able to have sustained success and not embrace the wild cycles that some teams have. We may be proven wrong at some point.”

**The big topic this year is getting back to the playoffs after a down year. The Pirates are projected to be a contender, and Nutting recapped the 2016 season by saying it was a reminder that the team could have been better with just a few small plays each game, pointing out that the difference between a pretty good team and an elite team was razor-thin. The Pirates do have a tough situation by going up against the Cubs in their division, which can make a contender look like a weak team, although the Pirates always set their focus on the entire league, and not the one or two good teams in their division.

“We’re going to play who we play. We need to be better than 29 other teams, not just the teams in our division. Do we have some very good teams in the division? Absolutely. You have to give them credit. They’ve built a great organization in Chicago. St. Louis is a great organization. But there are good organizations throughout the game, and we need to have our sights broadly set because we will continue to have the goal of bringing a championship back to Pittsburgh. That’s not just making the playoffs; it’s not just winning the division. It’s making it all the way. Whether the Cubs were in our division or some other division, we still need to beat them. We still need to beat the Nationals and all the other good teams in baseball.”

**A few of the minor league teams in the system have added new video boards and production gear this offseason. This will increase the ability to see the Pirates’ minor league players remotely. Nutting said that this was a focus not just inside the organization, but throughout MLB.

“Major League Baseball, as an entity, recognizes we need to have more visibility, more video, more capacity. Not only at the Major League clubs, at the minor league clubs. The more consistent that can be across parks. The development system is the lifeblood of the game, absolutely is critical for Pittsburgh. We encourage it, but that even was broader than individual team, or the Pirates. That really was a baseball initiative, and one that we support and are enthusiastic about.”

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.


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Harry S

The reactions on this site are 180 degrees from what you heard on local sports talk. I think the biggest problem is that the teams the Pirates are contending for the playoffs all have one or more stars who can carry a team for long stretches or win a short series. We had that with Cutch for the 3 year run but don’t have anyone now. The pitchers need to develop. I don’t see any position player filling this need.


Nutting commentary translation:

“We were baffled that 30 starts each from
Niese, Locke, Nicasio or Vogelsong wasn’t commensurate with contending in the division with Chicago and St. Louis. Clearly, that’s on them.”


I don’t think any PP regular did not want to keep Happ. I give him credit by admitting his mistake and signing Nova. That’s a strong leader.


The turnaround in the Pirate organization is significant and need to be acknowledged. Their approach methodical and very process oriented. We play under different constraints than many other teams, and I love the creativity that we employ.
The organization as a whole underperformed last year, from ownership on down to players. It was the first time in 3 years that things didn’t go as planned like many of the commenters stated, leaning on Locke, Vogelsong, and Niese was very poor planning. We pushed the limits of running lean, and were exposed. Nutting didn’t fully acknowledge that.
Nutting is business first – and that skill will be tested when the current TV contract expires in 2019. Every growing organization faces growing pains as it attempts to scale larger for success. I like what Nutting has done so far. I will LOVE it when he negotiates an appropriate local TV deal – and – then scales things to the next level so that we can spend, responsibly, on both the MiLB and MLB clubs.


I agree with your comments. It’s a shame that Nutting, rightly or wrongly, could be interpreted as him throwing the players under the bus while dodging management responsibility for building a team unlikely to contend in the face of what everyone knew would be a strong central division. Maybe that’s not what he intended but that’s what kind of came out.


A young team coming off 95 victories was “unlikely to contend”??? That is the attitude! The starting pitching decisions were attrocious as detailed above. Simply offer Happ a little more money, and we are in the wild card race, with the opportunity to fix the bad decisions and stay on the race in the middle of the season.




Right, because that’s all that separated them from contention last year. Rounding up, Happ was worth 4 wins more than Niese last year which moves our needle up to 82. Twenty-One back of the Cubs and 5 off the WC. I suspect that you’re just adding Happ’s 20 wins though and having them repeat their 98 win, 2nd place season.


I think you are missing his point. If we have Happ- it doesn’t just affect Happ’s wAR, it trickles down to less bullpen use, it trickles down to being in the race for a wild card spot LEGITIMATELY, which we weren’t last year when we traded Melancon. Add Mark back to the mix, we wouldn’t have traded Liriano, say we still have Neise because Walker was gone anyways, and you keep locke and general garbage out of the rotation, you keep watson from closing games, and before you know it, you didn’t just move the needle up 4 wins, it’s more like 7 or 8. Maybe we make a different trade at the deadline to add talent instead of ditching salary…..we would have had a good chance at a wildcard playing this out to its logical end.


Thank you for making the point so well

Scott Kliesen

The Pirates had the season they had because their 3 best players all had their worst season as a professional simultaneously! None of all the other stuff you mentioned could ever make up for that fact!


Or cliff notes: You are right, but when everything goes wrong and you still almost break .500, you don’t absolutely NEED those players to perform up to expectations in order to contend for a wildcard spot through the season, just making better roster decisions would have been enough to potentially make that happen. Obviously having our players play better would have the same benefit.


My point is that it doesn’t have to. Notice, I’m not talking at all about those issues you keep mentioning, because that wasn’t the point of the original poster. I’m focusing on the legitimacy of his point, not debating yours.


You can’t discount the effect of a snowball rolling down hill. In this land of analytics, sometimes you only see the dominoe directly in front of your face.


Hard to argue that. It’s also hard to argue accurately that doing nothing in the offseason didn’t stack odds against them.


You can what if lots of teams back into contention. Almost everything went wrong last year. Niese over Happ was only part of it. I haven’t read all of Hanks posts but isn’t his point basically always, the Bucs have 20 million in profit they could spend but don’t and that is why they haven’t done more?


Right, that is always my point.


Even if that is always his point, doesn’t mean its ALWAYS wrong. Sometimes its a valid point, other times its not.


idk, making points about how other people should spend their money based off of your own made up beliefs about how much money they “really have” to spend seems to me like it’s always wrong.


The question might be wrong, but the answer can still be right. Learned that in algebra class…..of course in this case you only get partial credit.

Scott K

I agree with majority of your points. I would argue they do currently spend responsibly on both MiLB & MLB clubs. And by continuing to draft/acquire young talent, they will not have to strike high risk FA contracts to keep the team competitive.

Signings like Nova this winter, roughly 10% of payroll budget for 3 years, to shore up a weakness on roster, should be limit of what they do in that area.


Spending “responsibly” is spending enough to give you’re team a chance to win. They didn’t do that last year. When no one outside management see the financials, you can’t even discuss what is “responsible” from the financial viewpoint.

Mark Lambros

The way I look at this is where they rank in the league. By market size they’re 25th. They’re in the bottom half of revenue by most estimates (that I’ve seen), and their payroll is in that same range.

Not only that, but to point to last year and think what they needed to turn that team into a winner. You’re talking 10 wins to make the playoff. If we use WAR (which isn’t the best), that’s an MVP candidate and an all star. It’s also approximately $80 M in free agency.

I will agree they could have used a 3rd starter. But other than that, the team just under performed.

Paul Polinsky

Financials: you are overlooking that the owner has made a minimum of $800M in the increased value of Pirates since he bought the team. Although this is a paper gain until you sell, it’s still real money. If BN believes in the team, plow annual profits into acquiring talent, or sell and run.

Scott Kliesen

I look at other small market teams like Reds and Brewers as teams who have spent irresponsibly at the ML level chasing that elusive thing called a World Series title.

The Reds just paid the Braves $13 million to have Phillips play for them. They have a Godzilla sized albatross squeezing the life out of their team in the form of Votto’s contract.

As for the Brewers, they overpaid for Braun in a similar fashion to how Reds did for Votto, and they traded away their best young talent for short-term rentals like Greinke.

I don’t need to see the Pirates P&L statement to know they are acting responsible in the matter of the business of baseball.


point well made.


Agreed, no question they spend responsibly on both levels right now. What I meant to communicate was…increase the MLB spending when the right opportunity arises, albeit responsibly, as they’ve shown the willingness to do with MiLB.

John W

Regardless of star players not playing up to their potential, banking on Jon Niese returning to being a 2+ WAR player and your #3 starter and Vogelsong being a key member of the rotation was stupid. I trust they have learned their lesson. Time to get 2017 started and put last year’s abomination behind us.


If this offseason is any indication, they have not learned their lesson. We have a weak bench and our rotation is iffy at best. Honestly, the only one who I think will live up to expectations is Taillon. I think Cole is destined for surgery this year or next. Nova could be good or bad. After that, it is all speculative. No left hander in the rotation either. Just bad planning and another poor offseason from the front office.

Scott K

Did you consult your magic 8-ball or stay at a Holiday Inn Express before making that prediction about Cole, Dr.?


General optimist here, but Cole’s elbow is a legit concern IMO until he gets on a roll.

Scott Kliesen

I’ll grant you Cole’s elbow is a concern. I’ll even grant you his elbow is more of a concern than the average ML SP. But to state he will most definitely go under the knife in the next year or two, is just pure speculation based on zero factual information.


That isn’t really the way elbows work. His changes of blowing out his elbow after getting his teeth beat in for 3 straight starts are exactly the same as it blowing out after 3 straight no-hitters. An elbow is either in tact or it’s not. It doesn’t just get a little worse with each pitch, it’s not a shoulder labrum tear.


Nova could be good or bad. That is some amazing analysis. Do you know which other players could be good or bad this upcoming season? All of them.

John W

I feel a lot better going into this year than I did last year. Rotation depth and quality looks much improved as far as I’m concerned.


Oh FFS..

Scott K

I’m glad my comments aren’t the only one’s deserving of this response.


Please, my friend. You deserve far better!

Scott Kliesen

Not always…


I love that they haven’t embraced the “window” theory. It’s a radio call in line of thinking we have heard every day for the last 5 years here in Pittsburgh- and we are still competing with a bright future. I also love that they embrace “let’s get into the playoffs and reset.” If they can contend every year and get at least a spot, they will have a shot at it all. The community doesn’t give this guy enough credit. He took a flaming pile of garbage and turned it into an exemplary, game changing contender. The Pirates are setting the rules now and others have followed.
I’m sure there will be a few comments that follow that focus on the same subject matter I see as positive… as an excuse to be cheap and swim in a vat of the ticket holders’ money… and he was just mocked on 93.7 the fan for talking about evolving process within a structure- which is EXACTLY how all CEO’s run a business. This, unfortunately, will continue until they win a championship. People are missing a special turn around story.


Very well put. The local folks are for the most part totally uneducated about the realities of small markets competing in an unfair system. They want the Bucs to sign big free agents, and mortgage the future for an uncertain present. I can’t talk Pirates with the average fan in Pittsburgh, or listen to talk radio, just too aggravating.

Thank god Billy Bean showed the way, and the Pirates eventually followed.


Please sir, enlighten us with comment image your baseball wisdom if you would be so kind.

Thomas H

Billy Bean never won a WS. Just saying.


You can’t plan for the future forever- at some point, “now” is the time.


I love this also. While a championship obviously would be great, I think being able to follow a contending team all summer long is pretty great also. Even if a contending team falls short of the title, you still got to enjoy 6 months of competitive, exciting baseball up until that point. I’d rather have that than to have a title one year and then have 5 years where it feels like the season is over in May.


Expectations rise. if they were contending then the talk would be why cant they win. Bill Cowher went thru it for years with the Steelers. The Penguins have fired contending coaches. . Jamie Dixon is coaching elsewhere because all he could do was contend. Dave Wannstedt was better than at least two coaches who followed him, maybe all. We as fans always want more.


I don’t fall in that “always want more” crowd. It is possible to be satisfied with what you have and to look at getting more as being a bonus rather than a failure whenif you don’t get it. I just want to be entertained and watch as many enjoyable baseball games as I can. The baseball playoffs are such a crap shoot that it seems silly to me that people will write off a season as a failure when a team makes them but then doesn’t win at the end. You still got to enjoy that 6 month long marathon of the team winning lots of games in order to get there.


I respect that, but understand that you are in the minority. Personally, I watched more baseball games when the Pirates were losing all of those years. Damn kids playing 45-60 baseball games each is preventing me from watching more. LOL Well, and old age. I cant stay up as late as I used too. DVRing them does no good…..


Is it the minority though or is it just that you hear more from the people that aren’t satisfied when the team falls short of their expectations? Maybe it’s because my Pirates fandom began with 3 straight division titles and then 20 years of nothing but bullshit which has led me to be completely satisfied with them being competent.


Hmmm. I don’t know. Good point.

Chuck C

I’m old enough to remember The Rooneys getting the “cheap” label because they never won. Now, it’s “good Management.” They still don’t overpay for players, but the difference is, They Win. For a small market, we have enjoyed a more than average Championships.


There is (almost) no such thing as a small market in the NFL. They have an equitable distribution of resources and talent. The teams that succeed do so for football reasons, each team has a chance to compete if they are competent. I bet nearly 100% of the Steelers roster was available for the Cleveland Browns to select and develop. Can’t say that about the talent the Pirates have available compared to the big market teams.

Chuck C

Yes, because of the salary cap. Given the MLB won’t go that route, small markets will always be on the back end of the league.

Even with the salary cap in other sports, it seems the majority of championships are won by the few.


Its only special if or when they win a championship. Till then they will be viewed as a team who refuses to reach for the gold ring in fear of falling off the Merry-Go-Round.


Agree that if a championship was won this method may be viewed as ahead of its peers.


“….will continue until they win a championship.” While I agree with your point, forget that line. The sentiment among the majority of the current sports media in that market won’t change their thinking about Nutting with 1 championship. Listen or read the criticisms of the Steelers FO and then multiply by 10.


Many on here do not remember the same comments more than 30 years ago about then-Pirate owner John Galbreath who was “not a Pittsburgh guy like Art Rooney”, and “never did right by the Pirates because he was putting all of his money into the Darby Dan Horse Farm” in Columbus, Ohio. It never gets old.


Oh wow. I’m one of those too young to remember that. I was 10 months old when the Bucs last one the series.


Trying to pass along the point that even though the Pirates won 3 WS Titles and numerous NL Pennants during the ownership of the Galbreath family, the criticism was there same as it is now for Bob Nutting.


Understood. I’ve always just assumed this tired narrative started with Nutting but now realize people older than me have been basically hearing this same narrative for much longer than I thought. Makes me a little bit happy that I haven’t been hearing it for so long.


I am soooooooooooo glad that a) I don’t live in Pgh anymore and have to listen to that crap and b) that I don’t listen to talk radio. I despise talking heads. I have never understood the appeal.


My description of talk radio participants: Big mouth, small brain. Only occasionally do you hear anything worthwhile. I think this applies in politics just as much as sports.


That crap never ends either. Every baseball caller complains about Nutting. During football season you’d think the Steelers were the browns….Fire Tomlin!

Shoot, the Pens lost a rare game the other night and the freaking sky was falling on The Fan.

Chuck C

To be fair, that happens in every city. How would you like to be a player in New York, Boston, or even Texas.

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