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.”