Williams: Why Blowing it Up is the Best Plan for the Pirates This Offseason

Every year when a team wins the World Series, all of baseball goes looking for a trend that led to the success. Even if a team doesn’t win it all, but makes it to the World Series, trends are searched for. This was the case last year with the Cleveland Indians, who lost in seven games to the Cubs, but still created conversation about their usage of impact relievers in key situations, rather than in traditional closer roles.

The Houston Astros won it all this year, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers and their massive payroll in the process. There were two things I took away from this World Series that could apply to the Pirates going forward.

The first thing is going to be about money. That’s always the first topic in Pittsburgh, although the topic can get too simplified. The idea is that if you spend more, you’ll improve your chances of winning. You can definitely show data to support that opinion, but it’s not like there’s a magic number involved. For example, the Indians opened the 2016 season with a $96 M payroll, and finished at $117 M. They made it further that year than they did this year, opening with a $124 M payroll.

The Astros opened at $96 M in 2016, and finished at $124 M. They opened at that same $124 M total in 2017, and added some payroll at the deadline. They still weren’t close to the $200+ M figure the Dodgers had, and the Indians weren’t close to the $205 M the Cubs spent at the end of 2016. The $200 M team won one year, and lost the next year.

In Pittsburgh, the argument is “Nutting is cheap!” and gets simplified to Nutting spending more money. That is a game where the goalposts constantly get moved. A few years ago, fans wanted the Pirates to spend $70-80 M. They reached those totals, and the new demand was for $100 M. Granted, the $70-80 M figure from a few years ago had gone closer to $100 M by that point. But when they did reach $100 M, the ask was for $110-120 M.

The Pirates have topped out at $109 M, which happened in 2016. No one really knows whether they can or can’t spend more money. You can make arguments on either side, but the actual proof isn’t there.

Here’s what we do know. The Pirates have one of the lowest local TV deals in baseball. That goes against the trend of this year’s playoffs. The Dodgers have the biggest deal. The Astros have the seventh biggest deal. Even the LCS teams — the Yankees (3) and the Cubs (6) — had some of the biggest local TV deals.

There are many factors that go into potential payroll. Attendance, ticket prices, and parking revenue all play a role. Local TV deals also play a big role, especially since those remain constant once they are signed, regardless of whether the fan interest goes up or down in a given year.

The Pirates don’t receive parking revenue. Their ticket prices have gone up the last few years, but still fall below the league average. And fans in Pittsburgh will not attend games unless there is a winner to support, and even then, the attendance doesn’t come close to markets like Milwaukee or St. Louis. Combine the lack of parking revenue, the low ticket costs, and the low attendance, and the Pirates aren’t in the best situation for payroll when compared to other teams, even in comparable markets.

But their TV ratings have been solid. Their TV deal is up after the 2019 season, and it is imperative that they get a better deal than the one they have right now. They aren’t going to see the same figures as the Astros, where they receive $60 M per year in their deal. But they need to be in that $40 M range that the Indians, Athletics, Twins, and other comparable market sizes find themselves in. That would be an estimated increase of $15 M per year, which means if their current high of $109 M is their ceiling, then the $124 M figure that the Indians and Astros have hit in recent years would be possible.

That’s the money side of it. The Pirates need to find a way to spend more money, and one obvious way they can do that is by bringing in more money in a new TV deal after 2019.

But money doesn’t buy championships. You need to build a good enough team for that to happen. This is the bigger trend we’ve been seeing the last few years.

The Astros went from one of the worst teams in baseball to a World Series winner, with the chance to contend in years to come. While they were losing, there were claims that they were “tanking”. They weren’t interested in their major league record at all, leading to top draft picks that led to George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman. The last two were taken number one and two overall in their respective years.

I wouldn’t necessarily call their approach “tanking.” I would call it “smart.” It’s a trend that is being practiced more and more across baseball, and has led to the last two World Series winners.

The Cubs did the exact same thing. They had a bad team, and didn’t try to win until they had all of their young pieces together. That’s when they started spending money, and added to those young players. We’re seeing other teams go through the early stages of the same process.

The White Sox just blew up their roster in the past year, adding seemingly every top prospect in baseball. Their payroll dropped from $132 M to $97.8 M from the end of 2016 to the start of 2017, and dropped more by the end of 2017 after additional trades. Their place in the standings was low, giving them the fourth overall pick in 2018, which will pair nicely with all of the top prospects they added. And if they’re not ready to go in 2018, I’d expect more “tanking” and another top pick in 2019, at least until they are ready.

I’ve written since the past trade deadline about how the Pirates are in No-Man’s Land. They could be strong contenders if they go all-in and trade some prospects and young players for a shot at the World Series. Unfortunately, that requires mortgaging their future, and dealing top guys like Mitch Keller and Austin Meadows, to name a few. Maybe they win in the short-term, and maybe they don’t. But that approach definitely leads to a long rebuilding process.

The other option is to follow the path of the Cubs, Astros, and White Sox, among others. Blow up the team. Realize that in today’s MLB, being in the middle, on the fringe of being a contender, isn’t enough. You don’t need to spend money in losing years to give the appearance that you are trying to win. You need to commit to the fact that you’re going to lose in the short-term, in order to improve your chances in the long-term. You need to get a young group of prospects together who can all arrive at the same time, and then you need to spend to boost that group.

The Pirates did this in a way. They got a group of prospects together. They just had that group staggered. Andrew McCutchen arrived in 2009. Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker in 2010. Starling Marte in 2012. Gerrit Cole in 2013. Gregory Polanco in 2014. Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell in 2016.

The problem with that staggered approach is that by the time you got to Taillon and Bell, Walker and Alvarez were gone, and McCutchen’s years were numbered. They won from 2013-15, and guys like Marte and Cole played big roles. They also increased spending in those years, and added to the team. But by the time their best team came along in 2015, the game had already changed, and the Cubs were starting to show the benefits of a young core arriving around the same time, along with money to spend to support that group.

I’ve said that the Pirates need to make a choice this offseason. They need to either go for it, keep Andrew McCutchen around, and build around him. Or they need to blow it up, trade guys like McCutchen, Cole, and other players who are only under control for 2018 and 2019, and try to replicate what teams like the Astros are doing.

I say that they have a choice, but that doesn’t mean that I think either choice would be good. Considering the entire situation, I think the best approach is to blow it all up, and go for a rebuild. The biggest reason for this is because they are already on the right track for this approach, and could do a rebuild quicker than others.

They already have some prospects in the upper levels of the minors who can arrive in the next year or two, along with some guys in the majors who just arrived. By the 2019 season, we should see guys like Mitch Keller, Austin Meadows, Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker, Taylor Hearn, and/or Kevin Kramer arriving in the majors, along with a number of other potential MLB players in the upper levels who could arrive by that time. Right behind those guys will be a group of younger players like Ke’Bryan Hayes, Adrian Valerio, Lolo Sanchez, Shane Baz, and the prep players from 2016 and 2017.

If you trade McCutchen, Cole, Josh Harrison, and other players who can only help in 2018 and 2019, then you’ll add to these groups of prospects. You could get a good group of players coming together around 2019, pairing with Taillon, Bell, Polanco, Marte, and others for the future years.

The best thing about that timeline is that the rebuild would coincide with the new TV deal. If they can get an increase in the next TV deal, that would pair well with a group of young, cost-controlled players.

I would make a rebuild, and following the model of the Astros, White Sox, and other team the top priority this offseason. Going for it all this year wouldn’t be the worst plan, as long as they didn’t part with many of their top prospects. They could still do the rebuild in future years if it didn’t work out.

I think the worst plan would be continuing the path they’re on, where they have one foot on the side of trying to contend, with another foot on the side of trying to save their best prospects for the future. This approach would only lead to them being a semi-contender at the trade deadline in 2018, not good enough to be a serious buyer, and bad enough that they’d be selling off their rentals for the third year in a row.

The Pirates need to get out of No-Man’s Land, and I think the best approach would be to take a few steps back before they decide to move forward.

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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I’d give it a run, hope for some magic, see where team stands at deadline. I can seeing “blowing the team up” too, but the team can always try that, too, if the first half doesn’t live up to expectations.


The more I think about this idea, the more it scares me. NH just has not proven he has this skill over his tenure. The one exception is his apparent ability to find future closers (Melancon and Rivera).
– McLouth = decent start (Locke and Morton)
– Bay = looked promising but nothing
– Nady = Decent trade but Tabata washed out
– Wilson = Cedeno and Clement washed out
– Sanchez = Alderson washed out
– Morton = nothing
– Alvarez = couldn’t trade
– Walker = zip
– Liriano =:(

Arik Florimonte

That list is pretty uninspiring!

OTOH, he didn’t have much value to trade there. I’d say only Bay, Melancon, and Hanrahan were dealt when their value was high, and while the Bay deal didn’t work out, Melancon & Hanrahan deals did.

To get a good comparison we should look at some other GMs.


FYI … Spotrac states that Houston finished the year at $150,000,000. That is a huge jump (thanks Verlander) from the opening day payroll.

Brian Z

Tim, where do you go to for your team salary info? Everywhere I look has a MUCH higher salary for the Astros (like the $150MM at spotrac).


I think Tim mentioned the number as the Astros opening season payroll.

Joe P

When is the last time a 20 year old with the Pirates broke into the majors and starred, becoming a key peice , like Carols Corea, Bergman, Bryant, Ballinger , etc. NHs drafts have been mediocre , but he rarely hits it out of the park and lost in this formula is the factor of drafiting exceptionally well , much better than the Cleveland Browns and not too far off from the Astros.

Scott Kliesen

I guess now we know why those cheating Cardinals were hacking their e-mails!

John E

I totally agree! Unfortunately, I fear that it is not even being considered by the ownership/front office. Thanks for making the case, Tim.


The Astros and Cubs maxed out when they chose in the top 5. The Pirates did okay.


Yep, Correa and Bryant are far superior to Pedro Alvarez, who turned out to be a one dimensional player and who lost all defensive value. It just worked out badly!


Some draft classes simply have better elite talent than others. Can’t really compare across years like that in terms of draft picks because Bryant and Correa weren’t available when Alvarez was drafted.


Buster F*cking Posey.


When you want to lump prospects together you also can’t afford to intentionally throw away picks like they did with Tony Sanchez


I would agree with you if I could trust TBMTIB to trade for the right guys. But I can’t.

Arik Florimonte

A few points…
1. if they blow it up, they should trade Marte, probably Rivero too. That’s where the big prospect haul will come from. (if Polanco were any good yet I’d argue to trade him too).

2. Teams’ individual TV deals may be stagnating, but MLBAM revenue has been growing by 40%-50% per year. This should help the Pirates since I’d assume it’ll be spread more evenly than the deals in single markets.

2b. however, with this revenue growing by ~$10M per team per year, we haven’t seen any evidence of it raising the Pirates payroll ceiling. I hate the “Nutting is cheap!” narrative but maybe Nutting really is cheap. I’d love to hear where that money went…

Blaine Huff

Marte is a possibility, but I think he has to rebuild value first. If the Pirates go into the rebuild mode and he’s back to his old production at the deadline next summer? Sure…nothing wrong dangling him to see what he’d return.


Who plays center field if both Marte and Cutch are gone though?

Arik Florimonte

doesn’t matter when you’re rebuilding.

Blaine Huff

Great minds think alike…and we do, too… 🙂

Blaine Huff

The Pirates haven’t had much a fielder there for awhile…but my first thought would be Meadows if he’s proven himself…however, in a “blow up” season…you’re pretty much conceding the season…so does it really matter?


I agree on the idea of blowing it up, but I have little to no confidence that NH would be able to get a good return.


Here are a couple of points to add to Tim’s analysis: the Cubs added Lester, Jayson Heyward, Dexter Fowler and traded for Aroldis Chapman; the Astros went out and got Verlander. Hindsight is nice but the Pirates haven’t made any similar moves to upgrade at the deadline, the closest was the trade for Marlon Byrd in 2013. They held prospects like Hanson and Glasnow, and it looks like they will get zero from either. Just reading Tim’s articles the warning signs were flashing with Glasnow. Also the Cubs drafted bats when they had high picks, like Bryant, Baez, Schwarber, and the Astros drafted Correa and Bregman. The Pirates could have chosen Machado over Taillon, maybe he would have put them over the top, or chosen Rendon when they had the chance. I think they need to go back to the approach that has worked for this organisation historically: look for players from Latin America and African-Americans (Cutch and Jhay are 2 of their best players!). And yes, be open minded and explore what return they can get for Cutch, Cole and Jhay, and see if they can get out from under the bad Cervelli contract. Or sell to Mario or Mark Cuban!!!


Yep, adding Happ was a very good move that really worked out! Maybe there was nothing they could have done to get past Arrieta in 2015. I do seem to remember that a certain pitcher named Charlie Morton blew up completely in a late season game against the Cards when they were still in it for the division. Frustrating that he was maddeningly inconsistent with the Pirates, then lights out in Game 7 this year.


They got no pitching in 2013 and were left with Charlie Morton and 23 yo rookie Gerrit Cole to start two series-clinching games in the NLDS. They both lost.

They did nothing at all in 2014 and lost a winnable Division by two games after getting swept by St Louis in a four-game series to start September and were so short on pitching they were forced to start *Edinson Volquez* in the Wild Card game.

Complaints about them at the deadline are about losing, and opportunities for improvement. Full stop.


Jim Duquette of MLB.com predicted the Pirates signing Zack Cosart is free agency which seems way of character for the Bucs. I think the Pirates have enough right now to not do a tear down. Granted, it would be nice to be more optimistic about Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow. I think the performace of those 2 determines the Pirates next rebuild more than anyone else.

Blaine Huff

This is where I’ll show my stupidity…well, here and with all my other posts…

No to Cozart…trade Cutch and sign Bruce. FWIW, MLBTR is guessing he gets signed for 3/39. That swing? In PNC? Wow.

As far as Meadows is concerned, let him play his way onto the roster, and, considering Polanco’s issues, I’m sure he’ll have an opportunity to make his case. If Meadows lives up to the hype…meh, maybe the Pirates have a surplus of OFs in 2019 and a move is forced…that’s not a bad thing.


No chc they sign Cozart to the money and length he’d command. He also had them in on E Nunez for about 3/$30M. That I could see. Pirates love them some utility players.

dr dng

What do you pay a guy who has had one excellent
season and 2-3 good ones. Was 2017 the exception
or what we could expect in the future for 15+ mil a year.

Arik Florimonte

If you’re talking about Cozart, it should be noted that his defense has also been consistently good — his worst season UZR/150 better than Mercer’s best.

dr dng

Arik, so my point is, what are you willing to pay him?


Either get would be good, I think. They’d be upgrades to the everyday offense and defense, and would really bolster the bench by sending Mercer there. Dealing Harrison and landing both (especially if Kang isn’t coming back) would be a great way to both accrue future assets and build a contender now (provided Nunez is healthy). But getting both would be a lot of money.


I’ll take the contrary point of view. I see the multiple regressions of performance as being an outlier to the downside and I expect regression to the mean to give better performances from Marte, Cervelli, Polanco, Cutch, Cole, and even Hudson and a few others. The key to 2018 is whether a legitimate 3Bman can be obtained. If so I’m for standing pat with what they have.

Brian Z

We’re getting the Moose!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND Kate Upton is at my home waiting for me in the shower.

Scott Kliesen

Unlike Moose, she’s off the market.

La Pirate

trading 3 players is not blowing up the team. And you have to wonder just exactly what you would be getting in response. I usually agree with you but I think we need to see if we can put a contender in the field this spring. If it doesnt work by deadline then by all means lets get what we can can for Cutch, Cole, and maybe harrison, Freese and Mercer. No way I get rid of Rivero


Agreed. No way should they even think about trading Rivero. He’s the type of absolute lights-out reliever you need to win a division and to win in the post-season!

Blaine Huff

Yes, Rivero is part of what you need to win a division…it’s really the only part the Pirates have right now. Holding onto that lone piece and hoping the arm is still good in a couple of years when the Pirates might have talent around him is a huge risk.

Arik Florimonte

Well, right now he’s chrome hubcaps on a jalopy.

John W

Blowing it up makes the nh extension look even dumber. He has proven to be subpar as far as acquiring/ developing young talent.

Sadly I feel we are in for some more nh straddling.


This group has essentially created a plan, stuck to it and topped at mediocrity. Take what you learned and do it again, topping out at a World Series. I truly do not think gutting the FO is beneficial. It starts with a 2018 opening day starter named Mitch Keller. Gotta put asses in the seats.


You have a better chance of seeing God on the mound Opening Day 2018 than Keller.

John W

Your right Tim. And the point about the “staggering” and unique players like Cutch is precisely why many many said that windows are very real. This opinion was disregarded by many who said “when you start thinking about windows is when you create a window”

This notion that the Pirates and NH could be legitimate contenders year after year was just silly.


With Kang and Marte playing at their potential for full seasons last year the Bucs would have been contenders, even with Cole, Polanco etc. underperforming.

John W

No they would not have. They were many games better than their baseruns record because of “luck” With a full season of Marte and Kang this was probably a true talent 77-78 win team, maybe 79. Not a contender.


From the Pirates’ MLB site:

Pittsburgh isn’t likely to get involved with any marquee free agents given its small-market budget. Even though the Pirates must improve across the board after back-to-back losing seasons, their roster isn’t exactly littered with holes to fill. Nearly everyone is set to return — and, they hope, bounce back.

David N



The only way blowing it up is a good idea is if they can return to competitiveness by the 2019 season, and they need the turnaround on the rebuild to be fast, which will be difficult, but possible.

Now, if Meadows can stay healthy and turn into an impact player, if Polanco steps up his game, if Kang comes back, if Marte returns to form, if some of the young talent currently on the team or close to the Majors take strides and turn into good to impact players, then dealing Cutch, Cole, and Harrison for prospects will be a good move. So then the question becomes, do they bother to bring in decent free agents during the down years? There’s an obvious argument against that: if they’re super bad, they’ll get better draft picks which they can turn into impact talent to be contenders shortly thereafter. On the other hand, if it’s important to negotiating the TV deal that they remain interesting to an audience (read: win baseball games), then perhaps they should seek free agent bandaid options.

The good thing about the Pirates is they have some pretty good talent in AA and AAA right now, lots of guys with high floors and the opportunity to take steps forward to be more than just capable regulars. A couple good trades for more AA and AAA talent–perhaps more impactful AA and AAA talent, even, as well as a couple perhaps better prospects in the lower levels–the team could contend again even as early as 2018. A horrid 2017 might be worth it, not only in terms of accumulating talent to really contend later, but in terms of the new TV deal.

But man, if only the deal ran out four years earlier…

dr dng

Anyone want to believe like me that Meadows could be starting
in the outfield on August 1, 2018 instead of Polonco?

Considering the money they have invested in Polonco,
would they have the courage to put him on the bench.

Arik Florimonte

Sure, I want to believe it, but based on their injury history and performance, I’d give the best odds to Luplow at this point. He may not have the performance upside (though I like it), but he may simply be the last man standing.


Bruh, clocks went back an hour last weekend not a year. 😉


Not here they didn’t!


I’m going to argue semantics here, but I think it’s an important distinction.

Tim is absolutely right. And he’s also wrong.

What he has described is not, in my opinion, what constitutes “blowing it up”. That is not what a rebuild looks like; that’s what *any* Pirate club not at the top of the win curve should be doing. This is smart baseball.

Trading off veteran talent with two years or less of team control this winter while keeping the young talent already in Pittsburgh should absolutely leave them in a position to contend in 2019, if done competently.

Huntington has not earned the benefit of a full rebuild, which inherently comes with 3-5 years of accepted losing. He must be on the clock, starting now, with a playoff team in 2019 being not just the goal but the *expectation*.

Scott K

Trading away Cutch, Cole, Nova, JHay & Cervelli as you suggest for prospects, than allocating those resources towards FA makes sense from a baseball perspective. However, from a business point of view, especially with a big TV deal being negotiated, makes zero sense.

I expect NH to stay the course this winter. No big trades. Value based FA signings w low risk. And then pray most talented players on team all play to their capabilities.


This may come down to our proclivity toward trusting the supernatural, but I’d argue that relying on the big guy upstairs doesn’t exactly have a flawless track record of business success either. 😉

Scott Kliesen

Just got out of my church’s 2018 budget meeting, and you may be surprised to hear many of those people share your sentiments on that subject.

In all seriousness, considering Pirates just gave long-term contracts to all existing coaches and GM, why would anyone think they are going to deviate from the plan they’ve been working for the last 6 years or so?

Tim suggests they either need to shit or get off the pot, and he may be right. I just see no evidence suggesting Pirates brass wants to leaves the toilet.

Stephen Brooks

2019 only if Newman, Tucker and Keller are allowed to go north with the team Opening Day. If they have to wait until June, then you might as well push that window out to 2020 because NH is going to engineer another bridge year.

David N

Tim: Can’t argue with your analysis, but I don’t think risk is part of the corporate culture of The PBC. Ogden Newspapers, Inc., the foundation of the Nutting Family fortune, has been around for a hundred years. They are in the media business. Their corporate holdings consist almost entirely of small town newspapers and Shoppers, which are essentially licenses to print money, as long as you can keep costs under control. See where I’m going? If they were risk-takers, they might try something like Tony V suggested above, and keep more of the cash flow from broadcast rights in-house, but they won’t, IMO.

I’ve said it before. If you look at their future payroll commitments, you see that they have something like $42 million rolling off the books after 2018, depending on what Jordy Mercer earns in Arbitration and whether Kang comes back. Cole, Cervelli, Polanco and Marte combined make around $25 million in 2018. Personally, I think we’re stuck with Cervelli; the others won’t bring as much as we would like to think, again IMO.

The low-risk strategy would be to do little or nothing this Winter; see if we can move a few of the above pieces at the Trade Deadline for whatever we can get (not much, again IMO), and hope for the best from future drafts and the top of our Farm System. No-Man’s Land can be a comfortable place, as long as no one’s dropping heavy ordnance on you.

Thomas H

Ogden prints yellow pages and small town newspapers and flyers. That’s true. Those industries are dying quickly with the advent of the internet.


I really think they could have their cake and eat it too. I think trading Harrison for prospects would be fine because I really think Moroff could match Harrison’s WAR and could exceed it with a little luck. I could get behind dealing Cutch for a prospect because I’m a believer that Frazier could pop a 2.5 WAR if he dedicates himself to Lf.

That gives them 25 million to spend elsewhere.

I just realllly don’t agree with trading cole. I don’t think trading Cutch and Harrison would be putting up a white flag for 2018 because I like their replacements. Trading Cole would be a white flag.


They might be able to trade Cole and swap him out for a ton of mid range pitching options Tillman could be a huge reclaimation for same price as Cole at the least he kills time until Keller is ready or someone in AAA has a breakthrough. I don’t have any problems trading Cole and don’t think losing his last two seasons performance is a big deal especially if a team shells out.


The TV contract will be worse. TV all around the country is losing ratings on Sports. Look at ESPN. On October 10, the Trib reported that TV ratings were down 27% in PGH for 2017. The only way TV revenue increases is with a local subscription based plan. That could be selling packages, individual games or a Sports Network. It may make sense for the Steelers and Pens to partner on something like that as National Contracts will be diminishing in value once the current ones expire.

David N

I don’t think The PBC will do that (see my comment below) but in an odd way, if The KKK (Kaepernick Kneeling Kontroversy) blows up The NFL’s ratings, it could end up working to Baseball’s benefit. Personally, I enjoyed the World Series Pre-Game Shows.

Blaine Huff

I’ve also wondered whether the heyday of huge TV deals has gone the way of glitzy new stadiums…it will be interesting to see what they team gets.


I think it has. Forbes reports for 2017 that Prime Time National Broadcasts were down 6%. For the cable networks (Like FSN, Comcast, ATT/Root) viewership was down. FSN has a gain of 5% but, Comcast was down 15., ATT/Rood -9 and Independents -4. No way value of contracts goes up unless a team is seeing increased viewership consistently.


Would Hurdle have signed back up for a blow up?

Thomas H



Might be why it was a 4-year deal. Tim’s recommendation has them competing by 2020.


Why not. Lessens the pressure tremendously. He enjoys working with the players. Gets him paid for a few years with lower expectations.


I think they will be able to wait until the trade deadline. Gerrit Cole may have more value if he is pitching well through July vs his value today. I think they can take advantage of bargains and do the best with what they have maybe throw 10-15m on to the team not looking for moustakas. If they’re passing up a great offer for mccutchen I agree they might be unwise I wasn’t really enamored with the nats offer last year. I can wait another half year for a rebuild.

Blaine Huff

Cutch should definitely go this winter…at the very least, having that full year of control gets the team an extra draft pick when they slap the QO on Cutch next off season.

As for Cole, I can see holding until summer to see if his value rises…the downside is that he’s healthy now and that, mid-June, you’d hate to hear of any ‘mild elbow discomfort’.


I just don’t see Cutch going anywhere soon. My gut feeling is that teams are not making any good offers and the fo is pretty set on bringing back last seasons cast maybe minus JHay.

Blaine Huff

I agree the front office is probably going to be stagnant. It has been for a few years now with meaningful off-season moves.

My gut feeling is that everyone from the top-down is going to expect every developing player to get better, every unhealthy player to go without injury, and every under-performing player to rebound.

They are going to ‘best-case-scenario’ the shit out of this off-season and hope they can ride that to competitiveness.

If the Pirates wanted massive change, I think they would have brought in some young front office talent who has succeeded with the trade and rebuild formula.


My only optimism is that it’s a good bargain basement year to rebuild the bullpen, snag a starter, trade to cobble the infield won’t be glamorous and hope beyond all reality for Kang to come back. Do they dare spend 15-20m on mostly starters and bullpen I hope. Can they get some lefty hitters who can play ss and don’t require more than kingham Kuhl or any opening roster starter from Altoona last year. Everyone else plays out of their minds. It’s the only option they have.


It’s a sad day in the Burgh, but I cannot argue with your logic, Tim. The team is in no-man’s land. The Pirates keep finishing in the middle of the pack, so they do not get a shot at drafting the can’t-miss prospects at the top of the draft. Cole and Rivero are the two most marketable players, IMO, followed by Cutch and Harrison. It’s time to clean house to supplement the young players here and on the near horizon.


I think that the positioning for a good 2019 TV contract that this isn’t the year they will blow it up. The current $25m/year deal could go to $40m, or maybe only to $35m, or maybe up to $45m. If TV ratings are down because of a fans ‘disinterested’, you are going to be stuck into a worse deal. That compounded over several years warrants postponing the rebuild and tanking for another year just as a financial maximization point.

Tank mode goes into full effect in 2019 if we aren’t close with top prospects refilling the hopper post Cutch, etc.

Blaine Huff

I’m all for the blow-up, but the Pirates have some problems with this path.

Cutch, with just a year left, isn’t going to be worth all that much.

Harrison isn’t going to be a piece that teams are lining up to overpay for.

Cole? Yes, some team will be on the verge of contending and need a solid arm in the rotation.

The biggest chip the Pirates have is Rivero…no one else on the roster comes close… and, if they’re going to ‘blow it up’, they would be crazy to hold onto a lights out closer who could easily net a return similar to Chapman’s.


I tend to agree. The only players we have right now that I’d expect bring back top prospects are Cole and Rivero. Trading Cutch and other 2018/2019 players would be more about cutting payroll.

My one step in both sides (contend and rebuild) would be to trade Cole and Rivero to rebuild while counting on Glasnow, Brault, and others (Keller?) to help contend this year. I.e., I’d count on our pitching depth to allow us to move our most valuable trade chips.


Counting on Glasnow? I don’t think so, unfortunately!


Not sure about when Rivero should be traded but it might take him to get an upside catcher – maybe Cole achieves this – who knows.

Blaine Huff

I would say ASAP. Closers don’t have the longest shelf-life and they go for a premium. If the team is considering going without Cole, Cutch, and Harrison…the win total for ’18 will probably fall into mid-60s. Why keep a closer of this caliber around to ensure a 68 win season instead 64?


Even if they show their hand in 3 weeks as rebuilding I think they take offers for months similar to Sox for Quintana.

Blaine Huff

Definitely. When I say ASAP, that’s shorthand for “before the start of the next season”. If the Pirates do go this route, I think they’d be foolish to hold on to him into the next season. He’s a closer…someone will overpay nicelly.


I don’t really feel like there would be that much of a difference in the offers the Pirates receive for 3 years of Rivero next offseason as opposed to the offers they receive for 4 years of control this offseason. Assuming he stays healthy and productive this year he should still net a top prospect, another solid player close to the majors and a project with upside/lottery ticket type or two.

Blaine Huff

It’s the ‘healthy’ thing that worries me. If you’re going to do the rebuild…might as well capitalize while you can. Also on the plus side…do it not and those guys should be reasonably close to ready by early-mid 2019.


Tim…whether I agree or disagree with you is moot. I honestly feel like NH is going to do very little this offseason and will count on the regulars to bounce back.

And, as you state, being mediocre is not a good plan. But, between NH being loathe to tear it up and Nutting being, uhhh, frugal, we’re doomed.


Lee, completely agree. The big problem, which was not addressed, is trusting NH/Nuting to make a prudent decision, when their track record shows they only decide on the side of cheap. NH’s instructions will be to keep the budget at 100K or less. Winning is optional for this ownership. Both blowing it up and adding to this group and going for it would require admission that their plan was flawed, and they won’t admit that. One last point, the extensions given to the GM and manager as rewards for failing tell me that the same basic team including Cutch and Cole will at the very least break camp. Bleak outlook for us, while the next Cleveland or Houston certainly won’t come from western PA. My guess is Tampa or Baltimore.


Frugal is a kinder term for cheap. 🙂


I agree that they are not that far away, and that they could experience a shorter term rebuild with all of the guys you mentioned. If they were to trade Cutch, Cole and Harrison, they would need to get guys who are within a year or 2 of coming to the majors. I think they tried to do this last year with Cutch and reported ask of Victor Robles from the Nationals but it didn’t work. Now with him having a bit of a rebound year in the books, maybe they can get something similar to that this year (although I think a Robles level prospect is going to be tough to get).

I think Cole is the most intriguing of the bunch to trade considering his age. Can they get a top level prospect for Cole? I’m not sure. They would need to shoot for at least a pitcher in return and also a true outfielder to ease the departure of Cutch.


In my opinion, part of the success they experienced in 2013 – 2015 was their ability to add value veterans on the cheap to supplement the core they already had in place (Liriano, Burnett, Melancon, Morton, Volquez, Martin, and a few others). It seems like what has ailed the pirates recently is the inability to do that the past few years. I agree that I don’t think this current team can contend and the path forward seems to be more clearly favoring a rebuild. However, I am not entirely sure that that means there is zero chance of winning. If NH can work some value magic again, they could blow it up and perhaps still give the young guys like Polanco, Bell, Kramer, Meadows, Taillon, and Glasnow some decent veteran support. That sort of strategy excited me more than going for it now for a small chance at winning today with an incredibly putrid outlook in the next five or six years.


Kett, to me the key part of your piece is “their ability to add value veterans on the cheap”, with emphasis being on the CHEAP!!!!!!!!!!!

When does this crap end in Pittsburgh?!?!?! Huge taxpayer dollars were taken from Pennsylvania residents to build PNC Park (among other stadiums in both Philly and Pittsburgh). Pittsburgh fans have always shown that they will support a good product. We were told during the 2013-2015 run that if people came out to PNC Park, the front office would spend to bring in a winner. They have not done that!!!!!!!!!!

Every freaking year, from one winter meetings to another, from one July trading deadline to another, it’s the same old song and dance in terms of crying poverty, getting creative with reclamation projects/dumpster diving, not being able to bring in this type of player or that type of player until we shed some payroll because we can’t spend with the Cubs, Dodgers, etc., of the world.

Now the call to “blow it all up” and start anew. O.K., let’s say that happens. What then in three, four, five years from now, when it comes time to pay Mitch Keller, Austin Meadows, Taylor Hearn, etc., etc., etc., and/or supplement that group with some experienced veterans, so that the team can hopefully get into October baseball. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that we’ll hear that same thing once again–crappy t.v. deal, no parking revenue, can’t spend with the large market teams, can’t make any major impact trades because of the acquisition cost, blah, blah, blah.

In short, this ownership needs to stop fleecing its fan base. Neal Huntington came in ten years ago with the mantra that for the Pirates to win, they have to do so with home grown talent. The problem is that even the best of farm system’s need to be supplemented with trades and free agent signings. While a payroll of one billion dollars would not guarantee a World Series championship, in this day and age, you have to be willing to spend at least a certain dollar amount. That amount is not $100 million. That might have been the case ten or 15 years ago. It’s not anymore.

With the Pirates farm system, I think that they could put a legitimate contender on the field with a payroll of $112 to $120 million, minimum. I don’t think that that is too much for the Pirates fan base to expect.

At some point, and we are well past that point in my opinion, if you are going to own a professional sports franchise and you claim that you want to win, then you need to spend like it. Otherwise, sell the team to someone who will spend the going rate.

I am sick and tired of the “their ability to add value veterans on the cheap” approach.

Randy W

Yes, you will hear the same thing once again, because the no parking revenue, crappy TV deal, and the smaller market things ARE factors in them having less money to spend than many teams. It’s impossible to know whether or not they’re able to spend more money than they currently do, but to ignore those factors isn’t fair. The Bucs will always face an uphill battle because they’re not as wealthy as many other teams and thus will not be able to compete with them equally in terms of extending their prospects or bidding on free agents. If I show up at an auction with $300,000 and you show up with $100,000, I’m the one leaving with the copy of Action Comics #1 .


You clearly have missed my entire point. I fully understand that the Pirates, like other small market teams, will never be able to spend with the Cubs and Yankees, and the other “big boys with deep pockets”. I get that. But guess what, news flash here: The Pirates, and other small market teams don’t have to spend with the large market teams to compete, IF THEY HAVE A PRODUCTIVE PLAYER PROCUREMENT AND DEVELOPMENT SYSTEM. The Pirates of 2013-2015 showed that to be a fact. So did the Royals of 2014 and 2015.
The difference is that having a productive farm system is not enough. You have to be willing to bring in other talent through trades and free agency, to supplement and compliment, your farm system. You don’t have to have a payroll of $150, $175, or $200 million to do that either. But you do have to come up to a certain plateau. IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO DO SO, THEN SELL TO SOMEONE WHO WILL. STOP FLEECING THE FAN BASE BY SAYING ONE THING–WE WANT TO WIN–AND DOING SOMETHING COMPLETELY OPPOSITE–DUMPSTER DIVING FOR THE RYAN VOGELSONG’S AND WADE LEBLANC’S OF THE WORLD.
Don’t get me wrong, reclamation type players have a place in building a roster. You just cannot place as much emphasis on them that the Pirates do and have over the past several seasons.
Also, if you are so convinced that the Pirates cannot spend more than they have spent in recent years, then riddle me this, Batman: Why is it when a collective bargaining agreement expires, and it comes time to negotiate a new one, that the so called small market teams–the Pirates, Reds, Indians, Twins, Brewers, Royals, Tampa Bay–that are the bottom feeders of baseball, don’t form a fraternity of sorts and say “hey, mlb, come up with a plan to enable us to compete”?
The reason is that those small market teams, the Pirates among them, are making more than a decent buck. In the case of the Pirates at least, the Nutting regime just is not willing to make a good-faith, honest-to-the-fan base effort, to put a winning product on the field. That’s the crap that I am sick of. I am a longtime baseball fan, and a lifelong Pirates fan of now some 45 years. I expect mlb players to play the game with passion and to be able to execute the fundamentals. I expect them to hustle. I also expect ownerships to make an honest effort to give the fans what they want: A championship caliber product. Particularly when that same ownership if reaping financial benefit from a stadium that my tax dollars helped to fund.
If we as fans cannot expect all of that, then we might as well go find something else to do with our leisure time and disposable income.
Now, go enjoy your comic book.


Do you have financials to provide us with how much more they can spend?


This ownership can pony up another $12 to $20 million per year to get them, with the improvements that they have made to their farm system, to a level of being a legitimate contender. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply naïve and lacking in common sense. One does not have to have a Ph.D. in Economics or Business Administration, nor have access to the Pirates financial ledger, to reach the conclusion that Bob Nutting is not making an honest, good faith effort at putting a winning team on the field. He pays lip service to that objective, and I do believe that he is sincere when he says that he wants to win. The problem is that wanting to win, and attempting to do so on the operating budget that he gives Neal Huntington to work with, are many miles apart. You can’t satisfy champagne tastes with a beer budget.

Randy W

Ha! Feathers ruffled there, big boy? In your tirade, you missed one of my points: you have no idea how much money the Bucs do or don’t have to spend. As a fan, of course you have the right to be frustrated by their recent failures and budgetary concerns. Now, stats on this vary, but Pittsburgh is roughly the 7th smallest market in MLB and at had a payroll right around that ranking. What’s fishy about that? Agreed, the payroll needs to be a little higher to compete, but how do we know they can afford that? Most of the points you make are actually conclusions you’ve jumped to. But you can take the asshole approach and spout angry condescending tirades all you want. In the end you’re just an angry blowhard with a bunch of speculative statements.


Clearly you are the blowhard a-hole who has no idea of what you are talking about. It has been well-documented that Bob Nutting is actually one of the wealthiest owners in baseball. He has other business interests besides the Pittsburgh Pirates. Despite your suggestion that his ownership group is poverty stricken, compared to other mlb ownerships, in plain point of fact, your are incorrect.

Your assertion, “The view that the Bucs can afford to spend more than they do lacks merit. On the other hand, the view that they can’t afford to spend more also lacks merit. It’s unfair to speculate either way” is patently absurd, and for many reasons, that again, have been well-documented. But aside from what has been documented, one only needs to remember that Nutting himself said during the 2013-2015 run of playoff appearances that he will increase the payroll if the fans come out to PNC Park. That alone, at least for people who have more than two brain cells to rub together (a group that you clearly are not a part of), if he is a man of his word, is enough merit to conclude that this ownership group does in fact have the operating capital to be more successful.

Your naivete’ is clearly off of the charts. In the future, please refrain from any more vacuous idiocy that only serves to contaminate this site. Knowledgeable, passionate Pirates fans have no time or need for the likes of you.

Mike U

Could you be a little more condescending? This us why these conversations are so miserable to have. You make a few good points, a few assumptions, and snooty insults riddled with all capital letters… everyone who agrees with you feel indulged. Great, this guy tells it like it is! Everyone disagreeing with you just feel insulted. Go spend your disposable income on something else. We will welcome you back when the natural cycle of baseball yields another winner.


Do us all a favor and learn how to spell and punctuate correctly. Your command of the English language is horrific. Assuming you have enough gray matter to handle that task, perhaps you can then graduate to gaining at least some semblance of baseball knowledge. As it stands now, your understanding of the game of baseball and the Pirates would not even fill a thimble on the best of days.

Chris M

Awesome post spot on!!!!!

John W

Great Fing post

Ian Rothermund

Oh Christ, I just realized why I don’t miss trolling the comments section here.


I did not realize that we getting into religious subjects. Perhaps you need to troll on a profanity website.

Ian Rothermund

Lol. That is the most pathetic, milquetoast response I’ve heard in a while


Well then why are you bothering to troll the comments section here?

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