I’ve been making the argument that the Pirates need to clean house and go in a new direction with their front office and management team.
Neal Huntington has overseen a team that went from a real contender in 2013-15 to a team in the bottom of the standings, with a farm system ranked at number 20 in the league.
Clint Hurdle has overseen a clubhouse that has been dysfunctional during that time, getting to the extreme this year with team suspensions, but also having issues in 2017 with players questioning the team’s goals and differing treatment of different players.
Ray Searage has overseen a pitching staff that has failed to keep up with modern trends, sending the Pirates from one of the best pitching groups in the league to one of the worst.
Kyle Stark and Larry Broadway have overseen a development system that has produced a lot of highly ranked prospects, with very few of those prospects living up to their potential while in Pittsburgh. That’s become more glaring as some of those top guys have gone on to live up to expectations elsewhere, with Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, and Austin Meadows likely haunting the Pirates for years — even if they’re in the American League.
The list of potential changes doesn’t end with those five guys. But you can use their examples to show how crazy this situation is to sort through.
In each case, you know that the team is struggling in the area those five oversee. What you don’t know is what kind of impact the other struggles have on the different departments.
If the development system produced better MLB results, maybe the MLB team would be better, and no one would be in the hot seat.
Or maybe the struggles come down to Searage sticking with an outdated pitching philosophy, and/or Hurdle losing the clubhouse.
And Neal Huntington has said that everything falls on him, which is true, as he oversees all of this. If any of the other four are fired, and Huntington remains — all while keeping the flawed “no windows” strategy for contending — it would be seen as a scapegoat situation where the Pirates only took a half measure to fixing their current problems.
The truth is that all five of these guys could be fired and it won’t make a huge impact. Not as long as Bob Nutting is around, and he’s not going anywhere.
The Pirates could replace their player development staff with a new group that could produce more consistent MLB results.
They could bring in a pitching coach who focuses on modern pitching philosophies, similar to what they did on the hitting side.
They could bring in a manager who has better control of the clubhouse, while possibly adapting to newer strategies with bullpen usage and other outdated trends.
They could bring in a General Manager who embraces windows of contention, going for a full rebuild when the team isn’t close to contending, and going for it all when the team can win.
But that’s where it all runs into a problem. I’m honestly not sure if this approach is an approach believed in by Huntington, or if it’s something mandated to him from Nutting.
I’ve asked Nutting two years in a row whether they’ll change this approach, spending more when they’re contenders, knowing that they’ll be spending much less during a rebuild. When Nutting said that they believe their strategy works as well as the others, I gave examples of how the strategy of embracing windows has led to most of the World Series winners in recent years. Still, the Pirates believed in their plan, according to their owner. And nothing done since those conversations suggest that the plan has changed.
I believe that MLB’s economic system is a mess, and even if the Pirates spent to the top of what teams in similar markets spend, they’d still be at a huge disadvantage. They could spend $120 M — which is only $10 M more than their franchise high — and they’d still be about $100 M shy of the top teams in the league.
There’s little room for mistakes when you’re operating in that range. The types of moves you can make are limited. You don’t get access to every player who is available, and you have to hesitate to trade young talent for one key player, because it’s then much harder to surround that key player with the talent needed to win.
The last thing a small market team needs is to further reduce their odds. That’s what the Pirates have been doing consistently the last few years, and it all starts with Nutting. By limiting the Pirates to spending only to the budget, and refusing to participate in deficit spending even for one year, he creates even more of a disadvantage for a team that is already placed at a disadvantage by MLB.
You can win with a low budget. The Rays are doing it right now. It won’t last long, and they’re probably going to be limited to Wild Card games like the Pirates from 2013-15, as long as the Yankees and Red Sox are in the same division. That’s the upside here. Nutting could clean house, bring in people to replicate the success of the Rays, and the best the Pirates could hope for is another Wild Card game.
That’s not to say that a division title is guaranteed if they spend bigger when the window is open. That approach would increase their chances though, giving them the strategy that is working for so many other teams in baseball. That’s the important thing.
As long as Nutting sticks to the “no deficit spending” approach, the Pirates will not be maximizing their chances of winning. It’s no different than Ray Searage using an outdated pitching philosophy. Sure, the Pirates might not win if their pitchers suddenly start pitching like the Astros, but it greatly improves their chances.
Embracing windows, spending big when the window is open, and going full rebuild when the window is closed — this is a strategy that doesn’t guarantee success, but it gives a small market team their best chance. That strategy is unlikely to ever be implemented under Nutting. And that means that the Pirates will never have their best chance of winning as long as Nutting is the owner.
Indianapolis has 15 games left. They trail by ten games in the division and eight games in the wild card.
Altoona has been eliminated from the playoffs.
Bradenton has 13 games left. They trail by 11 games in the division. They can be eliminated as early as Tuesday. I’ll note that MiLB has them eliminated already, but that’s an error. Their elimination number is two and they are off today.
Greensboro has 15 games left. They trail by six in the division and they are 2.5 games back for the second best record, which could possibly get them a playoff spot.
Morgantown has 14 games left. They lead by a 1/2 game in the division.
Bristol has 10 games left. They trail by one in the division and they have a 1/2 game lead for the second playoff spot.
GCL Pirates have 14 games left. They trail by 14.5 in the division. They can be eliminated from the playoffs as early as today, as their elimination number is down to one.
DSL Pirates1 have been eliminated from the playoffs.
DSL Pirates2 have clinched a playoff spot
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 7-1 to the Chicago Cubs on Sunday night. They will send out Trevor Williams tonight. He has given up a total of 11 runs over ten innings in his last two starts combined. When the Pirates and Nationals met in mid-April, Williams allowed two runs over 6.1 innings. He has a 6.11 home ERA this season and 4.58 on the road. The Nationals will counter with 26-year-old right-hander Joe Ross, who has a 5.91 ERA in 42.2 innings, with 36 strikeouts and a 1.64 WHIP. In his last three starts combined, he has allowed one run over 18 innings. Prior to that stretch, he had a 9.85 ERA this season. Ross did not face the Pirates when the two teams met in April.
The minor league schedule includes Cam Vieaux’s second start since returning to Altoona. He threw six shutout innings in his first game back, allowing just two hits. After giving up 17 runs over 12.2 innings in his first two starts back with Indianapolis, Brandon Waddell gave up one run over six innings in his last start. Between Altoona and Triple-A, he has 97 strikeouts in 85 innings this season. Morgantown is sending out fourth round pick JC Flowers in the final game before their brief All-Star break. He has increased his pitch count in every outing so far, so we could see him go five innings for the first time tonight. He gave up two runs over four innings in his last start. Bristol’s Adrian Florencio will make his second straight start against Bluefield. He gave up two runs over four innings in his last start. He has a 4.24 ERA in road starts and 5.01 in home games. Bradenton and Greensboro have off today.
MLB: Pittsburgh (51-72) vs Nationals (67-56) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Trevor Williams (5.25 ERA, 80:29 SO/BB, 104.2 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (61-64) @ Toledo (57-68) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Brandon Waddell (8.88 ERA, 55:33 SO/BB, 48.2 IP)
AA: Altoona (62-63) vs Hartford (65-58) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cam Vieaux (2.56 ERA, 40:20 SO/BB, 56.1 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (67-58) @ Palm Beach (54-67) 6:30 PM 8/20 (season preview)
Probable starter: Aaron Shortridge (3.18 ERA, 96:24 SO/BB, 124.2 IP)
Low-A: Greensboro (73-51) @ Delmarva (83-41) 7:05 PM 8/20 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD
Short-Season A: Morgantown (34-27) vs Williamsport (25-37) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: JC Flowers (3.71 ERA, 17:9 SO/BB, 17.0 IP)
Rookie: Bristol (28-29) @ Bluefield (28-29) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Adrian Florencio (4.69 ERA, 32:19 SO/BB, 40.1 IP)
GCL: Pirates (14-28) vs Twins (26-16) 10:00 AM DH (season preview)
DSL: Pirates1 (30-36) vs Red Sox2 (30-36) 10:30 AM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates2 (51-15) vs Colorado (27-39) 10:30 AM (season preview)
From Altoona on Saturday, Logan Hill hits his tenth home run
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) August 18, 2019
This GIF has hits from Hill, Chris Sharpe and Jared Oliva
Three runs in the third gives us an early lead #FullSteamAhead 🚂
⬇️3⃣ Curve 3, Bowie 0 pic.twitter.com/Gznwj8cmhE
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) August 17, 2019
8/18: Pirates add Montana DuRapau to roster.
8/18: Elvis Escobar activated from Altoona injured list. Tom Koehler placed on injured list.
8/17: Nick Mears promoted to Altoona. Cody Bolton placed on Altoona injured list. Ryan Valdes added to Bradenton.
8/17: Colin Selby placed on Greensboro injured list. Oliver Garcia promoted to Greensboro.
8/16: Pirates release Jake Brentz. Mitchell Tolman and Darnell Sweeney promoted to Indianapolis.
8/16: Adrian Valerio and Jesse Medrano promoted to Altoona. Chase Lambert and Raul Siri added to Bradenton roster.
8/16: Pirates recall Cole Tucker. Geoff Hartlieb optioned to Indianapolis.
8/15: Kevin Kramer placed on Indianapolis injured list.
8/14: Pirates sign Francis Olantilo.
8/14: Osvaldo Bido placed on Bradenton injured list.
8/14: John Bormann retired.
8/13: Pirates sign Isaias Dipre.
8/13: Nicholas Economos assigned to Bradenton.
8/13: Tom Koehler assigned to Altoona. Francisco Cervelli assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
8/12: Pirates recall Mitch Keller. Richard Rodriguez placed on injured list.
8/11: Pirates release Tyler Lyons. Cody Ponce promoted to Indianapolis.
8/11: Clay Holmes activated from injured list. Parker Markel optioned to Indianapolis.
8/11: Francisco Cervelli assigned to Altoona on rehab.
8/11: Rookie Davis assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
8/10: Mariano Dotel assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.
8/9: Braeden Ogle activated from Bradenton injured list.
8/9: Pirates release Eduardo Vera. Cam Vieaux sent to Altoona.
8/9: Kyle Mottice activated from Greensboro injured list. Victor Ngoepe sent to Morgantown.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus three trades of note. Starting with the transactions, we have one that helped the 1909 World Series team. The Pirates gave up infielders Alan Storke and Jap Barbeau for third baseman Bobby Byrne. The Pirates got Byrne for his strong defense at third base, but he was also a better hitter than either player they gave up. He scored five runs during the World Series and stuck around in Pittsburgh until 1913.
In 1983, the Pirates traded catcher Steve Nicosia to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for catcher Milt May, who was a former Pirates player. Nicosia asked for a trade because he wasn’t happy about the limited playing time he was getting behind Tony Pena.
In 1988, the Pirates traded 1B/OF Mike Diaz for outfielder Gary Redus, who played on all three pennant winners from 1990-1992, spending most of his time at first base.
Players born on this date include:
Britt Reames, 2006 pitcher. Spent most of the season in the minors, getting into six games in August.
Terry Harper, 1987 outfielder. Was acquired in late June from the Detroit Tigers for two minor league players. Hit .288 in 36 games, seeing time at both corner outfield spots.
Ike McAuley, 1914-16 shortstop. Played a total of 24 games during his three seasons, occasionally taking the place of Honus Wagner, while Wagner also played third base a few times with McAuley in the lineup.