First Pitch: The Walking Dead

My wife and I just recently started re-watching The Walking Dead.

Stay with me.

Some early season spoilers ahead, but honestly at this point if I spoil the early seasons of The Walking Dead for you, it’s your fault. The show has been around so long that when they visited the CDC at the end of season one, they were amazed that the guy in charge was controlling the lights and doors through a voice controlled, female voiced computer.

There was a point in the final episode of that first season where the group suddenly realizes the enormity of what has happened. The entire world as they knew it is now gone, and there is no going back. This is the new world now, and they have no clue what is in store for them, other than the fact that it’s going to be a very difficult road ahead.

Bob Nutting finalized his personnel changes yesterday, firing Neal Huntington and announcing Travis Williams as the new team president. With that move, the entire Pirates system as we know it is gone, and we’re now in a new world.

It’s rare that a team goes through this level of organizational change. Teams fire a manager, or maybe a GM and a manager, but to essentially replace the entire front office is a massive overhaul.

Think for a second what it means right now. For the first time since 2007, the Pirates will have a new GM. They’ll also likely have a new development system, filled with a new farm director, new coaches, and so on. The entire system won’t be replaced, and shouldn’t. There are some good coaches in the system right now, and it’s up to the next GM to determine who will stay and who will go.

The Pirates will have their first manager since 2011. They’ll have their first pitching coach since that time. They added new hitting coaches last year, and we’ll see if they continue with that approach going forward.

This is borderline an expansion team at this point, only with a good head start due to already having some top prospects and good MLB players on the roster. They could either go for it now, or go for a rebuild. And when I say either of those things, realize that we don’t know how the new group will operate with those strategies, because we’re so used to how the old group would operate.

The one drawback here is that Bob Nutting is the only one remaining. His handling of this whole process doesn’t give me much faith that he knows what he’s doing. The narrative surrounding Nutting is just that he’s cheap, and sometimes the claims get comical. That was on display when people constantly suggested that Nutting wouldn’t fire Hurdle and Huntington because they each had two years remaining on their deals.

I don’t think Nutting is comically cheap, but I do question if he knows what he’s doing. He fired Clint Hurdle, said that Neal Huntington was the right guy to lead the team going forward, and then fired Huntington a month later. His explanation made sense, but it was all stuff that was known at the end of September.

In fact, here was an article I wrote at the start of this month, questioning why Neal Huntington wasn’t fired over the Chris Archer trade alone and making a lot of the other arguments that Nutting made yesterday. Wilbur Miller has been arguing for years that the Pirates have an approach to get to .500 and hope for the best, which Nutting spoke out against yesterday.

The evidence was clear that Huntington and the rest of the front office needed to go, because those of us following this organization closely were seeing a trend. The trend was that the Pirates were behind on the times — either developmentally, with their approach to contending, or both, and probably with more things beyond that — and they weren’t making any effort to change their approach. That led to the organization slowly declining, and seeing little chance of competing in today’s MLB.

It obviously wasn’t clear enough to Nutting. It wasn’t clear in 2017 to demand a change in how Huntington and his crew were approaching things. I asked him several times over the last two years whether they’d reconsider their “no windows” approach, while giving examples of how embracing windows is leading to winning teams elsewhere, and Nutting insisted they believed their method would work. So it’s not like he wasn’t aware that other teams were having success with a different method.

It wasn’t even clear to Nutting that Huntington needed to go a month ago, and he’s given no explanation that would justify how this entire process unfolded.

So if there’s one drawback to this new world, it’s the part that is never leaving: Bob Nutting. It was just him, and now it’s him and Travis Williams.

The good news here is that Nutting seems like the type of owner who will just let the people under him run the franchise. But the only guy under him right now has no experience in baseball, and most of his accomplishments in other sports have involved negotiating TV deals and stadium funding.

That doesn’t mean that Travis Williams won’t be capable of hiring a good General Manager. But clearly Nutting doesn’t know what to look for in that department, and we don’t know if Williams does either.

This is a promising time for the Pirates. They get to build their entire organization back up, all while updating some of the failed strategies that led to them losing in three of the last four years, and still underperforming in the one year where they had a winning record. The big question is whether the two guys in place can hire a new age GM who can really kick the process off and give the Pirates what they need going forward.

In short, hopefully one of them ends up being Rick Grimes.




By John Dreker

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a member of the 1979 World Series champs.

Jim Bibby, pitcher for the 1978-83 Pirates. He went 50-32, 3.53 in 91 starts and 55 relief appearances while with the Pirates. Bibby led the league in winning percentage in both 1979 and 1980, combining for a 31-10 record. He finished third in the 1980 Cy Young voting and made the All-Star team. He won 111 games in his 12-year career, topping out at 19 wins twice. Bibby had a 2.08 ERA in three postseason starts in 1979, though he didn’t pick up a decision in any of those outings.

Dana Eveland, pitcher for the 2010 Pirates. In one start and two relief appearances for the Pirates, he had an 8.38 ERA in 9.2 innings. Pitched 446.1 innings over 11 seasons in the majors, including 2008 when he threw 168 innings.

Solly Hofman, outfielder for the 1903 Pirates. He debuted in the majors on July 28, 1903 and lasted just three games with the Pirates, going 0-for-2 with a run scored. Rejoined the Pirates in 1912-13 and played 47 more games, finishing with a .246 average. Played 14 seasons in the majors and helped the Chicago Cubs to the World Series three times. His nephew Bobby Hofman played seven seasons in the majors.

Mark Baldwin, pitcher for the 1891-93 Pirates. He led the Player’s League with 33 wins in 1890 and pitched over 1,000 innings between the 1889-90 seasons. Went 21-28 in 1891, despite a 2.76 ERA. Baldwin had a 26-27, 3.47 record in 1892. Pitched a total of 878 innings during his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, before lasting just one start in 1893. Won 154 games in a seven year career. He holds the seventh and eighth highest single season innings pitched total in team history.