“There are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then, there's 50 feet of crap. And then there's us.” This quote is from Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, in Moneyball. Beane is able to rewrite the rules of professional baseball and win with the small-market team of hodgepodge players that he put together.
But, Bob Nutting is no Billy Beane. Well, scratch that. Bob Nutting is about half of a Billy Beane. While he is missing the Ivy League Mathematician, Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting still signs his fair share of what most consider to be washed up, below average, baseball players, that, throughout their whole careers, have underperformed. For Nutting, it’s a frustrating situation. If your cost-saving measures of signing less-than-stellar players and bringing them to Pittsburgh for a low price tag proves successful – that is, the Pirates make the playoffs – you are a hero. You get your Moneyball moment. However, if your bargain signings do not pan out, and your team fails to make the playoffs, like the Pirates have done in 20 of their last 25 seasons— you are public enemy number one.
This is the position in which Nutting currently finds himself. For all intents and purposes, you can call Nutting the most hated man in Pittsburgh at the moment. He is currently the subject of an over 60,000 signature petition forcing him to give up his ownership of the club. The petition comes on the heels of the news that Nutting and Co. moved five-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen, and former first overall draft pick, Gerrit Cole, to San Francisco and Houston, respectively, which, in the eyes of the fanbase, gave little to no return. This is one of his many moves that could be seen as putting the club in a worse, not better, position over the past few seasons, and it has added more fuel to the Bob Nutting hatred fire that stews in the hearts of Pirates fans.
To no surprise, Nutting, as well as the entire Pirates organization, are receiving harsh criticism from the public. Fans are dropping left and right. Players, like current second baseman Josh Harrison, are demanding trades out of the Steel City.
But, what if we all paused for a moment, took a deep breath and looked at the facts?
Baseball is a business. At the end of the day, an MLB front office is trying to put the best team on the field that they can while facing tight budget restraints. This is no different in Pittsburgh. Nutting, along with General Manager Neal Huntington, are trying to run the business that is the Pittsburgh Pirates. For a team that currently has a total payroll a just south of 76 million dollars going in to the 2018 season, they are absolutely considered a “small-market team.” That payroll mark gives them the sixth smallest payroll in the league, roughly 42 million dollars under the league average of $117,638,669. If you want to put the Pirates extremely small payroll into perspective, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw grossed 32 million dollars, an incredible forty-two percent of the Pirates total payroll.
All of these facts are getting to the main point: the Pirates are a small-market club that does not have the assets to make runs at top caliber talent, such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.
Going back to the issues of recent trades, it’s easy to sit there and bash Bob Nutting for his incompetence when it comes to trades. However, when you take a look at the numbers behind the Andrew McCutchen trade, you can follow Nutting’s thought pattern. The Pirates with the roster with which they ended 2017 were not projected to make the playoffs in 2018. Andrew McCutchen was due just shy of $15 million, making him a financial burden for the club. If the Pirates were not projected to make the playoffs and did not have the capital to improve the team to playoff caliber by the time the season started, what would have been the point in keeping Andrew McCutchen? Why would you pay someone $15 million dollars, when with or without him, your team is still not going to make the playoffs? Additionally, McCutchen was in the last year of his contract, meaning the Pirates would lose him at the end of the season and receive nothing in return. Trading McCutchen yielded prospects in return and opened up a good chunk of payroll to invest in more players to build around in the future.
But it is hard to see that realization when management just traded away the man that singlehandedly revitalized the game of baseball in Pittsburgh. This city and the Pirates owe everything to “Cutch,” but that doesn’t mean that Nutting didn’t have the team’s best interests in mind while trading him.
The future of the public’s perspective of Bob Nutting is dependent 100% on the team’s success in future years. So, I guess only time will tell: will Bob Nutting and the Pirates come back and be then next Moneyball success story and win a pennant soon, or will they continue to be buried 50 feet deep?
Photo: CBS Sports