The Pirates’ future direction under new general manager Ben Cherington has yet to become entirely certain, as the club hasn’t made any notable moves during Cherington’s two-plus months in charge to indicate either a rebuild or a reload for the 2020 season. This waiting period (or perhaps even the thought of a rebuild in general) hasn’t sat well with many Pittsburgh fans, though it seems like the evaluation of seemingly every level of the organization will continue, as club owner Robert Nutting told Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he wants a thorough examination of what went wrong with the Pirates in 2019.
“I’m not sure we know how good every one of our players can be. We absolutely have challenges in our development system in terms of processes,” Nutting said. “We absolutely have challenges at the Major League level in terms of information and ways we communicated with players. A real frustration point for me last year was that we had too many players who performed at one level here and a higher level with another club. They were coached differently. They got different information. And they performed at a higher level.”
It wasn’t long ago that the Pirates were the ones drawing plaudits for their ability to revive careers and find hidden gems from lightly-regarded roster pickups, as such canny moves helped the Bucs reach the postseason via three consecutive wild card berths in 2013-15. Since that impressive stretch, however, 2018’s modest 82-79 mark has been the team’s only winning record of the past four seasons. Things seemed to bottom out last year, as a series of struggles both on the field and in the clubhouse led to a brutal 25-48 record after the All-Star break, en route to a 69-win season.
The near-total nature of that second-half collapse makes it somewhat hard to evaluate, as it could have been a perfect storm of off-the-field issues and player dissatisfaction with manager Clint Hurdle, rather than a sign that the Pirates were completely lacking in ability. Nutting is hopeful that more clarity can be achieved under new manager Derek Shelton and a largely overhauled coaching staff.
“We don’t know how good our players are right now,” Nutting said. “I think we need to give Derek, Ben, our analytics team and our coaching staff a chance to see what we can bring out of our players, not only at the Major league level but at Triple-A, too.”
That said, Nutting isn’t only counting on a management change suddenly turning the Pirates into NL Central contenders, blunting saying “We do not have enough talent to be as good as we need to be….I think we have a solid core, but we need to build around it. We need to supplement. That’s going to come from international signings, the draft, trades, and we need to do it throughout the organization. That will take some time.”
Based on these remarks, it doesn’t appear as any spending increase is coming in the near future, at least not in terms of Major League payroll commitments. The Pirates have roughly $68.76MM (as per Roster Resource) in payroll expenditures in 2020, making them again one of the lowest-spending clubs in baseball. Depending on how long it takes to acquire the additional talent Nutting and Cherington feel is required, the owner’s comments won’t change the public perception that higher-priced Bucs players with relatively little remaining team control — such as Starling Marte or Chris Archer — could be trade candidates. Marte has been a particularly well-discussed player this offseason, though it remains unclear as to whether or not a trade could be particularly close, if happening at all.