Pirates fans are a testy bunch these days. You can understand why. One, after three straight seasons of making some form of the postseason, the Pirates didn’t really stay with the race this time. They’ve watched the Cubs zoom past them to join the Cardinals as the class of the division. And they’re dealing with two straight losses at home in the coin-flip game.
Add to that, the sense is that the Bucs gave up a bit on this season, trading some veterans at the deadline that might have helped a team that wasn’t completely out of it. They kept threatening to get back into it because the Mets, Giants, and Cardinals couldn’t ever pull away, but never quite made the final lunge.
There’s also this impression that the Pirates owner Robert Nutting is still doing everything on the cheap, and that may be true, as there were free agents-to-be who were jettisoned. The thinking being they were jettisoned because the Pirates still don’t want to pay anyone.
Is that so?
First, it’s probably important to understand what was tossed overboard. While the Francisco Liriano trade was bad, it wasn’t bad because it got rid of Liriano. He was a large sucking sound this year, is going to be 33 next year, and expensive. There’s little chance he’s going to rebound that much, because he’s always had the loosest hold on his control and was on the brink of losing it every season. You’re not paying $13 million for that, especially when you have the arms coming through that that the Pirates do.
Mark Melancon? He’s a good closer, but he was basically saved from the scrapheap, is going to be 32 next year, and someone is going to see the save total and pay him far too much money. It’s a given. If you’re the Pirates and on a budget, you’re not blowing $10 million or more on a closer when you can just fashion one. Ok, it’s probably not Tony Watson but they are out there to be found. Just like the Pirates found Melancon, and the one he replaced in Jason Grilli.
The big question is how much of a budget the Pirates should really have. There’s little question that the Pirates have been pocketing some of the revenue sharing cash they get. And that pisses fans off. But should it that much? Because even in these past three or four years of having good teams to watch, the Pirates have never been higher than 9th in attendance in the NL. Granted, the stink of 21 years of losing seasons takes a while to wash off, but it’s not like Pittsburgh isn’t a sports-mad town. Still, the Bucs are 25th in payroll this year and that’s where they’ve been, at best, for years. How much they can pay with the attendance they get is a real question though.
Maybe Robert Nutting should be judged on what comes next. Because the Pirates are poised to still be very good and as soon as next year. The entire outfield is locked in on very reasonable contracts, even if Andrew McCutchen is showing his age a bit. Cole, Taillon, and Glasnow are around to anchor the rotation for peanuts for years. Josh Bell looks like he’s going to be a galactic event at first base for the next decade starting next season. And they have Austin Meadows to fit in somewhere. Francisco Cervelli will still be around, as will David Freese either at second or third.
The Pirates could use an upgrade in a couple spots, wherever Freese doesn’t play assuming Jung-Ho Kang ends up in prison somewhere. Maybe short as well. The pen is going to need massive improvement, but again, that can be done on the cheap.
It might not be next year, but more when those cheap contracts they signed expire or Cole approaches free agency. If the Pirates are as good as it looks like they could be, and their fans respond in kind by pushing toward three million in attendance instead of crossing just two, then we’ll see what Nutting is actually intending here.