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Pirates owner Nutting: Playoffs or bust in 2013

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 10:08 p.m.
Bob Nutting Chairman of the Board and principal owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates speaks to the media on the North Side at PNC Park Nov. 6, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Pirates owner Bob Nutting has high expectations for this season.

“My expectation is the same as everyone within our organization, and that is winning our division and competing for our sixth World Series championship,” Nutting said in an interview with the Tribune-Review. “That is and has to be our objective every year. We all expect the progress we have seen over the past two years on the major league level to continue.

“We need to continue to give our fans a team that they can believe in. The strong show of support from our fans has further crystallized for me just how important the Pirates are to so many generations and strengthened my commitment to completing this turnaround.”

As spring training got under way last week, Nutting was on the West Coast. He will travel later this week to Bradenton, Fla., to meet with the front office, the players and media as the Pirates prepare to begin the Grapefruit League season.

Before doing so, though, he shared his thoughts about his tenure as owner and what he expects from the team this season.

Question: Are the members of the front office on solid ground at this point, or are there things that must be proven/achieved this season? Are you considering a contract extension for manager Clint Hurdle, whose deal runs out after this season?

Answer: I see the very real and tangible progress that has been made. My expectation is that this progress will continue in 2013. I am certainly not alone in this expectation, as everyone within the organization feels this way. I believe strongly in the impact that Clint and his staff have made in our clubhouse. His leadership is a key part of our recent success, and our expectation is he will continue to be a key part for years to come.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge to the franchise in the next three to five years? Will heightened expectations make it difficult to stay the course with your team-building plan (bad contracts, rash decisions, etc., a trap many teams have fallen into over the years)?

A: I have said since Day 1 that we would not look at outside factors as an excuse. Our focus has been, is and will remain on accomplishing something special while playing under the economic system of the game, regardless of the changes to that system.

Every year it is proven throughout baseball that it is not what you spend but rather how you spend, how you lead and how you compete as a team. That has been our approach from the very first day, and I believe how we are going to compete this turnaround.

We set a very clear plan in place on how we were going to build an organization that can compete year in and year out. While, of course, there have been ups and downs in the process, we have clearly made tangible progress toward that goal.

Nobody is content with where we are, but the fact remains we had as many wins last year than the organization had in any season as the past two decades. Our major league club has improved by 22 games over the last two years and is ready to compete in 2013. Our minor league system is ranked anywhere between the top five to the top eight in all of baseball and must continue to supply high-end talent to further strengthen our major league club. We are a much stronger organization now than we have been in 20 years.

Q: The sense this year and last is that you'd prefer that the front office spend the budget up front, acquiring players before/early in the season as opposed to making a bigger splash with late-season/trade-deadline acquisitions. Is that an accurate reading?

A: A team does not play at the level we did for that long without having the talent to compete for its division. We believe we have the key pieces in place to take the next step in 2013. As a result, our payroll is the highest it has ever been as we continue to stretch the budget to bolster the roster out of spring training rather than waiting until mid-season or the trading deadline.

Q: In what ways is the Pirates franchise different from when you took control in January 2007? What surprises have there been along the way? Are there changes you had hoped to make but haven't yet achieved?

A: I believe the organization is improved in almost every way compared to 2007. We have completely overhauled our facilities, our leadership and our approach to how to build a winning organization. As the last two seasons have demonstrated, we are closer than we have been in many years due to this clear change in direction and focus. The expectation level of our fan base has shifted, and the bar is set much higher now, as it should be. Our fans now understand that we can indeed compete for our division and for a spot in the postseason. We welcome and embrace that shift in expectation.

Q: In what ways have you changed/evolved/adapted in that span, not only in how you guide the franchise but also in regard to your role in Major League Baseball and among the fraternity of team owners?

A: I believe we all must continue to evolve and improve in our daily roles, myself included. Perhaps the most important takeaway for me is my appreciation and respect for our fans and their passion, both in good times and bad. You see it with a packed PNC Park throughout the summer, as we competed for the playoffs last season, to the collective disappointment when we fell short. That passion and enthusiasm is why I love this game and being a part of a Pirates franchise so steeped in history.

Q: Of which accomplishment are you most proud?

A: I am most proud of the progress that has been made over the past five years. When I allow myself to take a step back and look at where we were five years ago to where we are now, I take pride in the fact we are a much stronger organization now than we have been in 20 years. Personally, nothing is more satisfying than the support that I received from so many fans throughout last season, both in good times and bad. They are the reason we need to complete this turnaround and give them a team in which they too can take great pride.

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