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Kevin Gorman

Kevin Gorman: Pirates owner Bob Nutting now face of franchise

| Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, 8:33 p.m.
Pirates chairman Bob Nutting discusses the trade of Andrew McCutchen to the Giants Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates chairman Bob Nutting discusses the trade of Andrew McCutchen to the Giants Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, at PNC Park.
Bob Nutting, Pirates and Pirates Charities Chairman, speaks during a press conference prior to shipping donated goods to Puerto Rico at PNC Park on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Bob Nutting, Pirates and Pirates Charities Chairman, speaks during a press conference prior to shipping donated goods to Puerto Rico at PNC Park on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

By trading both the ace and face of their franchise in a three-day span, the Pirates sent a resounding message:

Players come and players go, but this owner and front office will forever break your heart.

The Pirates did just that to a frustrated fan base when they sent Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros and Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants for packages of prospects, then talked about the team's commitment to winning a World Series.

That they said so with straight faces was stunning, even from an organization that has yet to start a season with a payroll of more than $100 million.

“I'm not even going to attempt to rationalize it because I respect and appreciate where our fans are,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.

“We want them to think with their hearts. We want them to fall in love with our players. It's my job to give them lots of players to fall in love with.”

Before anyone ordains Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell as the next objects of your affection, let's be abundantly clear: The Pirates have no intention of them finishing their careers here, either.

The Pirates haven't had an all-star spend his entire career with the franchise since Willie Stargell, who retired in 1982 and died the day PNC Park hosted its first home opener in 2001.

No, the face of this franchise is not a fresh-faced prospect with the promise of becoming the Pirates' next All-Star but rather a bespectacled 55-year-old newspaper heir and resort owner from Wheeling, W.Va., who is more interested in making money than spending it.

That's why we've dubbed him Bottom-Line Bob Nutting. He's the billionaire owner of a franchise valued at $1.25 billion by Forbes who cries the small-market blues while pocketing profits.

Never mind the only financial restraints in a system that has revenue sharing but no salary cap are self-imposed.

No wonder Pirates fans feel betrayed by Nutting, as evidenced by more than 53,000 signatures on a petition urging MLB to force him to sell the Pirates.

Fans can't force Nutting to sell, but they should demand he put his money where his mouth is.

If the Pirates want to field a championship-caliber team, Bottom-Line Bob must start spending.

The frustration boiled over for Jason Kauffman, whose online petition calls Pittsburgh “a baseball town that is being destroyed by a greedy owner.”

“I really don't think this is going to make him sell the team, but we want to send a clear message that fans are not happy,” said Kauffman, 43, of Ross, a former season-ticket holder who plans to boycott the home opener.

“I love baseball. It's a tradition in my family, with my dad and my nephew. How do you tell a kid about their favorite player being traded? My 8-year-old nephew (Landon) was in tears. He didn't want to play baseball anymore. You don't want to tell him, ‘It's a business.' ”

That became clear after they followed three consecutive playoff appearances, including a 98-win season in 2015, by failing to invest in starting pitching in their infamous “bridge year” of '16.

It was a bridge to nowhere, as the Pirates proved last season, when they didn't reinvest the $4 million saved on Jung Ho Kang and Starling Marte into a team that was in playoff contention.

What's worse, Nutting talks about infusing the team with talent while refusing to commit to increasing payroll, despite an impending $50 million payout from Disney's $1 billion investment in MLB's BAMTech.

Yet, Nutting had the audacity to talk about appreciating Pirates fans' passion and understanding their anger.

“When we put a team on the field that respects those fans, that respects the market and the history of this franchise,” he said, “they've come out and supported us tremendously well.”

It's time for Pirates fans to get a return on their investment the way Bottom-Line Bob Nutting has on his.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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