Pirates owner Nutting ‘incredibly optimistic’ for 2013
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013, 7:45 p.m.
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013
BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates owner Bob Nutting stressed Wednesday that contract extensions, such as the one given this week to manager Clint Hurdle, are no guarantee unless the team improves.
“The mindset is, we must take a step forward. We expect to win,” Nutting said on the first day of his visit to spring training camp. “The idea that an extension is somehow a free pass is exactly the message that I would not want to send.”
On Tuesday, the Pirates picked up Hurdle's option for 2014 and added a club option for '15.
“We've shown we're willing to make a change if we need to, irrespective of contract terms,” Nutting said. “Clint knows that. Everyone in the organization knows that.”
In October 2009, manager John Russell was secretly given an extension through the 2011 season. The deal finally was announced in June 2010. Four months later — after a 57-105 finish, five fewer wins than in the previous season — Russell was fired with a year left on his contract.
The Pirates went 72-90 in Hurdle's first season and 79-83 last year. Both seasons were marked by second-half swoons that took the club out of the National League Central race.
“Given the improvements with the team — whether at the trade deadline last year, the offseason acquisitions or just the development of our young core of players — I'm incredibly optimistic we're in a position to take another step forward,” Nutting said.
When asked how he would define a “step forward” this season, Nutting said he doesn't have an interim step between another losing season and winning the World Series. The Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992.
“At some point we're going to need to pass through 82 wins,” Nutting said. “When we do, I will celebrate. But it would be an inappropriate target. If that had been the goal, (general manager) Neal (Huntington) would've gone about his work the last five years very differently.”
Huntington's contract also runs through next year with a club option for 2015. Huntington's tenure has had several highlights — the arrival of Pedro Alvarez, the additions of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, a restocked farm system. But the GM also has drawn fire for the controversial military-style training methods for prospects, a succession of poor free agent signings and trades at the deadline last season that may have upset the team's chemistry.
Nutting declined to comment on whether anyone in the front office is in line for extensions.
“Everyone knows what their job is and what we need to get done,” Nutting said. “I have a lot of faith in our management team and in the (club's) direction and improvement. Everyone would like things to continue to improve, and I expect that they will. It's important that I stand behind our management team and support them as long as they are our management team.”
However, Nutting endorsed Huntington's moves at the trade deadlines when the GM resisted the urge to deal away top prospects for high-profile big leaguers.
“What I hope we don't do is mortgage the future for the short term,” Nutting said. “We need to continue to focus on infusing talent in the organization.”
The Pirates will go into this season with a payroll of about $74 million — the largest in franchise history, although it still will be among the smallest in the majors. If the team is in contention, there probably won't be much wiggle room to add a pricey player at the July 31 deadline.
“To some degree, we have front-loaded this year,” Nutting said. “We need to make sure that coming out of spring training we have the very best team we can put on the field. We are not in a position where we've held back and kept a big reserve (of cash). That would be irresponsible. We've got to take a run. We've got to push the chips in early this season.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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Who did they trade that would have "destroyed" the chemistry of the team? Brad Lincoln? Casey McGehee? It's more plausible that they were playing over their heads during the first four months of the season. Jason Grilli doesn't speak for the team and certainly doesn't run the organization. He's 36 and his years are numbered. Listen to McCutchen. He's invested in team in both the short-term and in the future. For NH's positive attributes, very surprising that the many positive trades (including, but not limited to: Nady, McClouth, Dotel, Morgan/Burnett, etc) were not mentioned nor the fact that the team had a 22-win improvement over the last 2 seasons during the "upswing" of the rebuilding effort. If Wandy Rodriguez and/or Travis Snider produce this season, last year's trade deadline should be viewed as a success. The secondary goal was to help in the immediate future while the primary goal (as it should be) is to help in the next few years when McCutchen, Alvarez, Marte, and Walker are established major leaguers and Cole & Tailon are up in the majors. A good amount of Pirates fans can't let go of the bitterness that existed well before NH's tenure or have too high of expectations for this team. Taking a well below-average ball club and horrible farm system in 2008 and creating a top-15 ball club and top 10 farm system with a limited major-league budget in 4-5 years should be applauded. Maybe many of you would rather be Marlins fans and be incredible for a year or two and then suck for 5 or 6. I'd rather take sustained success and under the current economics of baseball, building from within is the ONLY sensible process by which to run the Pirates. I'll see you all on the bandwagon in a few months.
Submitted by: Gene on Thursday, February 21, 2013
“Given the improvements with the team — whether at the trade deadline last year,..." That trade destroyed the chemistry of the team and sent them down hill the rest of the season.