Kevin Gorman: It’s time for Pirates to clean house, top to bottom |
Kevin Gorman, Columnist

Kevin Gorman: It’s time for Pirates to clean house, top to bottom

Kevin Gorman
Pirates owner Bob Nutting visits on the field before the home opener against the Cardinals on Monday, April 1, 2019, at PNC Park.

Bob Nutting might be more of a businessman than a baseball man, but the Pittsburgh Pirates owner should be smart enough to recognize a failing entity when he sees one.

If the Pirates weren’t pleased with an 82-win season last summer and truly are committed to winning a World Series as team president Frank Coonelly vowed this past January, then this season has been nothing short of a fiasco.

One that requires a housecleaning.

Not only have the Pirates failed to make the postseason for the fourth straight season, but they’ve collapsed in spectacular fashion. Since going into the All-Star break one game below .500 and 2½ games out of first place in the NL Central and wild-card race, the last-place Pirates have lost almost twice as many games as they’ve won, including 24 of 28 at one point.

Of course, general manager Neal Huntington would point out that if it weren’t for the four losing streaks of seven games or more, the Pirates actually would have a winning record.

Run that through a simulator.

The altercation between Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez that led to Crick suffering a season-ending finger injury is a sign that Clint Hurdle has lost control of the clubhouse. It was the third incident this season involving a bullpen that blows up as regularly off the field as it does on the mound.

It was a sign that the Pirates lack leadership, especially now that staff ace Jameson Taillon is out after a second Tommy John surgery. And they appear no closer to being a contender next season, no matter how optimistic their projections.

The Pirates have some difficult decisions to make, none more so than by Nutting. After four decades without a World Series, the fan base has gone from frustrated to disillusioned this summer. It has affected attendance at PNC Park, where the Pirates are on pace to draw fewer than an average of 20,000 a game and 1.5 million in total attendance for the second consecutive season.

If Nutting won’t spend on payroll and won’t sell the Pirates, he has to at least reconsider his claim that they are the best front office in baseball when all evidence indicates otherwise. Coonelly’s corporate approach has alienated fans, and Huntington’s drafting and dealing has left a lot to be desired.

Together, they have had a dozen years to build a winner. The Pirates had six top-10 draft picks from 2008-13, including the No. 1 overall pick once and the No. 2 pick twice. They made the postseason from 2013-15 (as a wild card) and have no division titles or even a playoff series victory to show for it.

Nor will the Pirates have any of the top-10 draft picks next season that were supposed to serve as franchise cornerstones. Pedro Alvarez, Tony Sanchez, Gerrit Cole, Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire are no longer with the organization, and Taillon will miss next season. That’s like getting no-hit.

The Pirates won’t be a contender next season without acquiring a starting pitcher and catcher, for starters. To do so, they will have to consider trading their top talent, like center fielder Starling Marte, closer Felipe Vazquez and even first baseman Josh Bell, who has become the power threat they envisioned but remains a defensive liability better suited for the AL.

Why would the Pirates trust Huntington to make those trades, especially after the Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer deals proved disastrous? The four-player return from the Houston Astros for Cole, who leads the majors in strikeouts, has been marginal. Archer has been a major disappointment, whereas Meadows became an All-Star and Tyler Glasnow had a dominant first half with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Only the outstanding rookie year of Bryan Reynolds has helped Huntington save face on trading former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, perhaps the most unpopular move of all.

The Pirates don’t just need a makeover. They require a complete change of culture, a departure from their process-over-people approach. Making their minor league managers or even Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage the scapegoats is a cop-out.

It’s time for Nutting to see the Pirates for what they are: a bad baseball team in a good baseball town, a civic treasure that is a failing business venture where it matters most. The success of professional sports teams is judged not by profit margins but rather by winning championships.

And the Pirates haven’t won a World Series since 1979.

There are lifelong baseball men who would love to return to their hometown to reverse that trend, who would jump at the opportunity to rebuild the Pirates.

Larry Lucchino of Greenfield was an executive for four World Series champions. Mike Berger of Squirrel Hill was assistant general manager for the Miami Marlins when they built a lineup of All-Stars. Don Kelly of Mt. Lebanon is a Jim Leyland protégé who played every position as a major leaguer and serves as first base coach for the AL West-leading Houston Astros.

First, Nutting has to show that he’s as shrewd with his baseball decisions as he is with protecting his payroll, that he isn’t just an owner who talks about winning a World Series but one who holds the people in charge accountable for their failures.

The Pirates can hope that this season was simply an aberration, but hope isn’t a strategy.

They need to sell a fresh start.

It’s time to clean house, top to bottom.

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Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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