Kevin Gorman: New Pirates GM changes culture by refusing to sing small-market blues
That the Pittsburgh Pirates hired Ben Cherington as general manager made so much sense, as he has previous experience at the position and a World Series championship on his resume.
Pirates chairman Bob Nutting and president Travis Williams took turns highlighting Cherington’s 1) track record of building a winner, 2) his ability to attract talent in the front office, and 3) his skill in identifying, developing and deploying baseball talent.
“I don’t think we could have made a better choice,” Williams said, “based on those three things alone.”
That leaves us to wonder what attracted Cherington to the Pirates, a club with a perennially low payroll that is coming off a second-half collapse for a last-place finish in a 93-loss season.
You wouldn’t believe his answer.
“I was able to look at the entire investment and resources available to baseball, including the major-league team payroll,” Cherington said, “and I feel very confident in that level of investment and resources available committed to those areas – in fact, in some specific areas, towards the lead in the industry.”
The Pirates desperately want to change the narrative that Nutting is a penny-pinching owner who isn’t committed to winning. Nothing they have said or done has convinced anyone otherwise, given their unwillingness to increase major-league payroll and their inability to win unless players outperform their contracts.
But Cherington did it on his own Monday afternoon, when he had the audacity to suggest not only is he satisfied with the Pirates’ investment in their entire baseball operations but insisted it’s among the best in baseball.
Cherington said he saw the investment on paper — something the rest of us haven’t been privy to — and called it a “robust commitment in terms of resources across the baseball ops infrastructure.” He talked about “likely opportunities to reallocate some of that investment” in infrastructure, systems and technology.
What it tells me is Cherington received assurances he has the freedom and full autonomy to run the Pirates’ baseball operations without interference. When he hired Williams, Nutting said he didn’t want a team president who acted as a second general manager. Williams, who comes from the hockey world, wanted someone with a strong baseball background to “build a winning culture and get us back to a winning tradition.”
“We needed to find a great baseball mind to help crack the code, in order to be successful in a market like Pittsburgh, within the economics of baseball,” Williams said. “Others are doing it. We will do it.”
We should remind you that Cherington spent 17 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, including four as general manager, and the past three seasons in player development with the Toronto Blue Jays. He has a big-market background but refused to sing the small-market blues, and that’s certainly a change in culture for the Pirates.
Cherington’s first order of business will be to hire a new manager, and he wants someone who is in lockstep with his philosophy of seeking constant improvement. Winning could require a rebuild, and Nutting told the Tribune-Review that no one remaining on the roster is “untouchable.”
Cherington must minimize the mistakes and maximize the resources, knowing every mistake is magnified.
“Every dollar spent on baseball is with one aim,” Cherington said. “It’s designed to get the best possible return on that dollar towards winning games in the major leagues, period. Whether that’s investment in a player, whether that’s investment in a scout, whether that’s hiring an analyst — wherever you’re spending that money it is through the lens of what is the best return related to winning baseball games at the major-league level. I’m confident that those resources are in place.”
Cherington is more confident than the rest of us, but it’s refreshing to hear someone who believes he can crack the code with the Pirates by not only changing the culture but changing their tune.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .