Pirates owner Bob Nutting says club is ‘positioned to take another meaningful step forward’ | TribLIVE.com
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Kevin Gorman

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pittsburgh Pirates chairman Bob Nutting defended the club’s payroll, called it “critical” for MLB owners to address the treatment of minor-league players and said he hopes to change the public perception of the club toward its fan base.

Nutting met with reporters for a 48-minute interview Tuesday at Pirate City that covered a variety of club- and baseball-related topics, from attendance to payroll to the small-market San Diego Padres signing Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract.

Nutting said that the focus on the Pirates spending more money on payroll is a “Band-Aid and a little bit of a distraction” but admitted that he wants to do a more effective job representing the ballclub.

“The only piece that worries to me is to the extent that it negatively impacts the club,” Nutting said. “That’s unfortunate and up to me to do everything I can to make sure that the degree of commitment I show – and I say show as opposed to have, because I deeply believe that I am fully committed to this organization and its success and devote all the energy that I possibly can to seeing it happen. If I need to be more effective to communicate that in order to help and support the team, that’s on me.”

Nutting said a $200 million payroll isn’t “foreseeable” under the game’s current CBA. Despite using the Milwaukee Brewers a blueprint for success last year and projecting to have the second-lowest payroll in the major leagues, Nutting pointed to the Pirates winning 82 games last season as a reason for optimism and a sign that they are building a contender.

“The expectation of the fan base should be that we put a competitive team on the field that is built to win,” Nutting said Wednesday morning while meeting with reporters at Pirate City. “That’s what their expectations deserve to be. Frankly, I think that a seven-game improvement last year was a meaningful step forward and we are absolutely positioned to take another meaningful step forward and get us back into that range where we have a very good shot at playoffs and, once you get into the playoffs, of moving down the pike.”

Perhaps his most pointed comments when Nutting addressed improving pay and work conditions for minor-league players, one of the issues in which MLB has drawn widespread criticism.

“I’m always reluctant to second-guess somebody else’s bargaining position,” Nutting said. “But, in this case, I think it’s critical that we really do look at how we treat our minor-league players. I think it’s important that we treat them as the professional athletes that they are. I think it’s important that we find, whether it’s a living wage or the nutrition that we provide or the facilities that are provided to them … all of those have fallen behind the standards that I think are critical.”

Nutting said the Pirates didn’t spend much time contemplating signing Machado, the four-time All-Star shortstop who joined six-time All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper as one of the big players on the free-agent market – but not because it would financially cripple the club.

“I think it’s the opposite,” Nutting said. “What you really have is a situation – and Neal can speak to this more specifically – but he has a strong belief that if you have an overweight with one player in a payroll, you get an imbalanced payroll, that you have much more challenging team dynamic, much more challenging clubhouse dynamic, much more limitation in crafting an overall roster that can bring a championship. I’m not sure that that necessarily makes a team ‘a team’ more competitive and more ready to win a championship.”

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