Bob Nutting on an International Draft, 2015 Payroll, Winning the Division, and More

Pittsburgh Pirates’ owner Bob Nutting met with the Pittsburgh media today, shortly after delivering his annual address to the players in Spring Training. Nutting said that he told the players that he is enthusiastic about the season coming up, and that the expectation is continued improvement every day, and to win the division and try to win a championship in Pittsburgh again. This is the second time a member of the Pirates has talked about winning the division, with Clint Hurdle saying that was the goal last week. Highlights of the rest of the press conference are below, along with my thoughts on each subject.

**The most notable thing for me was when the recent Yoan Moncada signing was brought up. Nutting was recently added to the Executive Council in Major League Baseball, meaning he will play a bigger role in the shaping of the game. He said that it was too early to talk specifics about the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (which will come after the 2016 season), but addressed the constant need for the Pirates to find talent.

“One of the most important things for the Pittsburgh Pirates will always be access to talent. Whether that is the amateur draft. Whether it would be an international draft, which I think would be very good for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Finding a way to level the playing field, not only when it comes to overall competitive balance, but particularly when it comes to access to talent. We were very aggressive when we had an opportunity to be aggressive with the amateur draft. When that door closed, we found other opportunities to be very aggressive, bringing talent into the organization at every level, and the international component will continue to be a huge part of that, because there is so much talent spread out, not only in Central America, the Caribbean, the Dominican, but as we’re sitting, Korea, Japan, and certainly Cuba is going to be a game changer.”

I wrote on Monday that MLB needs an international draft, especially when teams like Boston and New York can hoard all of the talent in any given year. Nutting says that this type of draft would be good for the Pirates, and I’d have to agree, if only because it would actually give them a fair chance at certain types of players. As for whether players from Japan and Cuba would be involved, that probably falls under the “too early to discuss specifics” category.

**As for his addition to the Executive Council and what that means: “I think it shows the increasing respect for the organization throughout baseball.”

**The budget is always a big topic in Pittsburgh, with the team payroll being a discussion that is brought up weekly. Nutting was asked if the team had the ability to add more payroll this year, or if they were maxed out.

“I don’t like pinning ourselves down. We’ve always had a certain amount of ability to maneuver. It’s important for us to do that. At the same time, ultimately it’s never really about the total dollars, but how intelligently and effectively we can allocate those dollars throughout the organization. I have a lot of confidence that the team we have in place is doing that well, is doing that effectively, and whether that’s early in the season, whether’s that’s the trading deadline, whether it’s later as we’ve seen in the past, having that opportunity and flexibility to react, I think has been a core to our success, and something I think we’re going to stick with.”

I’d agree that they’ve got more money to spend. Currently we have them projected at $90 M. They have added an average of $8 M per year in-season over the last few years. So I’d also expect them to add money as the season goes on, especially if they’re a contender. As to the comments about “how intelligently and effectively we can allocate those dollars throughout the organization,” I think that should be the big focus, rather than just picking out a specific payroll number, and hoping they reach that number, without consideration for how they’re reaching that number.

**Nutting was asked about new commissioner Rob Manfred, and whether he would be small market friendly. His response wasn’t surprising, since an owner isn’t going to express doubts about the commissioner.

“My take is commissioner Manfred, just as commissioner Selig, will be respectful of the entire game. He represents 30 clubs, not the New York Yankees, not the Pittsburgh Pirates. And it’s his role to find the right balance to grow the game overall. Part of that balance is the competitive balance, access to talent, things that are critical to the Pittsburgh Pirates. And at the same time he needs to find every opportunity to grow the game, both domestically and internationally.”

That said, Nutting’s later comments about adding talent didn’t suggest that MLB was a fair game.

“What we need to do as an organization is to be realistic and to adapt. It’s never going to be a level playing field. We’re never going to have all of the same opportunities as every other team. We need to be smart, take advantage of the opportunities we have. So I think that the biggest strength of the organization may be our ability to adapt to the changing circumstance. It’s one of the things that Neal Huntington has done incredibly well throughout his tenure, to be able to focus on what’s important at the time, and to be able to execute at a very high level at each turn.”

Hopefully, now that he has a bigger role in baseball, Nutting can advocate more for small market teams, and to level the playing field a bit more. Although his comments about how it’s never going to be level are a bit discouraging. At the same time, I’d have to agree, since I don’t see baseball overhauling their game to make it fair for everyone.

**The pace of game topic was brought up, as was the discussion about the new changes to speed up the game. Nutting had some interesting comments about the potential changes to the broadcast.

“We want to make sure that the game stays engaging and fun and relevant for everyone watching. Part of that will be improvements in broadcast itself, to make sure we have more information, more engagement throughout the broadcast.”

Some of those improvements he mentioned were adding additional information to the broadcasts, including stats during the game, spray charts for hitters, and how that lines up against pitchers. Basically, it sounds like MLB will be leaning heavily towards the advanced metrics in the future. Anyone who has been following the progress of their “Field F/X” type program has been anticipating this. ROOT Sports has already done a good job to add sabermetrics to the broadcasts, and that should continue, according to Nutting.

“Our broadcasts still look much the same that they did 15 years ago, and I think we have an opportunity to push forward. I really am enthusiastic about our partners at ROOT Sports that are going to be leading some of those initiatives, and I think they’re going to do a great job.”

**Nutting was asked about extending Neil Walker, and his response was about the same as what everyone else in the organization has been saying in response to that question.

“Neil has been an important part of this club, and I have a tremendous respect and appreciation with what Neil has done, and look forward to seeing him as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates this year, and for many years to come.”

That’s not saying they won’t extend him, but it’s also not saying they are pushing for it. I don’t expect an extension at all.

**As for the addition of Jung-ho Kang, Nutting talked about how that fit in with what the Pirates were doing throughout their organization, and what they expect from him.

“It’s what really is a signal of our commitment to, and willingness to access talent wherever we can do that effectively and efficiently, and have a major impact on the club. We look forward to seeing what his contributions are going to be. Have very high expectations. And we will continue to look as broadly as we need to, to bring talent in that we need to build a championship organization.”

**And finally, on that championship organization, Nutting talked about how the view of the Pirates has changed around baseball over the last few years.

“I think that the level of appreciation for, respect for the Pittsburgh Pirates has fundamentally changed. We’re getting closer to living up to the expectation of a historic franchise that I recognized when I first stepped in as control. It’s taken us a long time with incremental steps to get to where we are, and we’re not done. We’re just getting started. I think we have a bright, bright future. Many improvements and upgrades to come. Many great seasons ahead of us, starting with 2015.”

  • Nutting being added to the executive council makes one think that this caveat was tied to his support of manfred, who was not the guy he and other small market owners wanted. I’m not being critical, just pointing out the obvious. It is what it is and we all gotta do things we may not like to get to where we want to go.

  • I assume this will be mentioned later today, but MLBTR reported Bucs are willing to consider a Cutch extension up to $25 mill/year (no mention of term).

    In the context of Nutting’s history of being portrayed as a cheap villan all these years, it’s funny to note that the initial reaction of MLBTR commenters is “that’s crazy stupid” – as in an unnecessary waste of money on an MVP.

    My how times change.

  • Hey Tim, great piece today. To make interviews like this easier, might want to consider setting up a blockquote css rule that indents the quotes on either side with a gray background and large quotes at the beginning and end of the block.

  • Any one else remember the days where Nutting would be verbally assaulted by a very vocal minority at every opportunity just a few short years ago?

    I don’t see how any fan of the Pirates can say anything bad about him as an Owner. He is the driving force behind what I would describe as a baseball Renaissance in the city of Pittsburgh.

    I would hope every Pirates fan he comes in contact with would take a moment to thank him for leading this organization out of the abyss and into a season of considerable joy.

    Thanks Mr. Nutting! I’m very, very grateful you are the Owner of the Pirates.

    • Its not hard to remember, it still happens daily on certain blogs (Mr. Smizik/Kovacevic) and drive time radio (Madden). It is appalling how little the sports radio guys in town know about baseball (basic stuff like contract issues, modern stats, MLB rules). I guess 20 years of irrelevance have left a large gap in this area.

      • I can see why media members would still beat him up since they are paid to stir the pot. Though any fan who complains about ownership is just a moron.

    • Never understood the hate or love of sports team owners, to me they just are. As long as they aren’t stealing money, and publicly embarrassing them selves (Marge Schott), I don’t care.

      They exist mostly to make money and increase the value of their investment, a winning team is worth more. Nutting is doing nothing more than responding to incentives, I don’t thank people for being rational. Also there aren’t pennants for Wild Card berths.

      • I disagree. Owners are by far the most important person in the organisation. They more than anyone else can singlehandedly effect the success of the team.

        • How do you evaluate owners, and is there significant spread in ownership talent?

          • Wins and losses and Championships are the ultimate judge for Managers, GM’s and Owners. But I think if you drill down further, you judge an Owner on how strong the people are he brings in to run the business, and to a lesser extent his ability to keep them.

            Much harder to quantify, but fostering a corporate culture which allows for people to be productive, gutsy, and innovative is a big part of it, too.

            What do you think?

            • Jeffery Loria has a World Series ring. I find the idea that wins and losses as the ultimate judge a bit specious, if a team can win in the face of extremely nefarious ownership, possibly the worst in sports what does that say about the importance of ownership.

              For me the best owners understand their limitations and put competent people in place to run the organization. They don’t interfere in the day to day operations and approve contracts against the judgement of their baseball OPs people, see Arte Monero, Mike Ilitch.

              That said a good process doesn’t always equal good results, with the inverse also being true. The performance of the players is the most important aspect of any team.

  • How can anyone say that baseball is losing out to the other major american sports? Name one other sport where preseason games are sold out. And for those who say the younger generation is losing interest in baseball is also a huge misconception. I’m 19 and a freshman in college in Philly and as bad as the Phillies are tons of my friends are thrilled to see spring and most of all baseball.

    • The NFL, season ticket holders are required to purchase those games.

      MLB is riding a revenue boom tied to cable TV which is dying and is only staying relevant by maintaining its ties to live sports. The landscape is going to change completely in the next decade or so and MLB will need to find new ways of marketing its product to replace the bloated TV revenue.

      • cable tv is not dying, not even close.

        • I think he is referring to other media sources moving in, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Youtube. These companies are carving out their own slice of the pie which is causing cable programing to decline as consumers like to be able to pick what they want to watch whenever then want rather than being restricted to what cable channels decide will be aired. Live sports/events are the only thing that Netflix and co aren’t able to get into.

          • Thats actually extremely false. Downfall of pay channels maybe, but I watch ESPN, travel channel, science network history channel, etc. and those channels are cable channels and do not have a lot of their material on those garbage internet sites. Streaming video also still sucks, i’ll gladly pay cable tv so i’m not constantly “buffering” in the middle of trying to watch a show, cable tv’s demise is greatly exaggerated, and i like to know that if i’m having trouble with my laptop or ip- that i can at least watch tv.

            • You sound like a cable TV fanboy. I forgot to mention one other thing that is having an effect on cable, which is the DVR. Not to mention even cable services offer on-demand. I’m not going to argue with you, maybe cable is doing just fine, but you can’t deny that it has competition no matter how much you think streaming video sucks. It sounds like you live in an area with poor internet speeds because buffering in the middle of a show really shouldn’t happen (it never does for me).

    • apples and oranges. If MLB played in their regular ball parks, would they fill them for pre-season games? Weather excluded. And, if you go to McKechnie your not going to see too many kids at the game. This to is flawed. Kids are mostly in school during spring training and Arizon and Florida are fill with old people watching the GAME of their youth.

  • In terms of the current international system, with each team having a budget and all, if it were simply more strictly enforced would that system work? I feel the Pirates have had great scouting and success at signing players and developing them, and if they keep winning they will be picking in the 20’s which may not benefit them. Who knows. This Moncada situation seems to have been a real smack in the face to the system

    • I disagree that it is a smack in the face of the system. The Botox cannot sign an IFA for the next two years, correct? How many ‘can’t-miss’ Cuban ball players come over in that time frame?
      I agree with your earlier statement….the Pirates seem to be aggressive scouting Latin America and finding plenty of talent under the current system. Why change it?

  • Would you recommend buying tickets for McKechnie or Pirate City prior to going down there? or does it not regularly sell-out…Thanks again! Booked a room last night.

    • Pirate City is free. I don’t know about the ticket situation for McKechnie, since I’ve never been to Spring Training in a non-media capacity.

    • It depends on which game you’re going to. I just got tix for the March 15 game against the Orioles, plenty of seats left but the more desirable ones are sold out (face value, that is). There’s not a bad seat in the place, though.

      • It also depends on your motivation. Do you want to try for a homerun ball? Do you want to try to get autographs? There are tickets available for whatever experience you want. Mine are perfect for anyone looking to get autographs as the players walk directly past the seats not more than ten feet in front of you, Walker, Marte, Cutch all sign before the games most of the time.

    • Depends- Pirate City is awesome but you definitely need to see a couple games at McKechnie as it is one of the best spring training parks there is now that the upgrades have been made.

      Most of the games are sold out, you can find tickets on stubhub and craigslist. Currently I am selling my season tickets on both sites because of a change in vacation plans and financial need. I have 2nd row tickets on the first base line (Pirates side) BBX20 still available for most of the games as of today if anyone needs tickets. Look in craigslist for Sarasota and you’ll find mine, and other ticket options. Mine would be easy to find since i list 2nd row on subject line.

      Most of the games are sold out and have been for awhile especially for the Night game against the Tigers, the Red sox games, and the Yankees game. You will have to pay a premium for any ticket you buy, but can get them at cost for the less interesting opponents like the Twins, Astros, bluejays, and maybe even the phillies if you check around!

      • I scalped tickets on the street for the Yankees game at McKechnie last year. I paid face value from a nice older couple. I might have been lucky but it is spring training so it is not like it is a madhouse for tickets. I walked up to the booth and got tickets last year too although I can’t remember who they were playing for some reason.

    • I’ve been down there 3 times (2006. 2009 and 2013) and from my experience it depends on the opponent. If the Red Sox or Yankees are coming to McKechnie it will sell out (perhaps as soon as the ST games went on sale) but if they are playing the Twins etc you should be able to have reasonable choices for tickets.

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