First Pitch: The Pirates Are Now a Model Organization

When I first started running this site, the Pittsburgh Pirates were still seen as a joke. They were starting down the right path to a rebuild by spending in the draft, investing in Latin America, trading away veterans for prospects, and trying unconventional strategies on the field in order to try to gain an edge.

Some of the early results were rough. The Jason Bay trade. The 2009 draft. The “no triples” defense in the outfield. All three were early attempts at processes that eventually led to success. The Pirates didn’t get good results in the Bay trade, but a year later they landed Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke for Nate McLouth, and the trades have gotten better since. The 2009 draft saw a lot of prep pitchers drafted, but none have really worked out. Since that draft, they have added Nick Kingham, Tyler Glasnow, and other promising prep pitchers in the lower levels as mid-round picks. And the “no triples” defense was an early dabble in defensive shifting, which the Pirates have gotten much better at in recent years.

All of that happened way too close to the previous management group, which was a combination that led to a lack of trust. If you were optimistic about the future of the Pirates because you liked the strategies they were employing, then you were in the minority.

It’s different now. The Pirates have made the playoffs two years in a row. They enter the 2015 season rated as one of the best teams in baseball. If you’re still complaining about any move, or saying that they don’t know what they are doing, you’re in the minority.

The Pirates have become a model organization, one that other teams can look at as a guide for how to operate.

“It didn’t happen all of a sudden for us,” Clint Hurdle said about becoming a model for other teams. “As I said, if you do the timeline, there was so much work done before I got here. And the last piece of the puzzle for us as an organization is tangible evidence at the Major League level. Neal’s leadership of creating a minor league system that’s fertile and vibrant. Kyle Stark’s involvement in that player development system. Greg Smith’s involvement from the scouting aspect. We all work together. We’re a group of men that are selfless. We all have the same goal in mind. We don’t care who gets the credit. It’s not about who gets the credit, it’s about finding ways to get a little bit better every day as a group.”

Hurdle mentioned in his press conference today about how the Pirates used the Twins and the Athletics as models when this group took over. At the time, the Twins and the Athletics were two of the most successful small market teams in the game, and the model for anyone else. The Pirates are now becoming the latest model, and not just for small market teams.

The Texas Rangers hired Jeff Banister as their new manager this off-season, grabbing the former bench coach away from the Pirates. In his conference call with the Texas and Pittsburgh media, Jon Daniels talked about how the interview process with Banister made him realize the Rangers were way behind when it came to using analytics in the game. Banister will take aspects of the Pirates’ approach to Texas this year.

Then there’s the Philadelphia Phillies to consider. I’m not talking about the fact that they seemingly pick up every ex-Pirates player (A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Ronny Cedeno, Brad Lincoln, Chase d’Arnaud, Xavier Paul, Chris McGuiness, Brian Bixler, Jeanmar Gomez, Joely Rodriguez, Andy Oliver). I’m talking about their attempts prior to the 2014 season to sign Jim Benedict as their pitching coach. Benedict has been a huge aspect of the Pirates’ turnaround, helping to revive the careers of a lot of pitchers, which has allowed the Pirates to be successful with a lower payroll the last two years. The Phillies were reportedly impressed with Benedict’s interview, but he turned them down.

Hurdle said today that the Pirates are getting more attention now because they are winning more games, and that this is always something people look for. Most teams try to use successful teams as models, and as we found out earlier this week, that includes teams from other sports. So how can the Pirates continue competing when other teams will start using them as a model and trying to take away their advantages? Hurdle had a simple solution.

“We are an organization that we feel confident in our abilities,” Hurdle said. “If somebody wants our playbook, we’ll give them some of our playbook. We’re just going to run the plays better.”

**A quick count shows we have less than 120 hard copy books of the 2015 Prospect Guide from the most recent shipment. We’ve already sold more than last year’s total, and I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the hard copy version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Every day I upload content on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the video features on YouTube. Be sure that you’re subscribed to all of those sites to follow everything we upload throughout Spring Training (there is different content for each social media site). Today’s uploads include the Taillon video, and a few quick batting practice videos from Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.

**The Next Steps In Jameson Taillon’s Tommy John Rehab Process. Today’s video feature talks with the top prospect about his bullpen session yesterday, along with his next steps in the rehab process. Also, I broke down what you can expect from him moving forward.

**Bob Nutting On An International Draft, 2015 Payroll, Winning The Division, And More. Nutting met with the Pirates this morning, then met with the media afterwards. There was a lot discussed, with the most notable things being that he thinks an international draft would be good for the Pirates, there is pretty much room in the payroll for in-season additions, and the expectation is to win the NL Central this year.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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John Lease

What does being a ‘model franchise’ get you? I mean, that isn’t important, right? Since the people who are saying it’s great, are the same people who found no shame in 20 straight losing seasons. To be consistent, and all…

Luke sutton

People didnt find shame during the losing streak? Yeah….sure buddy. Being a model franchise is the industry telling you what you are doing is working enough that others respect it enough to copy it/want professionals you have. No one says “man, we should go get the Phillies bench coach, he knows what he is doing”.


The “no triples defense” still can’t believe they actually tried that defense.


Are the Twins still a model? As outsiders these questions are incredibly difficult to answer. Are we just following results and working backwards to praise the processes? Best guess the Pirates have an above average organization, but in terms of baseball management teams, the floor is climbing.


Love Hurdle’s quote! That’s a team with confidence in their work ethic and talent


nice article and a sign of how far things have come. I admit that I am one who was highly critical of the organization the first few years of the Huntington regime and I still feel they could have invested more in the major league team during the early years. But I have come to respect Huntington and his patience, planning, and persistence.

I do think you mean “every move” and not “any move” though – that’s a pretty harsh standard! 🙂


Model franchise? All I see are a bunch of ugly dudes… oh, my bad he means as a baseball team, that being the case I agree.

Stanley Yip

Ugly dudes? Granted not everybody on the team is attractive but look at Andrew, Marte, Cole, Mercer, Rodriguez, Cervelli, and Melancon. All very handsome men.


All men are ugly to me, that’s probably why I’m not gay.

Chris Hale

It is a model franchise. They make smart decisions and are constantly evolving to keep ahead of the curve. I think the hiring of Neal Huntington could be one of the best decisions in baseball. I also think the hiring of Clint Hurdle was a brilliant move. He was open to all the things that a lot of the ex-ballplayer/managers are not. He was the perfect guy to change the identity and the attitude of the Pirates. We do not always agree with his decisions but I can guarantee you a lot of his decisions are a product of large amount of data . They always try to play the odds. They concentrate on smaller things that do not always show up in the box score. Say what you want about this guy he is a winner. Hurdle took over a 57 win team and has averaged 83.25 wins a season (winning 72 and 79 games the first 2 seasons was nothing short of a miracle with those rosters)The owner cares about the city and the team . PNC park ranks in the top 5 ballparks on every list you can find and the future is as bright as any team in baseball. Especially if these guys stay where they are. You know it has come a long way when they are now talking about paying Andrew McCutchen 25 million dollars a year to stay a Pittsburgh Pirate.

Will Sanchez

Sorry to say..the bucs will never (well maybe in 10 yrs) pay anyone 25 mil..that would mean payroll would be 166 m and revenues would be 415 m $ per yr ..all they care is about making $ ..not winning..they can tell you that the ultimate goal is a “WS” but in reality is to have a team that can “compete” and fill the seats ..are we aware that the projected Nutting’s profits for 2014 would = 40m that would = the total ticket revenue for the whole season..


You need to prove how ridiculous your arguments are on more than one Pirates Blog ?


2009 called: they want their narrative back


And demolish that new weight room in Florida.

Scott Kliesen

Why does it matter how much profit Nutting is making? As long as the Pirates are one of the best organizations in MLB with regard to winning, should it matter to any of us as fans?

What “fills the seats” is a winning team. A winning team is one that “competes” for the playoffs. And as the Giants have shown us just last year, a team that gets into the playoffs and gets hot can win a WS!

If the Pirates do or don’t give McCutchen an extension, I believe it will come down to what’s best for the baseball team. Not how much will it effect Nuttings profit margin.

Do yourself a favor and stop worrying about other people’s money. It’s literally an exercise in futility. By posting how much Nutting purportedly made last year will not change the way he chooses to run his business.

What’s that prayer again, “God give me the wisdom to change the things I can change, and to accept the things I can’t, and the ability to discern between the two.” Food for thought.


Nutting’s profit is important IF it means that money that could be spent to improve the team at the major league level was not, and in fact went into Nutting’s pockets. Baseball does not run on a strict business model, much as some might wish that it was. If the judgment of the team is that the amount spent right now is absolutely the right amount to have the best team possible, then they will be judged by that standard. Take James Shields for example. Let’s say we had acquired him. Worley would have been the guy pushed out, right? So does $20M get you that much more than the $2.5M you are paying for Worley? On the other hand, it might have been worth ponying up to pay Martin – time will tell. His contribution to the Bucs was immeasurable in my opinion. On the other hand, he was getting up there and had a classic “pending free agent” season. But hopefully Cervelli will work out well to make that the better investment.

This is a long winded way of saying that I agree that Nutting’s profits aren’t important, IF we’re fielding the absolute best team we can. That remains to be seen.

Scott Kliesen

I see your point and agree in theory. But in this particular instance, Nutting has demonstrated he is willing to reinvest profits back into organisation to give it best chance of long-term success.

Last year, they made spirited attempt to acquire David Price and his $20mm salary. I take what Nutting and NH say at face value about making decisions based on what’s best for franchise.

I happen to subscribe to theory if they continue to make the best baseball decisions then a byproduct is increased profits for Nutting.

Profit is the applause a business receives for doing a good job.


It’s tough. A small market team has to get almost everything right and can’t afford costly mistakes. As I said above, I’ve come to respect their approach. We’ll see how the season goes and how decisions are made to improve the team.

Scott Kliesen

I think small market teams are no different than large market teams in that they both have to get almost everything right to win. Small market teams should never put themselves in position to mortgage their future by saddling themselves with an onerous long-term deal. Even the highest revenue teams, who can theoretically overcome bad contracts, suffer from big, bad deals.

For example, Yankees are obligated to play guys like Texeira, Sabathia and ARod even though they are replacement level players now, or even worse.

Luke sutton

I think, for me, the big difference is a large market team can take on one of those deals and live through 2-3 bad years at the end of those deals without great pain. PIT cant really afford 1 deal like that to go bad for multiple years.

Big market teams get in trouble when they dish out multiple deals like that and end up aging like the Yanks.

Scott Kliesen

I will agree money does give one more options. Including giving out dumb contracts.


Old habits die hard, and the annual OPM (other people’s money) considerations are proof positive of that fact. Thinking that the profit to Bob Nutting has anything to do with the salaries being paid to the players is not even in the ballpark, but here’s another angle –

In April 2011 the Value of the Pirates was set at $300 mil by Forbes, and that increased to $572 mil by April 2014. Three years and an increase of $272 mil in Value. How much has the salary level increased over that same period? I expect that in April 2015 Forbes will assign a Value to the Pirates of at least $650 mil. Bob Nutting has proven to be one of the best owners this city has ever seen, and he is very much attuned to the needs of the ballclub and their importance to the City of Pittsburgh. And, in that process, he has developed a tremendous and well deserved return on his own investment.

Where to in the future? Broadcasting monies are the new frontier of Franchise Value. Teams in great TV markets get the most; competitive and exciting teams are next; We cannot impact the former, but we can sure impact the latter, and Bob Nutting has proven that he knows how to make money! Therefore, we will sign Andrew McCutchen to an extension, and add others.


One approach ownership might consider when designing contract offers to superstars like Cutch would be to offer a share in the Partnership to them in lieu of all cash compensation. The assignment of partnership interests would have to take place after the conclusion of his playing career to avoid management / union conflicts of interest. But having Cutch be a long term “face of the Pirates” would have advantages. It would also secure his services in a way which wouldn’t as severely impact immediate cash flow considerations. Cutch could see an advantage to having the ability to share in the market value of the franchise as an investment as well.


Aren’t team values rising ubiquitously?

Scott Kliesen

Well said Emjay!

You’re right on the money about local TV being the next step in the Pirates financial evolution. It will provide Pirates brass with additional options.

I hope Cutch is performing at a level worthy of a top level contract. And I’m confident if NH believes it’s best for team to give him a new deal, they’ll work it out.

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