First Pitch: Do Job Titles Matter?

Before accepting the Pirates’ GM job, Ben Cherington reportedly turned down the chance to seek other positions because he wanted to build an organization from the ground up.  That process apparently started a couple days ago when the Pirates hired Toronto’s scouting director, Steve Sanders, as an Assistant GM.  Cherington’s statement about the move was interesting for a couple reasons:

“Steve has significant experience in amateur and international scouting from his time with the Red Sox and Blue Jays,” Cherington said in a statement. “He has a deep commitment to continuous improvement in process and decision-making and, as importantly, to his own professional growth and that of the people he works with.

“Kevan Graves, Steve and I have various experiences and perspectives on the game and decision-making, and we share a commitment to getting better every day, to helping people, and to the Pirates. Kevan, Steve and I will collaborate across all aspects of baseball operations.”

First, it appears that Kevan Graves will indeed be a key player in the front office going forward.  Second, Cherington’s emphasis on “continuous improvement in process and decision-making,” if he’s serious about it, is encouraging.  One of the most frustrating aspects of Neal Huntington’s tenure was his growing refusal over the last few years to make any changes in areas of the team’s operations that simply weren’t working.

The interesting question is what sort of organization this triumvirate is going to build.  The Pirates’ front office, as listed on the team’s web site, hasn’t changed yet this offseason beyond two additions and two subtractions.  It’s just a list and not an organizational chart, but one interesting thing about it is that a large number of people appear to work directly for the GM.  The list includes seven Special Assistants to the GM and six Special Assistants, Baseball Operations.  Only one, a Special Assistant for Cultural Initiatives, has any specified duties.  Otherwise, the listed personnel seem to break down into obvious areas:  scouting (pro, amateur and international), development, and medical/training.

I noticed all those special assistants long ago and wondered, without giving it much thought, what they actually did.  I also assumed most teams had more or less similar structures.  With big changes hopefully underway, though, I took a look at some other teams and found their front offices don’t look quite like the Pirates’.

Toronto’s FO has the same main operations as the Pirates, like the three different types of scouting, and development.  (The Jays have far more people listed under scouting, but they list all their scouts and the Pirates list only supervisors.)  The Jays have an entire unit called “High Performance,” which is basically medicine, training and nutrition.  They do seem to have a lot more personnel in that area than the Pirates.  They also have a lot of folks who appear to work directly under the GM, as do the Pirates.  Unlike the Pirates, though, the Jays’ people all have job titles directly indicating their responsibilities, generally scouting, development or research.

Tampa Bay also lacks the coterie of unspecified “special assistants.”  Instead, the Rays seem to have a lot more separate departments beyond the three scouting areas and development.  They have directors of amateur scouting, baseball research and development, baseball performance science, baseball systems, international operations, international scouting, minor league operations, development strategy, and pro scouting.  They also have a computer and analytics staff that appears to be twice the size of the Pirates’.

I looked at all 30 teams.  Some do have “special assistants.”  Usually it’s just a couple.  A handful of teams have quite a few, but they’re all famous former players of those teams.  The only well-known Pirate alum among the special assistants is Kevin Young.  The one exception is the Nationals, who are the most prominent old-school holdout.  (It’s interesting to see some of the people who pop up on these personnel lists.  The Brewers, for instance, have a pro scout named Bryan Bullington.  Cam Bonifay is with the Reds.)

It’s possible there’s nothing to any of this.  Job titles don’t necessarily tell us what people do.  I don’t recall reading anything about the specific duties of the Pirates’ current special assistants, beyond Young helping with first basemen.  Certainly I haven’t read about anybody playing the kind of role that Jim Benedict used to play with pitchers.  Many teams now seem more focused and compartmentalized in their baseball operations.  This shouldn’t be surprising; large organizations prefer to operate that way because it’s easier to have accountability, something the Pirates have sorely lacked for some time.

The interesting part will be watching some sort of structure appear under Cherington.  It’ll probably take quite some time.



This is total HRs as a Pirate.  For players with three-word names, type in only the last word.


By John Dreker

One of the slower dates for Pittsburgh Pirates born on this day. Just three players and one of them is current, so he doesn’t exactly qualify for a history article. Joe Musgrove turns 27 today. Luckily, we also have two trades of note.

Jerry D’Arcy, outfielder for the 1911 Pirates. He played just two games as a major leaguer, one in center field and one as a pinch-hitter. D’Arcy joined the team in late September and went 0-for-6 at the plate. According to the local newspaper, he looked well in the field with some fine catches. He was playing for the Gadsden Steel Makers of the Southeastern League at the time the Pirates signed him. That team was a Class D ball club, equal to making the jump from Class-A ball to the majors now. D’Arcy played pro ball until at least 1916. He was referred to as “Dorsey” during his time in Pittsburgh.

Johnny Meador, pitcher for the 1920 Pirates. His entire big league career consisted of two starts and ten relief appearances, all with the Pirates. Meador was 27-years-old at the time, a veteran of five minor league seasons. He made his big league debut eight games into the season. He threw five shutout innings in relief, then didn’t pitch until a week later. He was used just four times in the month of May, four times in June and three times in July. Meador did not fare well in his two starts, allowing a total of 12 runs in 9.1 innings. In relief, he had a 1.67 ERA over 27 innings. His last major league game in mid-July was also his last game as a pro.

On this date in 1973 the Pirates traded pitcher Nelson Briles and infielder Fernando Gonzalez to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Ed Kirkpatrick, utility player Kurt Bevacqua and minor leaguer Winston Cole. This deal basically worked out even for the teams, with Briles and Kirkpatrick as the only two who saw significant time with their new team. Bevacqua ended up back with the Royals that season, while Gonzalez ended up back with the Pirates in 1975.

On this date in 1989 the Pirates traded pitcher Jeff Robinson and minor leaguer Willie Smith to the New York Yankees in exchange for catcher Don Slaught. The trade was a one-sided win for the Pirates, as Slaught spent six seasons in Pittsburgh, including three years in which the Pirates won the NL East. Robinson pitched just one year out of the Yankees bullpen before leaving via free agency and Smith played just one partial season in the majors, which wasn’t until 1994 with the St Louis Cardinals.