Monday, July 24, 2017

Pirates are in a race for the NL Central, forcing Bob Nutting to think differently at trade deadline

By Mark Madden
July 23, 2017
Image result for bob nutting 2017
Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting talks with manager Clint Hurdle prior to the game against the New York Yankees at PNC Park on April 22, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.(Getty Images)

Pirates owner Bob Nutting is a liar.
The Pirates promised that payroll would increase proportionate to profit. It hasn't.
Nutting says he wants Andrew McCutchen to be a Pirate for life. But McCutchen's contract has just one year left (a club option), and Nutting has yet to offer him an extension.
But now, thanks to the Pirates' 12-4 run, Nutting will have to take his greed all the way naked and reveal an almost total lack of on-field ambition if the Pirates are to operate as they usually do between now and the July 31 MLB trade deadline.
The Pirates are just three games out of first place in the NL Central. It's not much of a division, but winning it would mean more than a 98-win wild card.
The Pirates are still a decided longshot, especially with the Chicago Cubs kicking it into gear (7-1 since the All-Star break heading into Sunday night's game against St. Louis). It wouldn't behoove the Pirates to trade future for present, not on any grand scale.
But the Pirates' position in the standings, however tenuous, merits at the very least standing pat. The players are owed that. The fans are owed that.
But standing pat would go against the Pirates' MO, which saw closer Mark Melancon and starting pitcher Francisco Liriano ditched at last year's trade deadline despite the Pirates being just four games out of the NL's second wild card.
Nutting does not want to pay McCutchen $14.5 million next year. Or even what McCutchen is still owed of this season's $14-million salary.
Nutting doesn't want to pay Josh Harrison $10.25 million next year, either.
Dumping Tony Watson (making $5.6 million before hitting free agency at season's end) would normally be a priority.
But the Pirates' recent uptick demands that Nutting think different.
But that doesn't mean Nutting will.
It makes for an interesting week.
How legitimate the Pirates' contention is can be debated. But the bottom line is, it's as legit as the standings say. Milwaukee (3-6 since the All-Star break) seems a fading Cinderella. It's easy to point at the Cubs' juggernaut lineup, their pedigree as defending world champs and their recent improvement, then declare them favorites.
But the season is almost 100 games old and the Cubs (and St. Louis) are both mediocre run producers. The pitching of both the Cubs and Cardinals is just marginally better than the Pirates'. Jose Quintana is one arm. Getting him won't necessarily fix the Cubs' rotation, which has seen Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey all disappoint.
Imagine if the Pirates, as was mooted, had traded prospects for Quintana. This might be a race the Pirates could win.
Then again, had that deal been consummated in the off-season, one of those prospects might have been first baseman Josh Bell. Thanks, but no thanks.
Still, isn't it frustrating that the Pirates are a team that never takes a risk?
Nobody's asking GM Neal Huntington to take a risk now.
But the Pirates should, at the very least, see this through with their current roster.
Now might be the best time to trade McCutchen in terms of return.
But attendance is on pace to drop 300K this season after dropping 250K last season. TV ratings for Pirates games on AT&T SportsNet are down 27 percent from last year.
But over 33,000 showed up at PNC Park for Thursday's afternoon game with Milwaukee. Tuesday's contest was AT&T SportsNet's highest-rated game broadcast this season.
After making the playoffs from 2013-15, only meaningful baseball is going to keep enough fans interested. The days of eagerly buying cow flop dipped in false hope appear to be over.
Nutting needs to consider that. And likely will, because it affects revenue.
If McCutchen is traded, only an idiot would remain emotionally invested in the Pirates, let alone purchase tickets. Nutting's intent is already clear, but at that point it's been jammed up your southernmost orifice.
If McCutchen is traded, the clubhouse is lost. It was shaken last year when Liriano and Melancon were traded, the latter being a bold-faced salary dump facilitated by sacrificing two prospects. Melancon's immediate loss was obvious, the impressive return of Felipe Rivero notwithstanding.
Fans saw Liriano having a poor season and didn't mind his departure. But for Liriano, three good seasons had preceded the one bad. His Pirate teammates saw him as an important element, and one that could rebound.
That mattered not to Nutting.
He doesn't treat the Pirates like a sports team. He runs the Pirates like a factory, where quality matters only as much as it helps boost profit. The players are employees. Nutting expects them to treat it like a job.
Which it is. But at this job, they keep standings.
If the Pirates stay intact, they can make a run at the division title.
If major components are shed, they will collapse.
This Pirates team has guts. Nutting needs to recognize that.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal says McCutchen and Harrison are "not in play" re: the MLB trade market. That's good.
If you choose to believe something leaked to the media by a chronic liar, that is.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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