The trade deadline passed Monday with barely a whisper from the Pirates, still very much in contention in the National League Central, but apparently happy to more or less stand pat. Yes, they dealt Tony Watson to the Dodgers, but given his struggles for much of this season, that didn’t stand out as a seismic event.
In the absence of a major move to discuss, two words jumped out above the rest on deadline day: cash considerations.
When the Pirates acquired Joaquin Benoit from the Philadelphia Phillies, in exchange for 2015 eighth-round pick Seth McGarry, a reliever in High A-ball that you had likely never heard of before yesterday, they also got “cash considerations” from the Phillies, in order to offset some of Benoit’s salary.
Benoit is making $7.5 million this year, more than half of which has already been paid According to spotrac.com, Benoit is owed about $2.58 million. This is a pittance in the world of pro sports. Then, there are the cash considerations that the Pirates will receive, as well.
That amount of money should be, and probably is, a pittance to the Pirates as well, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that fans who were hoping for an impact move instead got a 40 year-old reliever, and had to read about money matters being a part of the deal. Could the Pirates afford Benoit without cash considerations? Of course. The fact that the Phillies threw in some cash, though, stings in a strange way.
The thought that has to stir in the minds of the faithful is, “wow, they couldn’t even bring on a 40 year-old without having the other team chip in some more of his salary?”
That’s the thing with the Pirates, really. It’s always about dollars and cents, and always will be. There does not appear to be a day on the horizon where Bob Nutting does an about-face and authorizes, even encourages, Neal Huntington to spend in the $115-125 million range on payroll.
This year, the refrain was that the Pirates would have some extra wiggle room, dare I say, financial flexibility, as a result of Jung Ho Kang’s absence. The idea was circulated that the team would be able to add pieces to help offset the loss of Kang and Starling Marte. That never came to fruition. The Pirates never used some of that extra cash to bolster the roster before the season, or during its first month. They didn’t plug the hole created by Gregory Polanco’s recent injury with, for example, Jay Bruce of the New York Mets.
Instead, they simply did nothing. They sat idly by until making the move for Benoit. Perhaps the Phillies picking up some of his salary would be seen more as shrewd negotiating if Bruce’s salary was on the books. Or any established, potential impact player, for that matter. Instead, it reeks of the typical shoestring management style that has defined this franchise for years.
I don’t place much of this on Huntington, either. He certainly could do better, and there are moves to be made. His biggest sin is his zealous loyalty to prospects — except when the team is trying to dump salary, like they did with Francisco Liriano at last year’s deadline. If his biggest names were on the big club and doing great things, if Tyler Glasnow was a rotation mainstay and Austin Meadows was banging on the door at Indianapolis, Huntington’s approach would be more understandable, would be smarter. They’re not, so it isn’t.
No, this comes back, as it always should, to Bob Nutting. Hoarding prospects in the hope that they’ll pan out is a strategy necessitated by financial constrictions. It’s a small-market strategy, to be sure, but other teams in comparably-sized markets have been more liberal with their minor-leaguers and haven’t seen the organization completely collapse. Other teams in comparably-sized markets have signed free agents to sizable contracts, in the hopes of getting an instant impact jolt.
The Pirates, by and large, haven’t. That is a reflection of the owner, through and through. Nutting can talk all he wants about his competitiveness and desire to win during one of his rare on-the-record sessions, but actions speak louder than words. Or in the case of this trade deadline, with the team 5.5 games out of first place, inaction.
But hey, at least they secured some cash considerations.
Chris Mueller is the co-host of “The Starley & Mueller Show” from 2-6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 The Fan.