I know how that sounds. Just another big market resident showing up just long enough, take a brief look around, turn my nose up, and declare Pittsburgh not worth the time.
But this isn’t that. Pittsburgh is, or can be, a great baseball town. It proved that in the middle part of the previous decade when they were finally given a team worth watching, drawing well over 2,000,000 fans for five straight years. Pirates fans are some of the most passionate around, assuming you can even find one these days. They’ve been forced to become something of a leprechaun, such is their scarcity. Pittsburgh has the most picturesque ballpark this side of San Francisco, in a very underrated-city as far as the fun one can have there.
But just about every Pirates fan has given up by this point, and rightly so. They know there is no escaping owner Bob Nutting and his life goal of smothering the air out of the team and fanbase forever. He’s just about there.
The Pirates traded still-somehow-promising at 29 but oft-broken starter Jameson Taillon to the Yankees today, where he will join another lost Pirate jewel, Gerrit Cole, in their rotation. The actual trade of Taillon doesn’t amount to much more than urinating on the ashes of a burned-down house. Taillon missed the last season and a half thanks to another injury, Taillon has only managed to throw 446 innings the past five years with the Bucs, and at 29 he very well may have missed his window to be the star he’s always looked like he could be - when he actually made it out to the mound. It doesn’t move the needle on its own either way.
What does move the needle is the addition of yet another name to the list of players the Pirates have flogged for another batch of prospects that don’t amount to much more than lottery tickets. The four prospects the Pirates collected from the Yankees for Taillon have a combined one appearance above A-level ball. If you were to restrict that list of players moved for figments on the horizon to just this winter, it’s sobering enough. It has seen Josh Bell and Joe Musgrove given the boy-for-sale treatment. Expand that list to the past few years, and you can easily see why Iron City and Wigle will never go out of business.
It would be easy to argue that Pittsburgh finished dead-ass last in all of baseball last year, so why hold onto anything from it? And that would be more believable if the Pirates had accomplished anything in the years before, or if there could be any trust in Nutting whatsoever. The Pirates are essentially trying to master the same tactic the Reds took this year, which is to embark on a rebuild without ever having built anything in the first place. It’s just a reshuffling of the deed to a patch of vacant land.
The Pirates could, and arguably still should, be sporting a rotation of Cole, Taillon, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, and Musgrove (or one or two others). The Pirates were unlucky in that they created the third or fourth-best team in baseball in 2015, and their reward for it was one game against Jake Arrieta in one of the most dominant stretches in baseball history. That was the year after they got a face full of Madison Baumgarner in his pomp in the wild card game as well.
And that was enough for Nutting, who dismantled that team as quickly as he could, sending off Andrew McCutchen, Cole, Starling Marte, Morton, Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and anyone else with a pulse and a paycheck that can’t be described as “Dickensian” over the years.
Nutting is perhaps the worst of the new age of baseball owners, who can put absolutely nothing on the field and collect his revenue sharing, national TV money, streaming money, and not care a jot that no one is showing up to PNC Park anymore. He hasn’t in six years, why would he now? He can force the new GM Ben Cherington to sell everyone off for kids not legally allowed to drink to sell the idea of “hope” down the line. The trades of Bell, Musgrove, and Taillon have netted the Pirates just one player who will be on the roster in 2021. Everything is sold for 2024 or 2025.
That McCutchen-Cole era Pirates team was the only one to compete in the past 30 years, and it was essentially just three seasons. Why would Pirates fans buy into the next one, knowing that Nutting will be chomping at the bit to strip it for parts as soon as he can to lower payroll? Why would they believe that any batch would even be allowed to grow into winners, given the way players are punted years before they reach free agency age? Cleveland’s fans seem to have figured that one out.
This is yet another example of why the MLBPA will have to seriously think about accepting a salary cap to get a salary floor installed. The Pirates are slated right now to spend just $56M on payroll next year. There’s no way that should be allowed for an industry as awash in cash as MLB is, whatever they tell you the effects of the pandemic were.
Nutting and his handling of the Pirates the last five years, and for a majority of his ownership, has been a blight on baseball. A real commissioner would never allow such a thing, but of course we don’t live in that world. And what’s Nutting’s motivation to sell? None, because the money rolls right in. They’ll never be rid of him.