The Pirates have a rebuilding plan and have begun to execute it. The roster has been stripped down. The focus is on building the minor league clubs and replenishing the talent base and getting back to being a competitive team.
It is clear this team is going to be a 100-loss team this year. The starting pitching staff, the everyday lineup, the bullpen — all of it — is just not good enough to compete with any team that is actually trying to win. That’s not an opinion, either. That’s a fact.
Pirates general manager Ben Cherington met with the media Sunday and was asked why any fan should care about the team in 2021 or even 2022. What’s the point of following a team that has zero chance of winning or even being competitive most nights?
Cherington answered it the best way he could, but I’m not sure there is a good answer.
“It’s up to us to explain that work and to show that to our fans so they can come along with us on this ride. We know it’s going to be hard,” he answered.
Cherington added that fans should hang in there and push forward with the Pirates, as there will be a payoff down the road. I know in his heart he believes that and it is clear that the management team has a real plan in place that has a real chance to work.
This isn’t a pipe dream. We have seen teams strip down, load up with prospects and then become winning teams in a few years. It is the way to do it, especially if you aren’t a team like the Dodgers or Yankees who can write checks to get good in a hurry.
Regardless of the plan, there is a reason Cherington’s words will fall on many deaf ears among the Pirates fan base. And it isn’t because the team has done a bunch of rebuilding and only made three playoff trips in almost 30 years. It isn’t even because baseball economics are so dumb right now that it almost seems like small market teams are wasting everyone’s time because they can’t compete payroll wise.
No, the problem Travis Williams, Cherington and Derek Shelton have is they represent Bob Nutting, and he has very little credibility among the fan base. And it is up to him and only him to change the perception of how he does business.
Some of the criticism of Nutting’s, um, frugal approach is over the top and not fair. He has at times opened his wallet up and tried to add some pieces. He did sign Francisco Liriano to a nice deal, he has given contracts to young players like Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, and he has taken on some payroll for the second half of seasons during the wild card run.
The problem is he has far too often made decisions based more in the financial bottom line than trying to win pennants and World Series. That is where the disconnect with fans has come. The 2015 season, for example, produced 98 wins and the Pirates seemed right on the verge of a real breakthrough.
That is why fans, in general, are having a hard time jumping on the train as the Pirates try and move forward. They don’t trust that Nutting is going to give Cherington and company the support they need when they are ready to start winning.
The No. 1 thing I’ve heard from fans this offseason is: “Why should we get invested in this rebuild when we know how it ends, and that isn’t with the owner spending money to get over the top?”
I don’t have an answer for that other than you have to believe Nutting when he says that he is going to invest in winning. He said he is going to do things differently this time around and will increase payroll when the time is right. You have to take him at his word because that’s the only hope you have as a fan.
I know there is cynicism, and there should be. Nutting has little credibility in this area among his fan base. But it is up to him to prove that he is invested in winning and it is up to him to restore that credibility with fans and the only way he can do that is to spend some money when it makes sense.
It makes sense that fans are skeptical and maybe not ready to blindly go along for the ride. Cherington does have a good plan and he has some time to prove it is working. Ultimately, though, the Pirates’ plan is going to rest on whether or not Nutting is ready to restore his credibility and do what it takes to win in Major League Baseball.