BRADENTON, Fla. (93-7 THE FAN) – After sitting down with print & web beat reporters this morning, Pirates Owner & Chairman Bob Nutting took to the fields at the Pirate City complex to observe another day of full-squad workouts.
As those workouts got underway, 93-7 The Fan’s Pirates Pre & Postgame Host Chris Mack talked one-on-one with Nutting about the direction of the franchise, the league’s new CBA, and the future of star Andrew McCutchen and General Manger Neal Huntington.
MACK: How do you analyze the results year-to-year and say, ‘Is the process working, and do we need to tweak the process?’
NUTTING: What’s most important is the process has evolved. It’s very different now than it was 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or 3 years ago, and part of what Neal Huntington has done so incredibly well is being flexible to self-reflection and to make the process reflective. So it’s a constant series of adjustments. It’s adjustment after a year like last year, where we had some challenges. Almost more importantly, it’s a process of adjusting when things are going well. What’s the landscape today? How do we adjust to those changes? And that’s what I have faith in: That ability to question, ability to push, ability to innovate, within the structure that we have set.
MACK: Knowing that process is based on a system of competing over the long haul and over the long term, how do you handle the one-off instance where you may have an opportunity to break the mold of what you normally do and use it as a springboard? For example, if you know there’s a player you may want to keep, a player you may want to go after, and you say ‘This might not quite fit our model, but it’s something that we feel, as an outlier, may benefit the organization.’?
NUTTING: I think that it’s a critically important part of that process of innovation, of commitment to excellence, is looking for the outlier, looking for something that is new. Everything that we’ve done well the first time was new at that time. Being willing to test, being willing to try, being willing to fail quickly and move forward, I think that’s important in any organization, and it’s been critically important for us here. What got us to the playoffs in 2013 won’t be good enough to get us there this year, and won’t be good enough to get us there in 2020. There are 29 other very good, innovative teams that are pushing forward, so that process of constant improvement, constant self-reflection, is critically important to us.
MACK: At the same time, you also don’t have the same resources that some other organizations are able to tap into. Whether that be television money, or whether that be other media deals. Does that make your willingness to take those leaps of faith – does it make it more difficult to make those, because you know rebounding from those mistakes may be more difficult?
NUTTING: I think it makes it more essential that we do indeed take those chances, that we do indeed try some different systems. It’s harder. So how do we make sure we’re being most efficient with every single dollar that we spend, every resource that we allocate, and how do we have the greatest impact, and that will be different from year to year and time to time.
MACK: When you look at individual players, you see someone like Andrew McCutchen, who has become very much the face of the franchise over the last 5-10 years. Are there individual discussions about again, how you may be willing to break the mold of what you usually do in keeping a man like that around? Clint Hurdle oftentimes uses the phrase, “We like the man, we like the player, we like the arm…” whatever it may be. But those essential components of a player as a whole, Andrew quite clearly is a man who fits in well with the culture of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and also happens to be one of the best players in the game. Do you sit down and talk about those individual instances where you may need to make an exception to what would normally be your rules?
NUTTING: Absolutely. I think all rules are meant to be broken or bent or reviewed or reflected on, and Andrew is a special person, a special human being. He’s been tremendous on the field, off the field, his connection to the community, his wife Maria’s connection to Pittsburgh, all of those make him a special baseball player, but a special man and a special person.
MACK: How do you feel about some of the changes that have been made in the CBA, that on their face look like they’re made to affect competitive balance, but it seems may be taking opportunities away from teams that would normally go out and take advantage of the systems that were in place for, in particular, international players? There are whole new sets of rules now, where you as an organization, whether it had been in the draft in previous years before those rules were changed, or in the international pool previous to those rules being changed, you have to fit in to a whole new system. Does it feel like they’re taking things away that the small market teams were able to use to remain competitive with the big market, big revenue clubs?
NUTTING: I think what’s most important is that we focus on where the inefficiencies still are, and we’ve been very effective doing that, in each of the collective bargaining agreements. When you look back, when you had a real opportunity to overharvest talent in the amateur draft, we doubled down in that direction. As we go forward with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, certainly some of the landscape has changed, but what’s most important is our guys have been, and will continue to focus on, where do we create that next set of inefficiencies, because we have to be a year or a couple of years ahead to be able to take full advantage of those as we find them.
MACK: Neal Huntington has a contract that runs through 2018, I believe it is. Have you and Frank Coonelly started to approach him yet about extending that deal, knowing that he is a guy who has become a part of the leadership structure in this organization, and turn it around over the last 5-10 years from what it was to what it’s become?
NUTTING: Neal’s a tremendous leader. I love working with Neal, having one of the great leaders in this organization, and maybe because of that, really haven’t focused on the contract issue. I love having him with the club, like to see him with us for a long time, but it’s not something that’s a primary focus the first week of Spring Training.
Look for more updates from Mack throughout the Pirates’ workouts at Pirate City, as Spring Training rolls on ahead of the Grapefruit League opener Saturday afternoon at LECOM Park.