Everyone knew that when the Pirates were flirting with the top of the division at the beginning portion of the season it was something of an illusion. Even with a healthy Jameson Taillon, and health elsewhere, this was based on Josh Bell’s freak-onomics at the plate and some other blind, dumb, idiot luck. What no one could have expected is that the market correction would be so harsh, so violent, and so complete.
The Pirates have gone 11-27 since July 1. They’ve lost 18 of 22 at one point. They have losing streaks of eight and nine games just in the past three weeks. They have the second-worst record in the National League, with only the we-don’t-even-try Marlins propping them up.
And what’s it’s done is expose rifts, stupidity, and simply indifference at the playing, managerial, front office, and ownership levels. This is a fine mess, and maybe something a real commissioner might feel tempted to do something about. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.
Just today, The Athletic in Pittsburgh broke a story about how the Bucs have had to suspend two pitchers and one coach for insubordination. This follows their actual brawl with the Reds, caused by the Pirates either encouragement of pitchers throwing at hitters’s heads or their inability to get them to stop, or an unwillingness or lack of motivation to even try. Pitchers and players have openly balked at the Pirates still cutter-heavy teachings and shift-heavy ways, even though they’re one of the worst ground-ball producing pitching staffs in the majors.
Secondly, you can’t lose that many games in that big of a bunch without some players quitting. And yet there’s been little mention of Clint Hurdle being fired, even though he’s got open insubordination and a team that doesn’t seem to care. This runs through the Pirates organization as a whole, as when owner Bob Nutting is reminded he actually owns a baseball team he’s shown loyalty over anything else, though that could just be indifference or laziness to not even wanting to bother.
The Pirates have been unlucky with injuries, as Taillon is headed for a second Tommy John surgery, and the pen can’t seem to keep anyone upright for very long either. But that doesn’t explain it all.
The dysfunction flows upward. Neal Huntington, the GM, doesn’t seem to have worry about his job status much either, and in the interest of fairness he does have his hands tied by strict payroll limits from his owner. Still, this was a team that tried to force Gerrit Cole into their very limited view of how pitchers should work, and then sold low on him to Houston and watched him become perhaps the most dominant starter in the American League. And all that was a result of the Astros just letting him be what he wants. Michael Feliz, Colin Moran, and Joe Musgrove either are or could be nice pieces, but none are defining a team.
But Huntington has always struggled to know what he has. Only Bell has come through the system to be a star under his watch, and that was only this year. Gregory Polanco has flattered to deceive, Taillon is hurt, and he gave up on Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows way early to bring in the husk of Chris Archer. Sure, Glasnow has the same injury problems as Taillon, but Meadows has been a borderline star, and in the outfield where the Pirates are currently sporting Melky Cabrera. And if you’re sporting Melky Cabrera in 2019, you suck. This list could go on.
But the rot starts at the head, and that’s Nutting. There’s no better example of a MLB owner just pocketing his BAMTECH and revenue sharing money and leaving the team he owns to flounder and turn weird colors, but still produce a profit. The Pirates drew over two million fans for five years running, covering both ends of their three wildcard berths stretch. But do you remember the Bucs ever adding to those teams in an ambitious way with a free agent pitcher or hitter they desperately needed to stick with the Cubs and now Brewers? Hey, the Brewers have swung trades for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain and Yasmani Grandal, and they’re the same sized market as Pittsburgh or thereabouts (at least in baseball terms, Milwaukee has nearly twice the population).
Nutting rarely talks to the press, and is heavily guarded when he does. So we have no idea what he thinks. Yet being in Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to hold the Penguins or Steelers back much, even if they exist in leagues with salary caps.
The Pirates have been caught and passed on the field with their once-forward-looking methods, and don’t do much about it. Their front office seems helpless to add anything with the budget they have or to rightly evaluate what’s around. Their owner doesn’t seem to care. It’s rotten in The Iron City.