Nutting: Patience pays off for Piratesw
INDIANA – Pirates owner Bob Nutting admits he’s “not at heart a patient person at all,” which means he’s pretty much like sports fans, who want their team to win right now and have little tolerance for waiting.
Pirates fans waited through 20 losing seasons until finally getting to see a winner this year, so their patience was put to the ultimate test.
But the way Nutting sees it, the only way the team was going to end its long-suffering ways was to establish a plan for the entire organization and accept that it would take an enormous amount of patience to achieve the goals.
“What was most important to me was to have faith in the people, have faith in the direction, have faith in the organization,” Nutting said Friday after delivering the keynote address at an Indiana County Chamber of Commerce function.
Nutting had to keep that faith despite some very lean years, and amidst enormous fan ridicule aimed at him and other members of the Pirates’ front office. While others might have lost faith that president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington could deliver a winner to Pittsburgh, Nutting stayed the course, kept his patience and finally saw that come to fruition.
“One of the keys to our success has been giving ourselves time to put together a really strong program and a vision, bringing good people in, setting a clear vision and then holding account them accountable at the end of the day,” Nutting said.
“Great things can’t happen overnight. The only way that really important things can get done is perseverance and grit and consistent effort over time.”
After so many trying years, Nutting, whose family owns the Altoona Mirror, believes the Pirates are now well-positioned to continue their winning ways in the coming years because of the team’s core nucleus of young players.
He also believes the team’s success in 2013 has made Pittsburgh a “a much more attractive place to play” for free agents.
“A veteran player wants to come in and compete, they want to come in, they want to be on a championship team,” he said. “And we demonstrated this year that Pittsburgh is a place where they can have an opportunity to play, where they will be celebrated by a fan base and loved – as we saw with the additions this year – but also where they can be on a competitive team and have a real impact.”
One issue the Pirates will always face is being able to afford the kind of veteran players who can make a big enough impact.
The team’s payroll in 2013 was about $75 million, and Nutting pointed out the organization has shown a willingness to spend more money as the team has improved. He also expects that to continue in the coming years.
“We’ve increased payroll every year, and the team has grown,” Nutting said. “And as we’ve shifted focus the last few years from purely on drafting and development to more of a real focus on the major league club, major league payroll has increased each of the years.”
The Pirates’ success in 2013 should help bring in additional revenue in many forms, ranging from selling more season and individual game tickets to increases in apparel sales.
“We’re exactly where we need to be because of the support of the fan base,” Nutting said. “We generated tremendous excitement and enthusiasm in Pittsburgh, and the connection with the fans absolutely has turned into all of those opportunities.”
That connection, the owner knows, is largely contingent on one thing.
“The strategy to keep [fans] onboard is continuing to perform on the field at the highest possible level,” he said.
One of the biggest issues in baseball right now that does not favor the Pirates is the movement toward massive local TV contracts that many clubs have signed. According to fangraphs.com, some teams make a staggering amount of money each year just from their TV contract, including the Dodgers (an estimated $350 million), Angels ($147 million) and Rangers ($80 million). Even the lowly Astros recently signed a local TV deal that will pay them $80 million per year.
The Pirates aren’t anywhere close to that neighborhood in their contract with ROOT Sports, making $18 million per year through 2019.
“We’re very happy with our partners with ROOT,” Nutting said. “We have a deal with them in place, which I think is appropriate and fair.
“Every market’s going to be different, and the most important thing for us is to recognize what resources we have and how do we work within the resource base that we have available to us to maximize the opportunity to get the strongest possible team on the field.”
Without more TV money, the Pirates might never be able to land the lucrative free agents, such as Robinson Cano, who signed with the Mariners on Friday for $240 million over 10 years. The Mariners earlier this year signed a local TV contract worth about $118 million per season.
“You’re always going to have signings,” Nutting said of the free-agent market. “There are going to be some that we have the opportunity to participate in, there are going to be some that simply are not going to be appropriate for Pittsburgh.
“What we need to do is focus on the parts of the talent pool and the parts of the game where we can aggressively and effectively compete. You saw that with the draft; we were very effective. You see it now in the international; I think we do a very, very good job holding our own getting talent.”
The minor league system is largely responsible for getting the Pirates to the playoffs this year, with home-grown talent such as Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole and others leading the way. And no matter how much the Pirates can or cannot spend on free agents, Nutting reiterated the minor league system will continue to be the backbone of any success.
“We see a very competitive development system,” he said, “[one] where we are a place where young players should want to play because they’re going to have to an opportunity to develop, they’re going to have an opportunity to get better, develop as men as well as baseball players, and frankly have success at the major league level at the end of that.”
Cory Giger is a sportswriter who covers the Pirates for the Altoona (Pa.) Mirror.