Clint Hurdle had a mission when he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the 2011 MLB season: to revive baseball in the city of Pittsburgh — to reconnect a fan base to it’s baseball team. After just three seasons, the skipper achieved his goal. However, despite going to the postseason in 2013, is the Pirates’ lack of spending this offseason simply making all of Hurdle’s efforts go to waste?
The baseball world got the chance to see what baseball in Pittsburgh can be like when the Pirates hosted the National League Wild Card game against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park. The place was electric. Now that the Pirates’ front office has seen what the fans can be like with a good team, it’s hard to understand why they aren’t willing to make the financial commitments to upgrade their roster.
Pirates owner Bob Nutting said that the team payroll would increase substantially following the great season they just had if the right fit came along. To this point, this is looking like a blatant lie. Spending money just to spend is not a good thing, but spending to fill needs is crucial. There have been obvious fits that have signed elsewhere for money that the Pirates should have been able to afford.
On Monday, the Tampa Bay Rays signed the best remaining available first baseman, James Loney, to a three-year, $21 million deal. The Pirates had been in talks to sign Loney, but apparently they were scared of three seasons of $7 million per year.
The Pirates entered the offseason with three needs: First base, shortstop and a starting pitcher. Right field could also be considered a need, but they will have top prospect Gregory Polanco ready by mid-June. One by one, the Pirates have watched the available first basemen be taken off the board. Loney, Logan Morrison, Mike Napoli, Corey Hart and Mark Trumbo are just a few examples. Some made more sense than others, obviously, particularly Loney and Hart. The Pirates are now left with few obvious choices on the market — including Ike Davis, Mitch Moreland and Justin Smoak. Yuck.
The Pirates gave $5 million to a terrible pitcher, Edinson Volquez, and resigned shortstop Clint Barmes to a one-year, $2 million deal. They also made a nice move by giving Charlie Morton a three-year, $21 million extension. The Bucs acquired catching depth as well, trading for Yankees catcher Chris Stewart.
There is still time for the Pirates to make me change my mind and make this entire article a moot point, but it’s hard to see a scenario at this point where the Pirates get a good first baseman for next season. I chose to believe Nutting when he said the Pirates would increase payroll substantially for next year, and I’m starting to regret my decision to believe him. General manager Neal Huntington is doing his best to work with the limited budget he has, but it’s too hard to compete in this money-filled market.