Don't look now, but Smizik grew a uccello and decided to speak up even though he's about six years late.....
Bob Smizik: Pirates' ownership not likely to change fiscal ways
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Listen carefully to Bob Nutting, the principal owner of the Pirates, and you can see the future of the franchise. Sadly, it's no different than the present or the recent past. A lack of commitment permeates this organization. It starts at the top, and there is no indication it is about to change. Major League Baseball is the only one of the four main professional leagues in this country that does not have a salary cap. That means, beyond doubt, the quickest path to success is by spending money on payroll. Strong scouting and player development can diminish but not eliminate the advantage of larger payroll. Of course, there's no indication the Pirates' scouting and player development is anything better than mediocre. Consequently, what you see is what you get.
Since Kevin McClatchy bought the team, with a group that included G. Ogden Nutting (Bob Nutting's father) as a principal financier, in 1996, the Pirates have been last in payroll in their division nine times in 12 years. Twice, they have been next to last and once, in 2001, they were fourth in a six-team division.
That's not going to get it done. Nor is it going to change.
At his first news conference as principal owner Nutting categorically denied ownership was putting profit in its pocket.
"The ownership group is not taking money out of the team and putting it in their pockets," he said. "We are not moving profits."
McClatchy supported that statement. He said, "We are not paying ourselves dividends and we're reinvesting every penny that we've made back into the club."
Sounds good, and we believe them. But where is the money going?
We know it's not going to payroll. The team's payroll is a distant last in the Central Division. Three of the Central teams have double the payroll of the Pirates. With the team's books closed to the public, it is anyone's guess where the profit is going. Here's ours:
The profit is going to pay down debt, which the team incurred in the building of PNC Park and in the early days of ownership. By paying down debt, they increase the value of the franchise. Which is to say, the money is not going in Nutting's pocket -- yet.
At that same news conference, Nutting famously said,
"Questioning my commitment or my family's commitment to winning, I think that's completely inappropriate."
Sounds good, but vague. Anyone can have a commitment to winning. But what is the level of that commitment?
Judging from the team's failure earlier this month to draft Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, widely regarded as the player who could most quickly help the Pirates, the commitment is a weak one. Wieters, a client of agent Scott Boras, would have demanded a considerably higher signing bonus than Daniel Moskos, the Pirates' pick.
Again, let's listen to Nutting:
"It is important to remember that the draft is relatively unsure. It's high risk. "
The key phrase in that comment is "high risk." Nutting wants no part of risk. He wants stability. Stability is good if you're a team that has a quality roster, a high payroll and a strong farm system. The Pirates have none of those. The Pirates need to take risks. They need to think outside the box. They need not stop taking pitchers in the draft when they have a crying need for position players.
They need to think like the Detroit Tigers, a franchise that early in 2004 was considerably worse than the Pirates. The Tigers had lost 225 games in the previous two seasons. It was the third time they had lost more than 100 games since 1996. They Pirates never have lost more than 100 in their current 14-year losing streak.
Detroit ownership understood it had to take risks to get better. It could not continue on the same path. The Tigers signed catcher Ivan Rodriquez to a four-year, $40 million contract early in 2004 when no other team would pay that price for a player who was in decline. With Rodriquez on the team, the Tigers went from 43 wins to 72, an incredible turnaround. The next off-season, they signed Magglio Ordonez, another player believed to be in decline, to a five-year contract that could pay up to $75 million.
The Tigers went high risk, and two years later they were in the World Series. This year they are in second place in the American League Central, 11 games over .500, and Ordonez has 64 RBIs, second in the American League.
That's the kind of risk Nutting would never take, which is why the Pirates will never make the kind of improvement the Tigers did.
One more comment from Nutting.
The day last January when he replaced McClatchy as the team's principal owner, he said, "There's really no change in how we're doing business."
Very true and very sad.