PITTSBURGH — When the Pittsburgh Pirates were making three consecutive appearances in the National League wild card, some of their younger fans on social media liked to refer to themselves as “Nutters.”
They were supporters of Pirates owner Bob Nutting and felt he had gotten a bad rap in the media for being portrayed as cheap and not wanting to win.
Funny thing, though, you don’t hear much from The Nutters these days. The Pirates are headed to their second straight losing season following their three-year playoff run from 2013-15.
The Pirates are 10 games off the pace of the National League Central-leading Cubs after getting pounded 17-3 by Chicago on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field. The Pirates were swept in the three-game series and are now 63-71, meaning they would have to win 19 of their last 28 games to finish above .500.
And why is finishing above .500 significant? Well, it is because the Pirates set the major North American professional team sports record for consecutive losing seasons with 20 from 1993-2012.
Eternally optimistic manager Clint Hurdle put up a good front following Wednesday’s beatdown.
“Our effort’s there,” Hurdle told reporters. “We’re going to regroup, and we’ve got an opportunity to play our best baseball at the end of the season. We’ve got a month of baseball left. We’ve played hard.”
No one has questioned the Pirates’ effort this season. It’s just too bad Nutting doesn’t care as much about winning as Hurdle and his players.
Even Nutting’s last defenders had to be irate when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bill Brink reported prior to Wednesday night’s blowout that the Pirates had placed right-handed reliever Juan Nicasio on irrevocable waivers.
These waivers are not associated with players trying to be traded. Those are revocable waivers.
If another team claims that player, he can be pulled off the waiver wire and remain with his original team, which is what happened when the Philadelphia Phillies claimed him on Thursday.
The Phillies got him for the approximately $600,000 remaining on his $3.9 million salary.
No non-prospect. No cash considerations. Not even a fungo bat.
Granted, the Pirates are not going to reach the playoffs this year. Nicasio is also eligible for free agency at the end of this season and has likely priced himself out of Pittsburgh’ comfort level.
Nevertheless, Nicascio has been one of the better relievers in a shaky bullpen, posting a 2.85 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 65 games while striking out 60 in 60 innings. It wouldn’t have hurt for the Pirates to just keep him and try to finish the season on a strong note.
Instead, this is a blatant dump. The Pirates clearly are doing nothing more than shedding $600,000 by getting rid of Nicasio.
Here is what GM Neal Huntington had to say about the decision:
“We took the unusual step of placing a quality person and pitcher in Juan Nicasio on outright waivers for a variety of reasons. Given our recent record and regression in the standings, we intend to give the higher leverage innings to other pitchers that may or will impact our 2018 club. We acknowledge the minimal amount of money saved by making this move, however, as a result of our decision and Juan’s pending free agency at the end of the season, we felt it appropriate to attempt to move Juan to a better situation for him.
“We recently requested trade waivers on Juan and he was claimed by a playoff caliber club that indicated to us their primary motivation was to block us from being able to trade Juan elsewhere and that they were not willing to give us more than very marginal value in return if we chose to trade Juan to them. Rather than help a direct competitor and recognizing the difference in claiming order between trade and outright waivers, we chose to take the chance to see if by placing Juan on outright waivers he would end up with a different playoff contender, preferably one in the American League.
“We appreciate all that Juan has done for our team and our organization. We wish him the best.”
Forbes magazine reported early this season that the franchise is worth $1.25 billion. In that context, $600,000 is tip money.
The Pirates’ worth is also far more than in 1996 when a group led by Kevin McClatchy bought the team for $95 million, most of the sale price consisting of assumed debt.
Nutting was a minority partner in McClatchy’s group, admitted he knew little about baseball and had been to a handful of games in his life. However, Nutting understands how to make money.
Between PNC Park opening in 2001 and the explosion in national television rights and MLBAM, the Pirates became much more profitable. Thus, Nutting pulled a power play and bought out enough minority partners to take controlling interest of the team prior to the 2007 season, pushing McClatchy aside.
The sad part is McClatchy wanted the Pirates to win so badly, wearing his emotions on his sleeve as he sat behind home plate. After losses, he often looked more worn out than the players as the trudged down the tunnel outside the Pirates’ clubhouse to his office.
Nutting, on the other hand, is hidden the owners’ suite when he does show up for games. It’s hard to gauge his emotions because the newspaper/ski resort magnate — an off combination, to be sure — rarely avails himself to the media and gives non-answers when he does.
Another example of the Pirates’ cheap ways came two weeks ago when they played the St. Louis Cardinals in the Little League Classic at Williamsport, Pa.
As the home team, the Pirates were in charge on handling in-game entertainment. Their entire scoreboard crew made the 390-mile round trip.
The Pirates would not spring for hotel rooms, instead making the crew endure a one-day trip.
It turned out to be a 21-hour work day. With no overtime. And box lunches.
The most heartening part of the whole situation, though, is the fans have started to fight back.
The Pirates set the franchise single-season attendance record in 2015 with an average of 30,846 a game. That figure dropped to 27,768 last year and is down to 24,307 this season.
Local television ratings are down 27 percent from last season on AT&T Sportsnet, according to a report by the SportsBusiness Journal
It seems the fans — and we assume even some of The Nutters — have decided to hit Nutting where it hurts the most.