Nutting: Pirates had 'step back' in '16, but talent is there
BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) The Pittsburgh Pirates missed the playoffs last season for the first time in four years, but that won't cause chairman Bob Nutting to abandon the team's steady, build-from-within approach.
''We have not embraced, as many teams have, that you have to go in cycles and you have to commit to five years of a bad team in a rebuilding cycle,'' Nutting said Monday after addressing the team at spring training. ''We believe that by infusing talent into the organization at every level we can, every way that we can, we can create a sustained, competitive team. We may be proven wrong at some point, but that's still our target and our goal.''
Nutting, the club's principal owner since 2007, talked to the players and coaches for about 30 minutes. He touched briefly on last season, when the Pirates went 78-83 and finished third in the NL Central.
''We certainly had a step back,'' Nutting said. ''I think 2016 was a great reminder for us of the razor-thin edge between a pretty good team and an elite team. We did not perform up to the level of talent that we had on the club.''
The Pirates have never been big spenders on the free-agent market. Nutting and the front office have taken flak in Pittsburgh for the team's payroll, which consistently ranks among the bottom third of major league clubs.
''We ended up with the season we did because the team and organization underperformed (given) the level of talent that we had,'' Nutting said. ''I don't think it was nearly so much that we didn't have sufficient talent to make the run. We had some very good players who did not perform up to the expectations that we had. I really think it's far more execution than what we put together.''
Before the 2016 season, the Pirates traded veteran second baseman Neil Walker to the New York Mets for pitcher Jon Niese. The move was unpopular among many fans, as Walker is a Pittsburgh native and former first-round draft pick.
In late July, closer Mark Melancon was traded for young reliever Felipe Rivero and a minor leaguer. Opening day starter Francisco Liriano was dealt a few days later.
This winter, general manager Neal Huntington mulled trade offers for former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, whose contract is up after this season.
''My responsibility and the organization's responsibility is to be able to make those types of choices,'' Nutting said. ''If we have the appropriate goal set of making the team better, doing what's right for Pittsburgh, doing what's right for the Pirates, then it allows you to make some tough decisions that you know are the right thing to do.
''We did it early on in the cycle when we did any number of radically unpopular decisions that were, in my opinion, the right long-term calls but very painful in the short term. If anything, that reinforced to me that we need to have the discipline to make those kinds of decisions and also that (our) leadership team is capable of making tough but correct long-term decisions.''
NOTES: Nutting declined to say whether the Pirates will discipline third baseman Jung Ho Kang, who is awaiting trial in South Korea on a charge of driving under the influence. It was Kang's third DUI arrest. ''We are absolutely disappointed that he has put himself and the organization in this circumstance,'' Nutting said. . Nutting said contract extensions for Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle are ''not an issue at this point.'' Both are signed through this season, with club options for 2018. . Catcher Francisco Cervelli missed the past two days of workouts because of a sore right foot. Cervelli said he expects to practice on Tuesday.