First Pitch: Expectations for the Pirates’ Offseason

There’s no one way to run a baseball franchise.

I had the chance to cover the Neal Huntington-led Pirates almost from the beginning. If you were around for the start of that tenure, you might remember some comparisons to Dave Littlefield, and some fears about how the Pirates might operate.

There were the big concerns that the Pirates wouldn’t draft a Scott Boras client, all because Littlefield avoided them, particularly in 2007 with Matt Wieters.

There were concerns that the Pirates wouldn’t put the right emphasis on their farm system, as Littlefield downplayed this area.

There were comments that Andrew McCutchen would be the next Chad Hermansen, because the Pirates had a bad history with top prospects long before Littlefield arrived.

All of these things would lead to Huntington losing just like Littlefield lost.

Huntington didn’t do things like Littlefield. He drafted Pedro Alvarez in 2008 and Gerrit Cole in 2011, both Scott Boras clients. He also added Josh Bell in that same 2011 draft, and paid him a record-setting bonus. For a team that passed on Matt Wieters for Daniel Moskos just four years earlier, there was no greater turnaround than the spending the Pirates did in 2011.

They also turned around spending in the Dominican Republic with a new academy and a commitment to spend to the budget each year.

Huntington’s fall came as a result of not getting enough out of his own players and missing the playoffs a few years in a row. However, he got the organization back to the playoffs, and back to a point where every prospect didn’t get an automatic Hermansen comp.

Now we’re at the beginning of Ben Cherington’s tenure.

We know where Huntington left weaknesses. We know where he improved over Littlefield, and where he left room for Cherington to improve.

This doesn’t mean Cherington will be an extension of Huntington. There’s no one way to run a baseball franchise.

Huntington had his own preferences in regards to spending. They weren’t always consistent, but some approaches were pretty standard.

The Pirates didn’t mind spending big on amateur talent, but they had a self-imposed cap on MLB talent. Huntington didn’t like spending X-percentage of payroll on one player, which really restricted the types of players they could add and keep.

We’ve yet to see how Cherington will handle this. If he follows the same strategy that Huntington followed, it will be a slow offseason for the Pirates. If he goes his own route, we could see some interesting changes that we haven’t seen in Pittsburgh for some time.

There will be free agents who will be in the price range of the Pirates — a team currently projected to spend about $60 M in payroll. Cherington will only be locked down by the budget set by Bob Nutting, which is hopefully higher than the current payroll projection. From that point, it should be up to Cherington to decide how he wants to spend that money. Don’t expect him to adopt all of Huntington’s rules and restrictions on how to distribute the funds.

Cherington was brought in late last year, and didn’t have a normal offseason. This one is going to be interesting because it’s his first real offseason. It’s the first one where we should get an unimpeded preview of how he plans to operate going forward. It might give a look at how he’s different from Huntington.

What do you guys expect from Cherington during the upcoming offseason?

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First Pitch