The following article was a reader submission by Jason Gindele.
The Pirates’ front office hasn’t built a lot of goodwill over the last five years, culminating in the club’s last place finish during the pandemic shortened season and a mid-level (but now improving) farm system. But there is some hope that better decisions lie ahead.
The Athletic recently published results (subscription required) from its survey of 23 player agents and three from Ben Cherington’s inner circle were named as future GMs: Kevan Graves, Steve Sanders and Bryan Stroh.
Here’s a brief look at each of Cherington’s top lieutenants:
Title: Assistant GM
Joined: November 2008
Responsibilities: Roster management, player evaluation and acquisitions, free agent and arbitration contract negotiations, MLB rules compliance, payroll and budget management financial planning, staff recruitment, development of entry-level staff, day-to-day oversight of the Baseball Operations department
Background: Regarded as a rules and regulations expert, Graves is the rare senior holdover from Neal Huntington’s front office. He joined the organization in 2008 as a Baseball Operations Assistant, was promoted a year later to Assistant Director of Baseball Operations and then moved to the Director of Baseball Operations role in 2011. After four years, Huntington elevated Graves to Assistant GM.
Bob Nutting chose Graves to serve as interim GM when Huntington was let go in October 2019. At that same time, Graves interviewed for the Giants GM role, which ultimately went to Scott Harris. When Cherington was named Pirates GM a month later, Graves returned to his responsibilities as Assistant GM. In 2020, he participated in the inaugural class of MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Program. (Here’s a video of Graves, who is Black, talking about racial inequality last year.)
Graves started his baseball career with the legal department of the San Francisco Giants from 2003-2005. He had a brief six-month stint as Assistant Director of Baseball Operations at the Arizona Fall League in 2005 before spending two years in MLB’s Executive Development Program, where he rotated through business, labor and operation departments at the MLB central office and the Minnesota Twins.
Originally from Oakland, CA, Graves earned his history degree from Dartmouth in 2003. He was a 6-4, 200 lb., right-handed pitcher for the varsity baseball team, where he posted mediocre numbers across two seasons. He also spent a summer interning with the San Diego Padres.
Title: Assistant GM
Joined: December 2019
Responsibilities: Amateur and international scouting, MLB draft, scouting staff recruitment and development
Background: Considered a rising star, Sanders worked with Cherington in both Boston and Toronto before following him to Pittsburgh in December 2019 as Assistant GM.
In Toronto, Sanders served as Director of Amateur Scouting from September 2016 until joining the Pirates. Working with Cherington, who was Vice President of Baseball Operations, Sanders oversaw 30 scouts, led three drafts — adding current top 100 prospects SP Nate Pearson, 3B Jordan Groshans and SP Simeon Woods Richardson, among others — and restocked the Blue Jays’ farm system, taking it from 24th to 6th in Baseball America’s organizational prospect rankings.
While in college, Sanders interned for two seasons with the Dodgers, which led to internships with the Arizona Fall League and the Red Sox, who hired him full-time in 2012 to serve as an assistant in Cherington’s amateur and international scouting departments. He was promoted to coordinator in 2014 and then Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting in 2015.
A native of Los Angeles, where he was an AP Scholar in high school, Sanders graduated from Northwestern in 2010 with a major in economics and a minor in business institutions. He was a pitcher for the Wildcats and earned Academic All-Big Ten honors.
In 2019, Sanders was named one of baseball’s “35 under 35” by The Athletic.
Title: Senior VP, Baseball Development
Joined: December 2011
Responsibilities: Arbitration, contract negotiations, roster management, collective bargaining, day-to-day oversight of clubhouse operations (including sports medicine, sports nutrition, travel, video and clubhouse staff), special projects
Background: Another holdover from Neal Huntington’s days, Stroh took a circuitous route to leading baseball operations in Pittsburgh.
Originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he was high school class president, valedictorian and led the baseball team to the 1994 Class 4A state baseball championship, Stroh graduated from Princeton in 1998 and earned his JD from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2002. He spent the next nine years as a partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman, a law firm in Chicago, where he got involved in baseball as counsel and investigator for the Chicago White Sox, followed by an engagement with MLB’s labor relations department.
Pirates’ President Frank Coonelly lured him to Pittsburgh in December 2011 as Vice President and General Counsel. In that role and his subsequent 2015 promotion to Senior Vice President of Business Affairs, Stroh wore numerous hats, ranging from managing outside litigation, negotiating sponsorship and media contracts, protecting the Pirates’ intellectual property and leading land development on the North Shore, as well as participating in baseball decisions.
In April 2020, the Pirates handed Stroh the title of Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations, where he oversees the business and legal aspects of the club’s baseball affairs.
The Athletic’s player agent survey also resulted in Cherington receiving a vote for most trusted general manager. Bench coach Don Kelly was named a future manager.