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Perrotto: Bob Nutting Needs to Keep Checkbook Open



Bob Nutting, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH – The easiest column to write about the Pittsburgh Pirates is that Bob Nutting is cheap.

It is what every Pirates fan seems to want to read. The number of pageviews that those pieces generate serves as proof.

And, usually, those columns are right on the money, pun intended. Or lack of money.

There are numerous examples of the owner being thrifty to the point of embarrassment. Jason Kendall’s six-year, $60-million contract that was signed in 2000 with Kevin McClatchy then owning the team stood as the most lucrative deal in franchise history for 22 years.

Twenty-two years!

Yet while Nutting will never win the Owner of the Year – if there was such an award – he does deserve some credit. He is at least trying to ensure the Pirates’ best players stay with the franchise for the long haul.

Right-hander Mitch Keller agreed to a five-year, $77-million deal on Thursday morning to become the third Pirates with a lucrative contract extension in as many years.

Left fielder Bryan Reynolds was signed to an eight-year, $106.5-million contract last year. Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes received an eight-year, $70-million contract in 2022.

That’s an outlay of $253.5 million on three players.

For example, by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ standards, that’s tip money. By Nutting’s standards, it is at least a step toward changing the cheap narrative.

The success of Nutting’s strategy won’t be known for many years to come. However, there is reason to believe the Pirates are spending their money wisely.

The 29-year-old Reynolds and the 27-year-old Hayes should be productive players for at least most of the life of their contracts.

Reynolds may not be a superstar but finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2019 and 11th in the NL MVP voting in 2021, a rather remarkable feat considering he was playing for a dreadful 101-loss team that gained almost zero national attention.

In his three full major-league seasons beginning in ’21, Reynolds has a 128 OPS+, meaning he has been 28% better offensively than the league average during that span.

The marked improvement the 27-year-old Hayes showed at the plate over the final two months of last season seems real and in line with the type of hitter he was in the minor leagues.

Words have a hard time adequately describing how good Hayes is defensively. Let’s just say the Gold Glove he won last season should be the first of many.

As far as Keller, there is always risk in signing a pitcher to a long-term contract.

However, the 27-year-old has been healthy and durable throughout his career and his 194.1 innings pitched last season were eighth in the major leagues. He did miss a turn in the rotation until the Pirates decided to have him skip his scheduled start on the final day of the season.

Keller also provides reason to believe he can continue to be an above-average major-league pitcher after being selected to his first All-Star Game. The command and control of his pitches continue to get better, and he is a very good self-evaluator when it comes to correcting mistakes.

Now the big question is whether Nutting will ever be willing to do what it takes to adequately fill in the roster around the long-term anchors.

The Pirates are hopeful some of the voids will be filled internally through scouting and player development. However, general manager Ben Cherington still has much to prove in those areas even in his fifth year on the job.

But all the help can come from within.

Sometimes some veterans are needed and not just players on the tail end of their careers who are willing to take steep pay cuts to continue playing. The largest contract the Pirates have ever given a free agent is $39 million over three years to Francisco Liriano during the 2014-15 offseason.

So, while it’s heartening to see the Pirates lock up their players, Nutting is going to have to write more checks before the franchise can break its 45-year World Series drought.

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