One question I get asked over and over by frustrated fans is why can’t the Pittsburgh Pirates be more like the Tampa Bay Rays?
The Pirates are a low-budget team like the Rays. Yet while the Rays play in perhaps the worst stadium in the major leagues in Tropicana Field, the Pirates play in perhaps the best facility in PNC Park.
Yet the Rays have made it to the postseason four years in a row and eight of the last 15 seasons despite usually not having a much bigger than the Pirates. The Pirates have been to the postseason just three times since 1993 and haven’t won a playoff series since 1979.
So why are the Rays so successful and the Pirates often so dreadful? A lesson just might come in the Pirates’ negotiations with center fielder Bryan Reynolds over a contract extension.
As of the last report, the Pirates and Reynolds were not close on a deal. Reynolds has been seeking eight years and $134 million and the Pirates are offering six years and $80 million.
The talks reached an impasse in early December and Reynolds requested a trade.
Though Reynolds’s request stands, he has made it clear he is amenable to resuming negotiations. The Pirates also say they want to keep Reynolds.
Yet the only contact either side apparently has had was last week when Reynolds and owner Bob Nutting chatted near the batting cage two days in a row during spring training workouts in Bradenton, Fla.
Both Nutting and Reynolds said there was no exchange of contract ideas during their conversations.
However, Nutting said something about the talks that raised eyebrows – at least mine. Nutting said he talked to Reynolds to make sure the 28-year-old did not take the Pirates’ offer as being disrespectful.
On one hand, it was a nice move by Nutting to seek out Reynolds and make sure there weren’t any hurt feelings. It shows that, contrary to the perception of many fans and some media members, Nutting does care.
The depth of his caring can be questioned, though, as the Pirates’ player payroll is annually among the lowest in the major leagues.
Reynolds did not say he was insulted by the Pirates’ offer. In fact, he has gone out of his way to not criticize the team when discussing the negotiations.
However, that Nutting felt his best player might have been insulted by the Pirates is a poor reflection of the organization’s culture.
I get a strong feeling that interpersonal relationships aren’t the Pirates’ strength.
Nutting could be described as a bit shy and the same goes for team president Travis Williams. Neither likes to be the public face of the franchise and both usually avoid the media.
That leaves general manager Ben Cherington with the job of being the public spokesman for the franchise. He is not necessarily suited for the role, either.
Cherington is a brilliant guy and well-respected throughout baseball. I’ve yet to ever meet one person in the game who has uttered a bad word about him.
Cherington is also a very nice guy but a bit introverted, which causes him to come off as less than dynamic in interview situations.
That brings us back to the Rays.
I asked Erik Neander, their president of baseball operations, a few years ago if it bothered him that many outside the organization look at the Rays’ front office as a group of people who do nothing but hide behind laptops.
The Pirates have developed a similar reputation.
“The analytics are important to our success as an organization,” Neander said. “When in doubt, though, humanity always comes first. Baseball is still a people business. I don’t think we’ve ever lost sight of that.”
Because of the natures of Nutting, Williams and Cherington, it often appears the Pirates forget baseball is a people-driven business.
Nutting showed some humanity in those conversations with Reynolds at Pirate City, though. It would be nice to see more of it coming from the Pirates.