Organizational Rankings: #26

Today, we round out the bottom five in our organizational rankings series. And, for those of you who haven’t seen the first four parts (which are linked below), keep in mind that this is a forward looking exercise – we are evaluating clubs on their overall ability to contend for a World Series title in the future. We are not evaluating how they have performed historically. This is about the health of each organization going forward.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins
#28: Houston Astros
#27: Kansas City Royals

#26: Pittsburgh Pirates

Ownership: B-

Under the old Kevin McClatchy regime, the Pirates were about as poorly run as any team in baseball. However, with Robert Nutting taking over the franchise in 2007 and bringing Frank Coonelly in to serve as the team president, the team has made significant strides in investing in the franchise with an eye towards winning. Their stadium is one of the nicest in the game, and with a winning product, should support a mid-level payroll. It will take a while to undo the disaster that was the McClatchy era, but the new ownership group is on the right path.

Front Office: B-

Among a Cleveland front office brimming with talent, Neil Huntington was often the forgotten man, living in the shadow of Chris Antonetti. However, since being hired as the Pirates GM, he’s shown that he’s brought a lot of valuable experience with him from the Indians model, and has worked extensively to upgrade the Pirates decision making processes. From hiring analysts like Dan Fox to modernizing the databases they have to compile information, Pittsburgh made a 180 degree turn from where they were under previous administrations. The Pirates were in rough shape when he took over, so a quick reload was out of the question, but Huntington has the Pirates headed in the right direction.

Major League Talent: D

When the Pirates decided that they didn’t want to invest in a long term deal for Jason Bay, they traded the only player on the roster who could be described as a star. The rest of the talent is a mixture of average-ish role players who will keep the team from being awful but won’t push it towards contention. Players like Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth, Paul Maholm, and Ryan Doumit are valuable enough players, but not the kind of championship core that you can build a winner around. There’s just limited upside with practically everyone on the roster, and while Huntington has done a good job picking up cheap stopgaps to hold down the fort until they develop some long term solutions, a roster full of +1 to +2 win players isn’t a foundation for long term success.

Minor League Talent: C

In contrast to the major league roster, there’s quite a bit of upside on the farm. Pedro Alvarez is one of the game’s best young hitters and worth every penny the Pirates paid him. Andrew McCutchen combines solid-enough offense with good defense in center field, and Jose Tabata intrigues with his offensive potential at such a young age. However, with higher reward often comes higher risk, and all these guys have some questions to answer – will Alvarez stay in good enough shape to be a reasonable defensive player? Can McCutchen hit for enough power to put some fear into opposing pitchers? Can Tabata put together a performance worthy of his tools for a full season? The star potential is certainly welcome, but the system is a bit thin on sure things (other than Alvarez’s bat) and is a bit lacking in depth.

Overall: C-

For Pirates fans, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. The problem, though, is that the tunnel is a few miles long thanks to the brutal work done by the previous front office. While the new ownership and organizational philosophies should eventually lead to the Pirates returning to respectability, they just don’t have a lot on hand to work with. Patience is going to be required of Pirates fans, because a real contender isn’t in the cards for the next few years. But, with a strong blueprint in place, once they get good, they could stay good for quite a while.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

11 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: #26”

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  1. Jeff Akston says:

    See, I’d say the Pirates are by far the worst. Because unlike any other “small market” or “low revenue” franchise, they don’t need to be. They choose to put a crappy product on the field every year and trade away anyone with a chance of being remotely expensive in the future.

    Pittsburgh is one of the most passionate sports towns in the country. They flock to the Steelers and Penguins year after year. The only reasons there isn’t a sell out in Pittsburgh every single game is because the team is consistently rubbish and any time a player starts to get good, they trade him.

    Following the Pirates is like following a college basketball team, you no that no matter how much you love a player, they’ll be gone in 4 years. And the better he is, the quicker he’ll leave town. It’s shameful.

    Immediately doubling their payroll (assuming they sign valuable chips and not just waste $4 MM on guys like Craig Montroe) would still result in a profitable franchise because fans would actually start caring about the team again.

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    • Raf says:

      They weren’t selling out when they were winning NL East titles either… As a matter of fact, I remember seeing plenty of empty seats during game 7 of the 91 NLCS.

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    • Mark says:

      First off, it’s Craig Monroe, and he was signed to a minor league deal and is not going to make anything remotely close to $4 million dollars. And doubling payroll at this point (at the expense of the draft and latin america) would result in a continuation of their former policy.

      That was exactly what the old regime did. They overpaid veterans (Joe Randa, Jeremy Burnitz, Jose Mesa, Pat Meares) at the expense of talent development.

      The current front office is finally putting investment in the draft and building a facility in the Dominican. The Pirates still have a long way to go, but they are on the right track and this kind of thinking will only hold them back.

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  2. ThundaPC says:

    The Pirates are going to be pretty interesting to follow. I was expecting them to be a little higher up but since we’re also taking the major and minor league systems into account it does seem like they have quite a bit of work cut out for them.

    The Pirates front office/ownership makeover reminds me a lot like what the Rays went through. This team will be good eventually but right now, I think they just got finished with phase 1 of seeing what this team is made out of. Now I assume they’re trying to establish a foundation to build off of.

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  3. Jacob Jackson says:

    I’m interested to see how these rankings will reflect the AL/NL disparity. Dave has stated several times that these rankings reflect a franchise’s ability to contend for a World Series title.

    Could we all agree that contending for a World Series title is an easier task in the NL than the AL?

    My point: So far, four of the worst five franchises are NL teams. There might be a few AL teams that are better than them, but in fact have a worse chance of contending for a World Series title – because they will perennially have to go through the Yankees and/or the Red Sox, and better competition in general.

    The Blue Jays, for example, are much better than the five aforementioned teams. But what are their odds of breaking the Red Sox/Yankees/Rays(?) stranglehold in the next 5 years?

    As the knowledge gaps between front offices are bridged – and the wealthy teams are just as smart as the upstarts – it’s difficult to project a time when the Jays will have a leg up on that division.

    They are clearly better talent-wise than each of the bottom five. But the criteria is their ability to compete for a title.

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  4. Jason T says:

    For me, it’s been nice to have a non-’DaVE CameroN! SUX!!!!’ thread.

    I, for no real reason, cheer for the Pirates. Perhaps it’s having been an M’s fan in the 80′s and ‘feeling their pain’.

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  5. Yousif says:

    very poorly written

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  6. Tim Redding says:

    Need an ace SP? I’m your boy.

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  7. So i simply point out you actually establish quite a few excellent points and I will submit a number of good ideas to add to briefly.

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  8. Benne says:

    It will take them a while to clean up the mess Littlefield left behind, but the Pirates are going to be a real interesting team to watch for the next 3-5 years.

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  9. Raf says:

    Hopefully. It would be nice to see pennant race baseball in Pittsburgh again.

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