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Tim Benz: If Neal Huntington was sincere about adding to Pirates, he’d do it now

Tim Benz
GTRBucs04022318
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates chairman Bob Nutting talks with general manager Neal Huntington during a visit to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

We hear it all the time. “The Pirates are run like a business.”

Sometimes that turn of phrase is used as a defense of their payroll strategies. Sometimes it’s used as the ultimate indictment of them.

Either way, it’s true. The Pirates clearly prioritize profit over performance. Otherwise, why would they have traded Gerrit Cole as he was approaching a major payday? Why would they have dealt team legend Andrew McCutchen with one year remaining on a contract that would be deemed affordable by most other organizations?

Those were just two personnel subtractions that were made — along with numerous other “keeps” and additions that failed to occur — that suggested the bottom line in the bank statement is more important than the bottom line of the win-loss record.

Well, now more than ever, Bob Nutting and his deputies — namely president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington — need to run the Pirates like a business.

A new business. One that just moved into the neighborhood. One that hasn’t built up a consumer base or name cachet yet.

So when Huntington says, as he did Sunday, that the Pirates will “continue to look to add to this club if we can,” then they better do it.

When Huntington doubled down by claiming the organization has “had more conversations about adding players, at this point in time, than subtracting players,” then he better add before this 36-36 club comes off the rails.

It needs the help. Frankly, it probably has exceeded expectations to this point anyway.

If these alleged plans to improve the roster don’t materialize, and players are subtracted once the wild card becomes out of reach, the chasm of distrust between the fan base and the front office will become even more vast.

If the Pirates are going to add, add quickly. Don’t give time an opportunity to change your mind.

New businesses that don’t deliver on promises turn off potential customers. And let’s face facts. Based on how attendance has dropped this year, the Pirates basically are starting off as a new business. They are starting from scratch with this fan base.

Many loyal, die-hards have tuned out thanks to disinterest or actively are staying away out of anger. The goodwill established thanks to that three-year wild-card run has evaporated. Plus, for as beautiful as PNC Park still is, it’s 17 years old. There’s no one left in Pittsburgh saying, “Gee, I’d like to see that new stadium someday. I just haven’t gotten ’round to it n’at.”

So “Team Nutting” not only needs to reconstruct its batting order, starting rotation and bullpen, it needs to reconstruct its fan base.

Manager Clint Hurdle was fond of using the phrase “rebonding with the fan base” when he got hired in 2011. Huntington was loath to use the word “rebuild” this winter. Whatever “re”-tasking this business is facing with its customers is something larger than both of those.

How about “resurrecting?” Is that a dramatic enough picture to paint? Honestly, at this point, it still may be an understatement.

If Huntington doesn’t pay off on those quotes, the Pirates’ bad reputation as a business that doesn’t give its consumers what it claims only gets further entrenched.

Let’s say there is a tavern in your neighborhood. It’s a dive. You stopped going years ago.

The owner shuts it down for two-and-a-half years, then reopens it with a new name. He claims you’ll like it better this time because they’ve got a few new taps, and they serve pizza now.

But when you walk back in, the floor sticks worse than it did, that old stale beer stench is even stronger, the popcorn machine still doesn’t work and that weird old guy at the end of the bar hasn’t left his stool near the video poker machine.

You probably aren’t going to go back in again, are you?

Well, that’s what this management team has turned PNC Park into. The local watering hole that went from a hip tavern to a nuisance bar overnight.

So here’s a little advice for Huntington: don’t tell your patrons about exciting new additions, then just deliver with a new welcome mat and a fresh coat of paint.

You did that already recently. You called him Drew Hutchison. That didn’t work out so well.

And definitely don’t sell off the dartboards and the pool table to make it worse.

For the record, I didn’t believe the sales jobs of the past. I’m not buying this one, either.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH.

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