Bob Nutting spoke to the media earlier this week. You probably saw that he mentioned Andrew McCutchen (essentially reiterating the Pirates’ stance that they love him but they aren’t going to re-sign him) and noted that he was pleased with Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle but wasn’t quite ready to extend their contracts.
He also, however, addressed the Pirates’ approach to the draft and the Latin American amateur market (link for subscribers only).
“We cannot lose sight of how essential it is to bring talent into the organization. That absolutely is why we are where we are today. Whether it’s continuing to be very aggressive in the amateur draft or it’s being very aggressive sourcing and finding talent under the new system — which isn’t quite a draft, it’s still a resource cap but a higher one, but a relatively flat cap among all teams.” ...
“At the broadest picture of how we allocate dollars, I think we need to have a commitment never to back away on the amateur draft again. That hurt us for years,” Nutting said. ... “We cannot back away. I told the story recently that my first trip down to the Dominican was 2007. It was an eye-opener for me. ... It took two years to get a facility built. It took another five years before the first player who had gone through that full program was prepared to play on the major league club — Polanco. To be able to see a seven-year cycle and commitment play out reinforced that you have to be patient, but you absolutely have to commit to talent acquisition when you can.”
There are a number of issues here. One is that the Pirates are currently hamstrung in the draft by the new bonus pools implemented prior to the 2012 season. Since then, the Pirates have generally spent as much as they reasonably can in the draft without incurring the draconian penalties for substantially exceeding their pool, which is about all we can expect from them. It’s debatable at best, though, whether they have a scouting advantage over the rest of the league in the draft, and when you win and don’t get high draft picks (as was the case for them the last several drafts), it’s not easy to get premium talent there.
The Pirates’ approach to Latin America is a different story. Nutting does, of course, deserve credit for getting the Pirates’ Dominican academy built, and for authorizing some big expenditures before the international pool system went into place.
But that was years ago, and under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Pirates were tentative at best in the international market while other teams were bold. Unlike with the draft, the penalties for dramatically exceeding one’s international bonus pool shouldn’t have been a consistent impediment to actually doing so. Each year, other teams blew past their pool figures, enabling them to sign several top talents in a single season. Some of the players from those spending sprees, such as Yoan Moncada and Gleyber Torres, are now among the best prospects in the game.
The Pirates never did that, and they’ve paid for it. The Bucs’ farm system is very strong overall, but as WTM has pointed out, there isn’t nearly as much talent in the lower levels as there is in the higher ones. The lack of top talent from Latin America is a big reason why.
Under the new CBA, the Pirates’ approach might change. Teams’ international bonus pools are more equal, so the Pirates won’t be restricted nearly as much relative to other teams as they were when they were a winning team in the prior CBA. In fact, for the signing period that begins later this year, the Pirates’ $5.75 million bonus pool is as big as anyone’s.
More importantly, we won’t see two or three teams dominate the Latin American market each year, the way we have in the recent past. The new system has hard caps, so it’s impossible for teams to spend several times their pool amount. That means the Pirates can stay within the rules and still have access to consensus top talents every so often, if those are the players they want.
We’ll see how the Pirates’ approach to Latin America changes. It’s frustrating to me, though, that they never took advantage of the ability to blow past their pool, incur penalties and sign a ton of interesting players.