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Nutting ventured, Nutting gained?

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Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

After the Pittsburgh Pirates’ dismal 2019 campaign, it was no surprise that manager Clint Hurdle’s head was the first on the chopping block even before the season officially ended. Many Pirates fans grumbled that this was the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Then came the announcement on October twenty-third that team president Frank Coonelly was leaving, with owner Bob Nutting seemingly overemphasizing that it was a mutual parting of the ways and not an outright canning. That new president Travis Williams stepped in almost immediately afterward lent some doubt to the protests. The final hammer came down yesterday, when general manager Neal Huntington was terminated. Since Nutting has a reputation of holding on to both dollars and people he likes until they scream, the news of Huntington’s firing made many sit up and take notice.

Totally cleaning upper management house is something that Pirates fans have wanted Nutting to do for a long time. However encouraging it is, it’s only a small step, something that Nutting admitted in Monday’s press conference introducing Williams.

And, as usual, he avoided directly answering questions about money, or the lack of spending thereof.

Yes, the Pirates are a small market team, there’s no getting around that. When being a small market team is turned into an excuse, as Nutting is wont to do, it naturally raises questions about how committed ownership is to putting a good team on the field. Maybe the Bucs can’t afford the likes of Stephen Strasburg or Mike Trout, but it should be willing to cough up a bit to keep a good player, much as another small market team, the Milwaukee Brewers, did with Ryan Braun and may do with Christian Yelich.

Nutting’s hiring of Williams is a step in the right direction. Williams may have cut his administrative teeth on hockey, but Nutting’s known him for years (see: hanging on to people he likes) and Williams was there when the Penguins transitioned from GM Ray Shero to current GM Jim Rutherford. His influence in loosening up the New York Islanders’ purse strings may very well come into play into getting Nutting to do the same.

As with everything Pirates-related right now, it’s much too early to tell what’s going to happen. It seems, though, that Bob Nutting just might be listening to fans’ gripes. A successful Pirates team is going to increase his bottom line, so there’s that for the cynics. At the same time, though, in a city of champions, he may finally be ready to do what it takes to join that crew.