A little under a week ago, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Jason Mackey reported that two “familiar” candidates had emerged in the Pirates’ hunt for a new general manager. Current interim GM Kevan Graves, a Pirates employee since 2008, and Ben Cherington, former Red Sox general manager and World Series winner both bring relative youth (at ages 38 and 45 respectively), but will either of these two candidates provide a much-needed, drastically new direction for this organization in their baseball operations department?
My gut says no.
Graves is a young, up and coming assistant GM who will probably be hired by a major league ball club as their GM sooner rather than later. Given the right fit and the resources he needs, I can see him faring fine as the head of a baseball operations department. But spending 10-plus years under Huntington does not bode well in terms of a new direction for the team; one can surmise that Graves could and would do more of the same in terms of Huntington’s weak maneuvering tactics in free agency, trades, drafting, and development, all with the guise of “but it’s different than Neal did it!”
Cherington would be a more interesting hire because of his past success with the Red Sox. Winning a World Series counts for something, right? Eh.
Cherington won his championship with Boston, an organization with unlimited resources playing in a large market. The Red Sox have spent so freely that the luxury tax has become a serious danger for them in the past few years. Cherington is also inextricably linked to Hungtington; the two are both from New Hampshire, went to Amherst College, and worked for the Cleveland Indians.
So can Pirate fans expect more of the same from the GM hiring process? While there’s some hope that neither of these two candidates will be Neal 2.0, there’s more reason for optimism in the form of a newly emergent name in the race over the past few days.
Brewers senior vice president and assistant general manager Matt Arnold has emerged as a frontrunner for the vacant position. This is my personal choice for the Pirates’ front office; Arnold comes from an organization that has wholly embraced analytics and forward ways of thinking when it comes to player acquisition, roster construction, and “scientific integration” per Tim Williams at Pirates Prospects. Arnold would be a breath of fresh air in a front office that has fallen critically behind other clubs in all three of these areas since 2015.
There has also been a rumor, per Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, that Cherington was/is interviewing for the position of vice president of baseball operations with the organization, leaving Arnold and Graves to fill the GM vacancy. I find this somewhat hard to believe given Nutting’s affection for his wallet; why would he pay two guys to do the job that one could do?
I personally would love for the Buccos to hire a VP of baseball operations as well as a GM to split up the duties of running a front office. Huntington holding both positions over his tenure gave him unilateral control of all things baseball, which was great when things were going well and he was at the top of his game, but proved to be a major peril when he clung to his beliefs in .500 baseball and remaining competitive.
The good news is that this hire should be resolved within the next few days, hopefully with an announcement about the new hire on Monday. As these final three candidates return for a second round of interviews, one can only hope the Pirates make the right decision for their future. Until then, I’ll personally be crossing my fingers for Arnold.
As reported by MLB.com reporter Mark Feinsand and corroborated by MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the third external GM candidate for the Pirates front office is Houston Astros assistant general manager Pete Putila. Graves is still in the running for the position and is the only internal candidate in line for the job. Putila interviewed immediately following the World Series and has been somewhat of a dark-horse candidate. Arnold and Cherington are still seen as the favorites, but Putila brings a championship pedigree complete with an analytical embrace and a cutting-edge mentality to the table. It will be hard to overlook the Astros’ success when entertaining him as a possibility to fill the position despite Houston finds themselves in a world of trouble as of late.