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Sandwiches, Sanders, and Seriously Good Hires

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

While several weeks ago we were all complaining about the deafening silence surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates’ lack of upper management, in recent weeks we have witnessed a flurry of activity to fill the vacant positions in the Bucco front office as well as on the field. This was no small task for Bob Nutting, who emphasized back in September just how important “getting these [hirings] right” was to the future of the organization.

For as much as I cannot stand his business tactics and strategies, I give Nutting a lot of credit for how the new management crew has taken shape; Travis Williams is a great young mind with the added bonus of being a Pittsburgh guy; Ben Cherington, while not my first choice for general manager, has a proven track record as a GM with a solid reputation in the industry; and Derek Shelton, a hitters-first coach from a similarly situated small market team in the Minnesota Twins already seems devoted to reversing the culture in the Pittsburgh clubhouse.

Not bad Bobby, not bad at all. Let’s pray it all continues.

With the major positions of president, GM, and skipper all filled, it’s time to get nitpicky!

Who the hell is Steve Sanders? Even better, why should anyone care who he is?

As assistant GM, he’s former first-lieutenant Kyle Stark’s replacement. I like to refer to Stark as former GM Neal Huntington’s lackey; NH as Dr. Jekyll mixed the potion while Stark grabbed the ingredients and together, they drank it until they both became Mr. Hyde and terrorized us with projections, veteranosity, and mediocrity.

Cherington has effectively cleaned house in the best way he knows how by replacing Stark with one of his own; he now has an interesting combination of veteran Pittsburgh front office members in Kevan Graves and Larry Broadway to go with the newly acquired Sanders.

Sanders has been described by many as an up and coming young mind in the baseball world, having already served under Cherington with the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays, his most recent position being the Director of Amateur Scouting in Toronto since September of 2016. Cherington stated that Sanders has a “commitment to continuous improvement in process and decision making.”

That quote alone is significant to me because it goes beyond typical GM-speak in one specific manner; Cherington identified the exact facet of the game of baseball in which Stark and Huntington failed so miserably. The former assistant GM, along with his boss, refused or just did not know how to adapt to an ever-changing game.

Sanders himself has echoed this need to adapt, to learn from mistakes, and not to commit to one stubborn path in building a baseball team. “It’s about learning from them and trying to take something from every one of those mistakes we make and trying to apply it to the next one, so hopefully we don’t make the same mistake again,” he told the Athletic in late August.

As a 31 year-old former pitcher for Northwestern, Sanders has firsthand knowledge of those who have it in this league compared to those who do not. Far from claiming he’s an infallible expert, the former Blue Jays’ scout admits he loses sleep over draft picks and FA signings that never work out. That is the passion this Pittsburgh team needs in the front office, as opposed to the arrogance I so often attribute to the former GM and his lackey(s). Sanders also made a comment to the Athletic that should also give Pirate fans another reason for optimism, this time concerning the MLB draft: “No draft has a set-in-stone strategy,” said writer Kaitlyn McGrath. “Instead — and Sanders recognizes the cliché but insists it’s true — each round the organization is looking to add the best player available and, eventually, classes will diversify to include the full gamut of players — from risky, high-upside high schoolers to trusty college pitchers.”

If this is any indication of Cherington’s strategy, selecting the best player available as opposed to filling specific needs or only targeting one kind of player (like tall, projectable right-handed prep pitchers), the organization will be in better hands than it has been. After all, Sanders and Cherington played a role in transforming the Blue Jays’ farm system from 24th in the league all the way up to 6th best.

The Pirates look to be making all the right moves with their front office as of late. Guys like Sanders and Graves alike bring bright futures with them, and their potential has a serious chance of being unlocked under a guy like Cherington.

In other news…

Derek Shelton has officially been baptized as a Yinzer; he made his first strip to the Strip District’s Primantis Bros. for a sandwich with pitcher Joe Musgrove the other day. Musgrove has been one of the most vocal Buccos concerning the new hires of Shelton as well as Cherington, voicing his excitement over both men on Twitter over the last several weeks. Perhaps another sign of just how far former manager Clint Hurdle and Huntington had fallen out of favor with the players.