PITTSBURGH -- After three straight trips to the postseason capped by a 98-win campaign in 2015, the Pirates took a step back last year. They've fallen further behind this season, entering Tuesday night six games below .500 and 7 1/2 games out of a postseason spot.
But Pirates chairman Bob Nutting and president Frank Coonelly showed their belief in the leadership of general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle on Tuesday by extending their contracts through the 2021 season. But what is their vision going forward?
"What allows us to be excited about the future is the present," Huntington said. "We have a good core of young players that are gaining invaluable experience. We have another wave coming behind. There's another wave behind that."
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Over the last two years, the Pirates have introduced that young core -- Felipe Rivero, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Adam Frazier, Elias Diaz and Tyler Glasnow, to name a few. Aside from Andrew McCutchen, most of the current club is under contractual control through 2019, Starling Marte through '21 and Gregory Polanco through '23.
Cost-controlled talent is critical to any Major League team's success, but the importance is magnified for lower-payroll clubs. As Huntington and Hurdle discussed their decision to return, both pointed to the young talent either on the Pirates' roster or coming up through their system as a reason to believe they are close to winning again.
"Collectively, this group has a chance to be very significant and special, I believe," Hurdle said.
Added Huntington: "That means there's good things coming for us in the future as we continue to plug in young players and look to supplement them via trade and free agency."
It is no secret the Pirates operate under different constraints than their high-revenue competition. Huntington and Hurdle both referenced the challenges of winning in a smaller market like Pittsburgh and their desire to do so together.
"We've had successes together. We've had some failures together. We've gotten to see how both of us react through all of that," Hurdle said. "Yes, it was important. The relationships I've developed with Bob and Frank were just as important, though, because this is a model that's unique. You need to know the model. I know the model. I understand. I get to spend time in a lot of different meetings here. When you know the rules and you know the model, OK, let's roll our sleeves up and go to work."
The last two years, however, the Pirates' average attendance at PNC Park has fallen from 15th in the Majors in 2015 (30,846) to 18th last year (28,112) and 25th this year (24,241).
How can Huntington and Hurdle help the Pirates spark fans' interest again? To them, it's simple -- and one of their goals as they return for four more years.
"We put a team on the field that they love to come and see play. The easy answer to that is we win more," Huntington said. "To draw that next group of fans back out, we need to put a team worthy of their support on the field, and we show up every day to work hard to do that. We know we need to do that again.
"We have a great core [of fans], an outstanding core, and we're appreciative of that. We've got to put a good team on the field to reward them and to bring other people out."