Frank Coonelly said this afternoon that Neal Huntington and his front office staff (plus Clint Hurdle, depending on how you read the statement, which mentions him with Huntington and Stark and Smith once and doesn't a second time) would be retained for the 2013 season, which puts most of the questions about Huntington's immediate future with the Pirates to bed. It's true that it's possible that Bob Nutting could make a different decision, but it seems wildly implausible that Coonelly would make the statement he made today without Nutting's approval and the fact remains that if the Pirates were planning on firing Huntington, they'd have to be doing it right now, so it's pretty likely that this is the team's decision as it relates to the front office.
I'm sure we'll spend plenty of time discussing this over the next ten days, but the initial reaction that I could judge (at least among Twitter-savvy Pirate fans) was that a lot of people were unhappy to see Huntington and his staff get a vote of confidence and another year after a second straight mammoth collapse. It's certainly true that Huntington bears some of the responsibility for these collapses, but I can't help but feel like that sentiment is basing a huge decision on a small sample size and that doing that isn't fair to Huntington. Imagine if the Pirates had announced an extension for Huntington on August 1st; the team was 60-44 and had won 40 of their last 60 games and everyone would've applauded and said it was well-deserved, and we'd all be LIVID now that the decision wasn't even made based on a full season's worth of data. You don't evaluate GMs on 60 games or even 162 games, you evaluate them on a body of work. The Pirates' collapses in 2011 and 2012 are part of Neal Huntington's body of work, sure, but they're not the whole thing.
When a team is faced with a decision like this one, I think everyone's inclination is to simplify it as much as possible. "The Pirates collapsed this year, so Neal Huntington deserves to be fired," or, "The Pirates are much better off than they were in 2007 or 2010, so Neal Huntington deserves another year." The reality is that neither of these things are necessarily wrong; it's that the question, "Should Neal Huntington and his staff come back for 2013" isn't one question, it's the sum of countless smaller questions. All of the smaller questions inform the final question, but it's not something that's easy or straightforward.
Allow me to make the case for Neal Huntington.
After the 2007 season, he was hired to take over a disaster of a franchise. The Pirates were going nowhere in 2007. They were built around Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay and Xavier Nady and Adam LaRoche and Ian Snell and Paul Maholm and Zach Duke. Those players were never destined for more than mediocrity together, and there was no help coming from the minor leagues. Worst of all, they had an expiration date of 2009. Bay, Sanchez, Wilson, LaRoche, and Nady were all going to be free agents after that season (or earlier) and the Pirates had almost no prospects except for Andrew McCutchen to take their place. Things were B-L-E-A-K when Huntington took over, and the Pirates were bad in 2008 and 2009 and they were awful in 2010. Since then, though, things are better. 57 wins to 73 wins to 77-79 wins, that's real improvement. The foundation is here with McCutchen and Alvarez and Walker and maybe even Snider and Marte. Cole and Taillon are coming, and no one's got a pitching calvary like that on the way. Huntington's nearly cobbled contenders together in 2011 and 2012, despite under-talented teams and despite a losing-induced stigma that prevents any free agent from coming anywhere near Pittsburgh over the winter. Really, though, the heavy lifting is done, so now we fill in the blanks. This is the easy part! Huntington's brought this team a long way from the Littlefield apocalypse, it's only fair to him that he be allowed one more season to see it through.
Now, allow me to make the case against Neal Huntington.
After five years on the job, what do the Pittsburgh Pirates have to show for the Neal Huntington era? Nothing. He dismantled Littlefield's mediocre Pirate teams in hopes of building a winner sooner, and instead his 2010 Pirates lost 105 games. Since then, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker have done a ton of heavy lifting on these near-contender Pirates, and he didn't draft either one of them. Almost all of his trades have been disasters. The Pirates have a better farm system, but it's not as good as you'd expect it to be based on the money spent on the draft since 2007 and it's not even good enough to ensure that it'll fill in the gaps with this flawed 2012 Pirate team. This team has the beginnings of a contender, but clearly needs more help to get over the top and Huntington can't sign a useful free agent to save his life! How good would the 2012 Pirates have been with real, living, breathing baseball players in the place of Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes and Erik Bedard? Would that kind of upgrade alone been enough for a playoff spot?
I'm being perfectly honest when I say that I've vacillated between both of these positions in 2012 and so I'm not lying when I say that I honestly think that you could make either case without being wrong. The Pirates farm system IS much better than it was when Huntington took over, but I'm also not sure that it's as good as it could be with the amount of money spent on it. The Pirates HAVE come a long way since that brutal 2010 season, but I'm not sure Huntington can use Dave Littlefield as an excuse in 2012. It IS awfully hard to convince good baseball players to come play for the Pirates, so who's fault is it for turning to the free agent market to fill key positions on the 2012 team? A big part of the Pirates' success in 2012 is due to scrap-heap guys like Garrett Jones and Mike McKenry and AJ Burnett. A big part of the Pirates' collapse in 2012 is due to a supporting cast that couldn't manage to support McCutchen and Alvarez and Walker over 162 games, which includes Barmes and Barajas and Bedard.
The Pirates have come a long way since 2007. Neal Huntington deserves credit for that. The Pirates have a long way to go to get somewhere meaningful. Neal Huntington might be the right general manager to get them there, but he also might not be. I'm not sure. Frank Coonelly seems to be. I hope he's right.
Improvement or not over the past five years,I can't see how you can possibly carry Hurdle and Huntingdon over for next season from the business/marketing perspective . Anyone who has watched Clint Hurdle the past two August and September periods can see what his shortcomings are. In game decisions and handling of the pitching staff explains why he has had one winning season in his Major League Managing career.
Good post. I don’t like the complaints about “we should have more in the draft, we don’t, so it must have been a waste.” I think it would be worthwhile to figure out a meaningful way to compare the money we spent on the draft to what that money would have got us in free agency. True, I wish the money on the draft had produced more at this point. (And I know, we don’t really know what we have in terms of major league players yet.) But, I wonder what that same amount of money would have got us in free agency. I doubt it would have got us very much. Pirate Prospects just put up a good article about the value of free agents last year and it didn’t really look that good. And, if we had spent the money on free agents instead of the draft, then we could be looking at 5-10 more wins a year the last few years, but we still wouldn’t have got to the playoffs, and our minor league system that we do have would not be there.
A good, balanced post, Pat (though if it were up to me, both Huntington and Hurdle would be fired). I guess the key question is, what should the consequences be of what will likely be an unprecedented and historic collapse? (see: http://espn.go.com/mlb/blog/_/name/stark_jayson/id/8420733/pittsburgh-pirates-trying-avoid-wrong-kind-history-mlb )
I was willing to give Huntington a pass for last year, because it was obvious to all that they weren't really that good. But this year, the peripheral numbers supported the Pirates' ascension to 16 games over .500, and the collapse has included many losses against teams that are supposedly less talented.
An oft-cited definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". IMO, it would be utterly illogical to keep the same front office (and manager) after two second half collapses in a row.
Reading some of these posts just confirm my suspicions that the Pirates will never truely compete for anything while Nutting owns this team. Unfortunately we all know that won't happen unless the idiots that go to the games stop and since most don't seem to care about watching good baseball they'll continue to fill the stands.
I'm not really much of a NH fan but (insanity of the past month and a half aside) I do like Hurdle and I guess you can't keep one without the other. So I can't really quibble with bringing him back for another year. I still think NH has no idea how to effectively shift from rebuilding mode to contender mode but I guess he deserves one more year to figure it out.
Although I'm not sure what we're going to learn next year. The pitching staff looks to be a mess heading into 2013 and if the offense drops off even a tick, I can see this team not even being in the hunt. In which case the rallying cry will be "Wait until Cole and Taillon are both here in 2014 & 2015. That's when the Pirates will finally be contenders!" And we'll be having this discussion all over again.
Wash, rinse, repeat. Waiting 'til next year for a year that never actually comes.
@whygavs - Damn you - it makes sense!! Guess they ARE better, just haven't gotten good enough for postseason...
A question I have is this: Did this year show enough promise to the rest of the league that free agents will at least be a little more receptive to coming to Pittsburgh? That would be a significant development if so.
@whygavs , thoughtful article on the front office this morning. It makes you take a step back and really question yourself. Great job.
The key is not what Huntington has done in the past, but if he is the GM to take the next step. He's done a good job rebuilding the farm system and increasing the talent level in the system. But over the next 5 years, we need a GM who is going to acquire the major league talent to fill in around what we have to make us true contenders. There is almost nothing to suggest Huntington has the skills to do that. He's been an abject failure on the free agent market and his trading record is mediocre at best
The case against is a lot more persuasive to me. The Pirates have spent more money than any other team in the major leagues on amateur talent acquisition since Huntington's hiring, and now have at best a mediocre major league team and a mediocre farm system to show for it. This is very much analogous to a team like the Yankees outspending everyone else on major league players and winning 80 games. When that happens, people get fired.
On balance Huntington's body of work is underwhelming, to put it politely. And fire years IS a long enough sample to evaluate. The Pirates haven't had their contention window short-circuited by an undue number of injuries to young players; they just haven't drafted and/or developed very well. And based on what I see in the farm system, I have serious doubts the Pirates are going to exceed 2012's win total before McCutchen leaves.
Also, continuing to gainfully employ Clint Hurdle is seriously an enormous hideous stain on any GM's record.
And now for some grammar lawyering before I go: I think the word you were looking for is 'cavalry'. Calvary was the (anglicized) Greek name for a hill outside Jerusalem where the ancient Romans executed criminals.
@Dejan_Kovacevic @KDPomp I'm curious for early reports on season ticket purchases for next season version of "TRAIN WRECK"
I don't really have an issue with keeping Huntington or even Stark for another year.
Why they want to give Clint Hurdle another year to use Pedro and Garrett Jones to bunt runners over seems to be the new definition of insanity though.
@Dejan_Kovacevic I just look at this from a business perspective & there's just no way a corporation allows this to happen with no fall guy.
That's a fair conclusion, in a sense--but it begs the question, what exactly did Huntington do or not do that lead to the collapse?
@MattGajtka Free agents go where the money is. End of story. All this "Nobody will come here because we stink" stuff is, frankly, bullshit. Milwaukee had a really good team that made the playoffs a few years back and even though they made a very competitive offer to CC Sabathia, he still signed with the Yankees because they offered him even bigger money. The Rays are one of the best franchises in baseball and they do the same dumpster diving we do. The bottom line on free agents is you only get what you're willing to pay for. Period.
I think your first sentence is spot-on; it's a different skill set to re-build a farm system than it is to put the final touches on a team to prepare it to win right now, and I think it's an open question if Huntington is the man to do the latter. I would take issue with the "abject failure" terminology in reference to free agent signings--the Pirates' purse strings do limit who they can pursue, and if you offer an Edwin Jackson more money and more years than the team he signs with...well, there's only so much you can do in a situation like that. I'd also characterize his trading record as "mixed" more than "mediocre at best." Still, the basic premise of your statement--that a good record re-building is not a guarantee that he can finish the job--is absolutely true in my estimation.
@wkkortas What Carnegie Chip said.
I'd also like to note that Brad Lincoln was one of the reasons the Pirates bullpen was so successful this summer. Trading Lincoln for Travis Snider is defensible (if he can stay healthy), but Huntington's most egregious move was then effectively replacing Lincoln with Chad "Ipecac" Qualls.
@wkkortas Lack of organizational depth and failure to add pieces that would put a contender over the top fall directly on the GM.
@Carnegie Chip The Edwin Jackson situation was what I was thinking about, but maybe that's an outlier?
But Chip, the Pirates offered Edwin Jackson more money and more years than the Nats did, and he still went to Washington. How do you explain that?
@wkkortas I just didn't feel like typing out a real long comment. Wandy and Gaby are token moves, those aren't "over the top" moves. Trading for CC Sabathia is an over the top move. Not saying this was the year to go all in but if it was, he didn't do what he needed to do in that regard.
As for organizational depth, they didn't have any starting pitching to take over when JMac turned into JSuck and Jeff Karstens got hurt. Locke and MacPherson are just Duke and Gorzo redux. When Kevin Correia is your best option, that's on the GM. They didn't have any effective relievers in AAA so when Lincoln was traded and the other guys (like Resop and Watson) began to falter, the bullpen fell apart. The failure of Tabata and Presley meant they had to trade perhaps their best bargaining chip (Lincoln) for a corner OF, who has contributed very little.
I could go on but I don't feel like rehashing this depressing season. You like NH, I get it. I think he's made a ton of mistakes. Way more than the Pirates could afford. I've mentioned many times that I follow the Rays since my folks live in Tampa. Andrew Friedman (Rays GM) has the same plan as NH and operates under the exact same constraints but he's implemented the plan about a billion times better than NH has. I think the problem with a lot of the pro-NH people are they confuse the fact he has a GREAT PLAN with implementing that great plan.
NH wins on the former but has failed pretty badly in the latter.
But he added a very good starting pitcher in Wandy Rodriguez at the deadline, plus a right-handed partner for Jones in Sanchez (and I freely admit I hated the trade). As far as organizational depth...well, they had the depth to get to sixteen games over .500--are you saying that the lack of organizational depth caught up with them at that EXACT moment? Frankly, Chip, you're answering a question looking for specifics with a blanket platitude.
I live in the DC area to I can provide some perspective from this market.
1. Watching the Redskins win the offseason while the Steelers continue on a stready pace makes me think we shouldn't rush into firing the GM.
2. The Nationals had to severely overpay for Jason Werth to get agents to believe that they were serious about building a contending team. The lesson here is its much harder to get free agents than you might think.
From a top level perspective, Huntington inherited a mess and has brought them to where they have contended two years in a row. He deserves more time.
You could convice me to fire Hurdle because the team collapsed, AGAIN, and in the month of Sept they lost 5 out of 7 to the Cubs, 2 of 3 to the Astros, and 2 of 3 (so far) to the Mets. Seriously WTF?
@wkkortas You're picking and choosing the exceptions and trying to claim it's the rule. 99 times out of 100, the player goes for the money. Yes there are cases here and there where a guy takes less to play for a contender or whatever but they are few and far between.
Believe what you wish but if you think the Pirates finishing .500 means they'll suddenly start getting a higher class of free agent than the Kevin Corrieas or Erik Bedards then you're just setting yourself up for disappointment.
Yes, but ditto Roy Oswalt as well--at least in the sense that Oswalt's reps apparently didn't even want to have the conversation. Obviously, money is the top priority for free agents, especially the top-tier guys, but there are guys (Cliff Lee comes to mind, and Carl Crawford depending on who you believe) who have turned down bigger money to go to places where they were more comfortable or more likely to win. To assert the money is the only thing that determines where free agents sign is simply untrue.
@wkkortas because after failing to secure the long term deal he wanted, Jackson and his agent took the one year flyer in Washington to rebuild his value with a team they felt was closer to contending.