The Method To Pirates GM Neal Huntington’s Team Building Strategy

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Tuesday March 12, 2013

Neal Huntington was named General Manager by the Pirates in 2007 and has yet to produce a winning season.

Neal Huntington was named General Manager by the Pirates in 2007 – and has yet to produce a winning season.  Expectations are becoming higher with each passing year.  The Pirates are the only NL Team not to make the playoffs since the 1994 Lockout.

Bernie Olshansky (Baseball Writer):

There is no question that the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone through their fair share of struggles. They have not had a winning season since 1992, and the closest the team has come to a .500 season was last year, when they went 79 – 83. It looks, though, as if there is light at the end of the tunnel for Pirates fans. 

General Manager Neal Huntington has made some nice moves to strengthen the team since he was named in 2007.

He immediately went to work, hiring a new manager and making major trades up to the 2008 trading deadline. One of two major trades included sending Xavier Nady to the Yankees for pitchers, notably Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, and Outfielder Jose Tabata.

The second major trade was sending Jason Bay to the Red Sox for Brandon Moss, Andy Laroche, and others. Although these deals never really came to fruition, Huntington made it clear that he would not stand idly by and let his team suffer.

Pittsburgh Pirates Highlights – Mature Lyrics so Parental Guidance is advised:

Picking up Rodriguez and having the Astros eat some of the salary was a great move for Huntington.  The Pirates need to think outside the box like this to secure Starting Pitchers.  It beats paying for them in an over - bloated Free Agent Market.

Picking up Rodriguez and having the Astros eat some of the salary was a great move for Huntington. The Pirates need to think outside the box like this to secure Starting Pitchers. It beats paying for them in an over – bloated Free Agent Market deal.  Look for the GM to do another similar trade for this years Deadline.

One of the qualities that makes Neal Huntington such a good GM is his creativity. The Pirates are never a major contender on a big Free Agent. Knowing this, Huntington went after Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett when they still had a year left on their contracts. This year, the Pirates will have both pitchers due to the crafty trade Huntington made in 2012.

Another large part of this deal was the fact that Rodriguez and Burnett’s former teams eat their contracts. Making these trades is a cheap way for Huntington to improve the team without having to make a major play on a Free Agent. 

Now they did take a flyer on veteran Francisco Liriano, however that is contingent on the Left – Hander staying off of the DL with his wonky arm.  The base salary for 2013 is only a $1 MIL.  If they can get the 2010 or 2006 version of the former Twins Pitcher, this deal will make him look even that much better.

Liriano is a bit of a risk for the $1 MIL base salary - and his Team Option cold bite the club for next year (if Liriano plays the majority of the year, pitches poorly - and makes $5 MIL, $6 MIL or $8 MIL.

Liriano is a bit of a risk for the $1 MIL base salary – and his Team Option cold bite the club for next year (if Liriano plays the majority of the year, pitches poorly – and makes $5 MIL, $6 MIL or $8 MIL for the 2014 season.)

The Pirates might have enough money to sign one major Free Agent. But, if they did this, they most likely would not have the money in the future to resign Outfielder Andrew McCutchen (whom they signed to a 6 YR / $51.5 Million deal through 2017). Also, coming up in the near future to the big club is highly regarded prospect Gerrit Cole.

The team has threatened for the NL Central Division lead during the 1st 4 months of the last 2 campaigns.  This is quite normal for a young club.  Playing in a pennant race can take its toll on young inexperienced clubs.  Huntington went out and signed a veteran leader in Russell Martin for the immediate future.

Martin struggled to start the 2012 year at about .200 near the ASG.  He had a 2nd Half 3 Slash Line of .242/.332/.777 - with 13 HRs and 32 RBI in just 205 AB.  These are closer to his career totals.  He is a great game caller and should help the Pitching Staff immensely for the Bucs

Martin struggled to start the 2012 year at about .200 near the ASG. He had a 2nd Half 3 Slash Line of .242/.332/.777 – with 13 HRs and 32 RBI in just 205 AB. These are closer to his career totals. He is a great game caller and should help the Pitching Staff immensely.

This may prove to be a great signing on and off of the field.  One of these years, the club will overcome their August and September and transcend the hurdles  ( no pun intended to the skipper) – to make the Post Season for the 1st time since the 1992 NLCS.  Huntington signed the veteran Catcher to a 2 YR/$15 MIL deal. 

The Pirates selected Cole with their first overall pick in the 2011 draft. Huntington did a great job on selecting Cole, as the Pirates have recently been weak when it comes to pitching. Cole will be a front-of-the-rotation starter for the years to come. He finished 2012 in Triple-A after playing in High-A and Double-A. In his first professional season, Cole carried a 9 – 7 record – with a 2.80 ERA in 132 Innings

Huntington is taking a page from Billy Beane in trading for a hitter with Pitching.  While Lincoln was a great young reliever, pitchers are more likely to be hurt than position players

Huntington is taking a page from Billy Beane in trading for a hitter with Pitching. While Lincoln was a great young reliever, pitchers are more likely to be hurt than position players.

One of Huntington’s recent deals consisted of acquiring outfielder Travis Snider for pitcher Brad Lincoln. This could prove to be a great deal if Snider produces. The struggling Outfielder was traded from the Blue Jays to the Pirates for Brad Lincoln on July 30. The Jays never really had a place on their for Snider, as he was in competition with Eric Thames.   Huntington  should continue to follow the  Billy Beane mindset of Pitchers.

Hopefully for the former Blue Jay, the change of scenery in Pittsburgh will rejuvenate his career and will send him in the right direction. The Pirates would benefit greatly from a productive Snider at the top of the lineup.

The future looks bright for the Pirates. They have come close to breaking the .500 barrier in 2011 and 2012, so it looks as if 2013 is the year to do so. This year, the Pirates are starting with two veteran starters at the top of their rotation, so they should get off to a good start.

Andrew McCutchen is coming off of the best year of his young career (and, age-wise, he has not yet entered his prime). Pedro Alvarez seems that he has come into his own, and the offense will produce. It looks like Neal Huntington will finally have something to show for his hard work over the past few years. In 2013, I predict that the Pirates will have their first winning season in over two decades.

McCutchen is signed for about an average of 8.5 Million Dollars a year until he hits FA in 2018.  If he can be amongst the running for NL MVP every year like 2012, this will bode well for the Pirates value in his salary.

McCutchen is signed for about an average of 8.5 Million Dollars a year until he hits FA in 2018. The timing couldn’t have worked out any better for the GM.  He looks like a genius for locking the ALL – Star CF.  If he can be amongst the running for NL MVP every year like 2012, this will bode well for the Pirates value in his salary.

***The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com or their partners***

Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer Bernie Olshansky. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Bernie on Twitter.

Bernie Olshansky

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About bernieolshansky

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve experienced some exciting times with the local baseball teams—the Giants winning the World Series being the most memorable highlight. Some of my favorite players include Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, and Cliff Lee among others. I played baseball up through my freshman year of high school and transitioned into being a full time fan. I regularly attend major and minor league games when I have free time. I enjoy working at a baseball store. I’m in my senior year of high school and hope to major in Journalism or Sports Administration in college. Follow Bernie on Twitter (@BernieOlshansky).

Posted on March 12, 2013, in MLB Payroll and Contracts, MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis, The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. How can “Such a good GM” and the name “Huntington” be in the same sentence? They have lost every single season he’s been GM, and that doesn’t look to change this year. I hope they do finish over .500 this season, but until they do Huntington should be regarded as a losing GM who has traded away quality players (Bay, Sanchez, LaRoche, etc.) for nothing and added free agents (Overbay, Diaz, Barajas, Iwamura, McClouth) who came to Pittsburgh and immensely hurt the club’s chances.

    • Hi Adam,

      Thanks for commenting. BTW McLouth was drafted by the team and was traded bu Huntington to the Braves. It was a deal they received Morton, Hernandez (flipped for your starting 1B Gaby Sanchez and Jeff Locke). Great deal. As for Bay, other than 1 good year with Boston, the guy has been abysmal and cost the Mets $64 MIL over 4 years. Pittsburgh was lucky to rid themselves of Bay. Freddy Sanchez has played a grand total of 190 games in 4 years for the Giants – saving the Bucs another $15 MIL or So. He also traded away Jesse Chavez only for Iwamura. (dude has a 5.99 Career ERA so far). Lets not forget the also acquired Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf (Pitched well in 2010 and can’t be blamed for 2011 record of 1 – 10 when ERA was 4.01) for out of MLB Baseball Xavier Nady.

      He also signed Kevin Correia as a Free Agent who did very well. He drafted Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole. He also traded away Nyjer Morgan for Joel Hanrahan. The club did trade away Burnett in that deal, however Hanrahan was one of the best Closers in the league the last few years.. Melancon coming back is part of that roster tree + guys in the Minors. . Morgan is out of the country playing in Japan. Huntington also pulled in James MacDonald for Octavio ( I have played on 13 clubs) Dotel. Another great trade.

      If Huntington doesn’t swing all of those deals, you can forget about your Starting Rotation in 2013. Burnett, MacDonald, Rodriguez, Karstens and Jeff Locke for the upcoming season.

      Signing a couple of bad Free Agents happens to every GM. the team has gone from 59-72-79 wins in the last 3 years. Signing Cutch to a long term deal was brilliant.

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