Huntington’s Deals Indicative of Focus Beyond 81 Wins

The streak is over. It ended Tuesday with a bang, after Travis Snider’s pinch-hit, go-ahead home run in the ninth inning.

Now, Pirates fans can focus on more significant items on the agenda as the Pirates play out their final 23 games of the 2013 regular season. The most significant item on said agenda is a deep playoff run.

Neal Huntington
Success for the Pirates has started from the top, and at the top is Neal Huntington.

The mindset for the Pirates to not just attain moderate success in the regular season is one that has become embodied by the likes of general manager Neal Huntington, president Frank Coonelly, and owner Bob Nutting.

Look no further than the moves made by management last week to acquire Marlon Byrd, John Buck, and, later, Justin Morneau.

“The ultimate motivation, as you all have, we’ve watched this club, this major league staff work hard, do a lot of really good things this year,” Huntington said Saturday. “We felt that this move gives us a better chance to play in October, gives us a better chance to win the division, and gives us a better chance to advance deep into October, if not win it all.”

The moves made certainly do. Inserting Byrd and Morneau into the middle of the Pirates’ lineup makes the batting order exponentially more formidable after Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez take their cuts.

Now, instead of having to contend with the likes of Garrett Jones and Jose Tabata, opposing pitchers face Morneau and Byrd. With more protection in the lineup for the Pirates’ star players, Alvarez and McCutchen should figure to see the quality of pitches thrown to them improve which translates to more production from the Pirates’ three- and four-hole hitters.

But most importantly, it’s a sure sign the Pirates organization is headed in the right direction after ownership went deeper in its pockets than fans have seen in the past.

“That’s what they’re supposed to do,” starter A.J. Burnett said.

For Huntington, the trade talks with Minnesota never revolved around the amount of money the Pirates would take back from the Twins as they did when Burnett was acquired from the New York Yankees before the 2012 season.

“We went into it knowing the whole time that for us to make this move, it was going to have to be that we took the dollars back,” Huntington said. “There wasn’t really ever a conversation about dollars for prospects, it was Justin Morneau as a pure baseball trade.”

That’s not to say the Pirates are going to inflate their payroll and become the Yankees, though. It’s just an encouraging sign that, unlike Pittsburgh general managers in the past, Huntington has the ability to make decisions based on what will most help the team–not what is most cost-effective.

When it came to Morneau’s salary, Huntington said the Pirates assumed “All of it.”

“And that’s a credit to Bob Nutting. He’s allowed us to go a pretty significant amount over-budget to be able to make this move,” Huntington said.

But as Huntington will admit, the moves made last week seem to vary from the standard sort of moves made by the Pirates. Pittsburgh gave up Dilson Herrera, Vic Black, and reportedly Duke Welker between the two deals in addition to Alex Presley, a trio of prospects in the upper echelon of the organization’s minor league system.

“We felt we’re at a little bit of an interesting point in the franchise’s history, these are not moves that we want to make habits of,” Huntington said.

It sure is an interesting point, much more interesting than any in the past 20 years really. The Pirates easily could have sat on their laurels and coasted into the postseason with all likelihood.

Instead, Huntington improved and the cost was a minor stake in the future which the Pirates are pretty well hedged against. When you can turn two minor league relievers into legitimate every day players, you should do it eight days out of the week.

“We impacted today without truly affecting tomorrow in too big of a negative way,” Huntington said. “But we felt like this move allows us not only to get to October better, but to win the division better, and better the opportunity to play deep into October.”

Plus, as Huntington said, the ability to deal these players away is more tangible success from the mission he entered the organization with in 2007 to “flood” the organization with minor-league talent.

“It’s a credit to our scouts and player development people that we’ve added so much depth to the system, that we can make these type of deals  that are very now-oriented for a team that always has that one eye in the future,” Huntington said.

It’s also a credit to the man himself, who had pieces like Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to work with when he first came here in 2007. And five years later, the trades moving Nate McLouth and Jason Bay out of Pittsburgh don’t look so harmful.

It’s such an amount of credit due to Huntington that if he wins The Sporting News’ Executive of the Year award for 2013, it might not be enough. With the job Huntington has done rebuilding the Pirates to this current version that looks to conceivably contend for the rest of this decade, I’d list Huntington as an early short-list candidate for “Executive of the Century”.

  • Five Years. Neal Huntington has built this franchise into a first place club with a dynamics Young Core and a farm system that produces extra fielders and a multitude of valuable pitchers.

    Huntington was able to trade a no. 5 outfielder (on this team) and a young 2B prospect and two relief pitching prospects because the team already has players more valuable. He traded, essentially, excess players, for proven veterans that will only help our young core as well as add needed veteran presence for the first stretch run since 1992.

    Huntington masterfully managed this trading deadline. Well, he’s masterfully resurrected this once proud franchise into the darling of the sport

  • There’s just no way you’re going to convince me that it is smart to move him this offseason. After next year I’d be willing to entertain the idea, but it’s just foolish to do it before he hits arbitration. Just give him another year of ABs to develop and be may surprise all of us and take another step forward, if not you still have a guy with two years of control left, that will be coming off 3 straight 30 HR seasons to use as a trade chip if you so please.

    Interesting point about Walker playing 3B though. He might get you the value, but he won’t sniff the production. He’s basically already Pedro lite. Straight platoon player, can’t hit LHP, mashes RHP, just with less power and marginally better contact.

    • My previous comment was a little vague; the idea of trading players approaching the end of their years of control is a strategy the Pirates should pursue, but not with Alvarez at this time. Maybe in the future given that Boras’s clients generally don’t sign extensions. The statement about value was referring to value for the Pirates for the reasons that you (BostonsCommon) mention.

      I do not think this would be an intelligent move given the circumstances.

      • Alvarez only OPS .20 or so points higher than Walker over the past two seasons. In reality they are very similar hitters when you take everything into account.

        Maybe I’m a year early here but to me he can bring more back than he gives us. I don’t see him ever being as good as Adam Dunn was in his prime but we will know a lot more after next season I suppose. Looking strictly at WAR he reminds me somewhat of guys you’d consider very average. Todd Frazier, Martin Prado etc. He is valuable because of our limited infield and power options. But his power is very empty with a lack of walks and doubles IMO.

        • Walkers singles are the only thing keeping him close in OPS. Walks are even and Pedro crushes him in slugging. That’s the main difference between them as hitters.

          I just think it’s too early to say this is all Perdro is ever going to be. There’s much more to gain if you just hang into him through next season to see if he does take that next step forward to find some consistency. Will be a good discussion next season though.

  • CalipariFan506
    September 5, 2013 6:49 pm

    I think Walker could put up the same value at 3B if that’s a direction you’d want to go. His range would play better there and his on base ability would make up what he lacks in power to some degree.

    There are a lot of talented middle infield prospect around baseball you could target. This 2B for Texas for instance coming up behind Profar. Boston has a .400 OBP leadoff type 2B that’s stuck behind Pedroia now. You could probably get another decent piece with that type of prospect for Alvarez.

  • CalipariFan506
    September 5, 2013 3:54 pm

    NH’s next step in his maturation as a GM is going to be when to trade star players or allow them to play out their arbitration years into free agency.

    Pedro Alvarez is the prime example here. His K/BB rate and below average range make him about an average 3B according to WAR. Even while leading the NL in homeruns. A shrewd executive of the century could really cash in on a guy like Alvarez IMO. And the sooner the better.

    I’m open for a friendly debate here but yes, I just proposed trading Alvarez this winter.

    • That’s not a ridiculous idea, but the problem is who plays 3B after the deal? It’s one of the worst positions for prospects in the organziation, and if a team is going to trade a MLB ready 3B as part of the deal, chances are he has more problems than Pedro does. Do you like any of the corner IFs in AAA? What would you be looking for back in the deal?

    • I think it’s way, waay too early to talk about trading Alvarez. He’s still only scratching the surface of his potential, in terms of production and value. You would be selling so low on him.

      Last year he accidentally hit 30 bombs and knocked in 85 runs as he weaved and wobbled his way through his first full season (149 games) in the bigs. This year he’s already surpassed his production, clubbing 32 with 86 RBIs, and there are still 23 games left.

      If this guy ever finds even remote consistency at this level, the sky is the limit for him. I mean he’s about to lead the league in HRs with an OBP under .300. Give him another season of ABs. BE PATIENT. We’ve all been patient for 20 years, and it’s finally paying off. If you move him this winter, you will absolutely regret it.

      He’s only making $700K next year. For that price you absolutely keep him, because you’re not going to replace his production at league minimum. Just give him another season of ABs and see where he’s at. At this point, I think Pedro’s basically playing at his floor, with his ceiling being a guy that hits .265-.270 and approaches 60 HRs.

      I’m not saying never trade him, but at least see where he’s at after next year. His production and value still have the potential to sky rocket, dramatically increasing the return in a trade.

    • I agree, the concept is intelligent, teams will over pay for power (this will be Boras’s argument come extension/contract time). However given the circumstances which Stickyweb illustrates; what team(s) are you targeting, who is the replacement, what are looking for in return, the idea has issues. The Rays do this with starting pitchers but they have replacement ready.

      I am not as optimistic as BostonsCommon on Pedro, a lot of his peripherals are trending the wrong way, contact down, K% up, and showing no ability to hit LHP. He still has value especially given his salary.

      • @Andrew
        I’m not saying he’s a lock to reach his ceiling, or that it’s even likely. And you make several good points that kind of speak to that.

        But for $700K, you absolutely sign on for the 30 HRs and 85 RBIs he’s going to give you next season.

        We can ague all day about weather or not he will ever reach his potential, but the bottom line is this is that you just are NOT going to replace that production for the same price or less, so why even fart around with the idea of moving him.

        This will be an interesting topic following NEXT season.

        • There is no chance of trading Pedro, for at least a few years, and I mean like 5 years because power is affordable during that time. Regardless of the "ceiling" his normal production during that time warrants the $. 

          Trade an OF of which there is already depth. A Marte, or Cutch, or Polanco (I'm talking 4 years away because then you have Meadows and Mathieson and Escobar coming.

  • And there are some folks who think that, if we don’t make it to (or past) the wild card, NH needs to be fired. Amazing.