This morning on MLB Network, Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington was a guest on Hot Stove and had some interesting comments on the Pirates off-season plans, including their back-up plan if catcher Russell Martin doesn’t re-sign with the club. Below are some excerpts from the interview, which focused on the plan of attack this winter. Huntington is currently in Arizona attending the GM meetings.
The biggest revelation might answer some of the speculation as to whether the Pirates would feel comfortable going with a Chris Stewart/Tony Sanchez combo behind the plate in 2015 if Martin doesn’t sign. Huntington had this to say about re-signing Martin and their plan if they don’t:
“We recognize his impact that [Martin] has had over the last two years. Premium defensive catcher, leader, energy everyday and this year he went out and swung the bat as well as he has in a long time in his career. He had earned the opportunity to get to free agency and see what is out there for him. We are going to do everything we can that makes sense. It’s not just about retaining one player, it’s about building a championship club and sometimes the small markets have to let players go and sometimes large markets let players go because other teams are willing to pay more. If that happens, we will regroup, we will go acquire the best available catcher we can and then reallocate those resources to try to make the rest of our club stronger and try to get back to the postseason in 2015.”
From the sound of that quote, it doesn’t seem like the Pirates are looking at a Stewart/Sanchez combo in 2015 if Martin signs elsewhere. It’s clear that Martin is plan A for the right price, but plan B is someone outside the organization. That plan B would likely be someone who possesses strong defensive qualities, based on the signing of Martin and the acquisition of Stewart, both of whom struggled offensively before joining the Pirates, but were known for their pitch framing skills and ability to control the running game.
Huntington also talked about the possibility of bringing back Francisco Liriano and/or Edison Volquez. Again it sounds like they will be signed if the price is right, but if they have to move on, the feel comfortable in their ability to find a player they can turn around like they did with Volquez, Liriano and A.J. Burnett. You could also throw Vance Worley in there to a lesser extent. Huntington obviously learned something from the negotiations with Burnett last year and how they played out, which he feels may have cost him a chance to add a bat during the off-season, instead of waiting until mid-April when they got Ike Davis.
“We have to make sure we pay players for what we think they are going to do. We look at their projections, we look at our scouting reports. How many years do we think this player is going to continue to be productive,and then ultimately preference them out. Hopefully they fall in our order and if they don’t we are going to have to make some tough decisions. When do we move on, even if we don’t know necessarily if a player is going to come back. We can’t play the waiting game, we don’t want to get caught waiting for a player or two and have that player decide to go somewhere else late and we missed alternatives. We did that a year ago with A.J., we really wanted to keep A.J. around. He was not in a position to make a commitment to us in December, we went and got Edison Volquez. We wanted to spend some money at first base and right field, that never came about.”
The three free agents are all in play still, but it sounds like the Pirates aren’t relying on any of them to sign, which is obviously a smart plan. You don’t want to wait on anyone and lose your fallback plans in the process as well. If they go elsewhere, the money will be reallocated elsewhere (something he said twice during the interview) and while the catching might not be as strong without Martin, or the rotation with starters other than Volquez, and/or Liriano, the plan is to improve multiple areas to make the team stronger. Obviously, their direction will play out in the next couple months.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.