Neal Huntington on the Challenges of Replacing Front Office Personnel

The Pirates lost one front office member last week when Marc DelPiano joined the Miami Marlins as a Vice President and their new farm director. They could potentially lose another member of the front office, as current Director of Player Personnel Tyrone Brooks is interviewing for the Milwaukee Brewers’ GM job. Yesterday, Neal Huntington spoke with the Pittsburgh media about the recent personnel moves, and while he declined to go into the Milwaukee rumor, he did discuss Brooks and DelPiano.

“Tyrone Brooks has an impeccable pedigree, when you start to look at working with John Schierhotlz, and part of an incredible organization that he was in Atlanta, worked with Cleveland, John Hart, Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, worked with a great group there,” Huntington said. “We’re having success here, he’s worked professional scouting, amateur scouting, international scouting; he’s been involved in player development. He’s been in every major personnel decision we’ve had here. So on his behalf I can speak highly about his experiences and what a top-shelf man he is. And if somebody were to hire him as their GM, they’re gonna get a really talented man. If he chooses to stay here, or if he stays here, then we’re fortunate that he’s chosen to stay with us.”

Brooks has played a big role with the Pirates in all areas, with one of his most recent contributions being part of the process that brought Jung-ho Kang to Pittsburgh. He oversees the international scouting and serves as a cross checker for bigger signings like Kang.

Recently, Brooks and DelPiano were in Korea scouting Byung-ho Park for the Pirates. Now it’s possible that the Pirates could lose both a few weeks later. But Huntington noted that advancing the careers of personnel is a goal for the Pirates, and is a reason they continue searching for quality members to add to the organization.

“Marc DelPiano’s gonna go be a great farm director for the Miami Marlins,” Huntington said. “It hurts to lose good people, but a part of our obligation to our staff is to help them grow, and to help them get bigger opportunities, and to help them take roles that they think are better for them personally and professionally. Now we have to backfill, and we have to continually add quality people to our system. We look at every opportunity as a chance to get even better, and that’s the best way to go about it. We do not anticipate that Marc DelPiano will be the last person we’ll lose this offseason. And that’s why our quest to find quality people never ends, because we know we’re gonna lose good people along the way.”

A big reason the Pirates are now losing people is that they have become one of the best teams in baseball with one of the lowest budgets and payrolls in baseball. I wrote about this last week, noting that the Pirates have the third most regular season wins over the last three seasons. And with a strong farm system ready to produce a lot of prospects to the majors next year, that winning trend doesn’t look to be ending soon. Teams are going to want to copy this type of success, and the best way to do this is to hire away people from the Pirates who contributed to that success.

Huntington noted that the Pirates were built up through that same process. He noted that each person has “intellectual capital”, aka, the knowledge they have in their brain that they gain from experience with another organization. Kyle Stark brought ideas from Cleveland. Greg Smith brought ideas from Detroit. Clint Hurdle brought ideas from Texas and Colorado. And Huntington brought experience from Cleveland and Montreal.

“The reality is whenever anyone goes to a different organization, they take the intellectual capital with them that they gained while with that prior organization,” Huntington said. “There’s no question I’m better today than I was the day that I walked in as a Pittsburgh Pirate, but there’s also no question the Cleveland Indians helped me prepare tremendously for this job. And the people that I worked with, with Cleveland and the Montreal Expos, and the opportunity to work with Dan Duquette, and Felipe Alou, and some incredible baseball people there. It is a part of the game, and that’s a part of our commitment, is helping these people grow personally and professionally.”

Huntington did note that they do limit the amount of people who can go with a person to a new team. In the case of Jeff Banister last year, the Rangers hired Banister away as their new manager, but didn’t bring anyone else over from the Pirates. That may have been due to a restriction the Pirates placed when letting Banister interview, or it could have been professional courtesy by the Rangers to avoid raiding an individual organization.

Departing personnel also can’t take actual stuff with them, such as programs, passwords, or systems. That actually created an issue with the St. Louis Cardinals, who were caught hacking the Houston Astros recently after concerns that Jeff Luhnow took a system from St. Louis when he went to become the General Manager of the Astros.

Overall, this seems like a bad thing that the Pirates are starting to get raided for talent in their front office, but it could end up being a good thing. They will now be challenged to find more talented personnel to replace the members who left or will be leaving, although that could help them attract talented personnel who see their organization as a stepping stone to a higher job. As noted above, this same process worked for all of the current front office members to land with the Pirates, including Huntington.

“I am a very proud, small twig on the giant John Hart tree of front office executives, and we want good people to get good opportunities elsewhere,” Huntington said. “Our challenge is how to replace, and again that’s where we’re never stopping in our quest to have more quality people added to the organization. It is an honor, and it’s a sign that we’re doing some good things. We’re an industry that copies others that have success. We’re in our third year of ‘success’, whatever level that is, and some people are trying to come learn from us, and it’s an opportunity to continue to get that much better.”

And if there were any concerns that another team might steal Huntington away — much in the same way that the Dodgers got Andrew Friedman from the Rays last off-season — then they should be dismissed after Huntington addressed that subject yesterday.

“I’m the last of the fans’ concerns,” Huntington said. “I plan to be here a long time. I love this environment and the people I work with. I love the challenges that the market brings. I should be the last of the fans’ concerns, and we’ll continue to work to bring in good people.”

Analysis

  • Thanks Tim. Good to hear NH’s reassurances. There is something to be said of being a big fish in a small pond. There may also be a lesson in Cherrington’s experience in Boston.

  • “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. We should all appreciate NH saying that he is here for the long run, but the reality is that he is writing the book on how to win with a small market team. Some of the things the Pirates did with the amateur drafts and the International markets were unique and different, and caught the MLB World by surprise. Moneyball has nothing on this guy and his management team, and many of the competitors are scrambling to catch up.

    KC and Pittsburgh were blank canvases when their management teams came aboard, and neither had the resources others come by automatically.

    I wonder what the situation is going to be with Ben Cherrington, a very close friend of NH’s, who was dismissed from Boston in favor of “buy and sell” DD. He tried to do it the right way and paid the price with his job. I would think if he wants the opportunity, NH would devise a Senior post with as much or more responsibility than many of the GM’s have with other teams. Often, the Owners want to meddle or limit the power of the GM to protect themselves – not so with the Pirates.

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