Neal Huntington Should Be Fired

I want to be on record before the final couple of the weeks of the season play out: Neal Huntington should be fired. I hope this team doesn’t lose a game the rest of the season. I hope that the Buccos sweep through the playoffs and win the World Series in four games. I hope that, after winning it all in 2012, the Pirates go on a nearly generation long streak of victorious seasons like what they have known in Atlanta and New York. I hope that Neal Huntington rides that wave of success all the way to a plaque in the Hall of Fame.

But five years in, with the club that he has assembled given the assets he had available to him in terms of players to trade, draft picks to make and money to spend, he should be fired.

I hope that this post eventually – maybe within a couple of weeks – makes me look like an idiot and a jerk. I hope that this post causes my name become a synonym for moronic bloggers and that I’m ostracized from Pittsburgh fandom the way Steve Bartman has been from Chicago. I hope that in spite of being persona non grata in Bucco Nation that I’m in attendance in Cooperstown on the induction weekend when Huntington is enshrined, if only to eat my words once again. That is what I hope. But I believe Neal Huntington has not done a good job and should be dismissed.

Why?

1. He didn’t get nearly enough in return for dismantling the team he inherited. It goes beyond – well beyond – the Jose Bautista deal. He didn’t get enough in return.
2. He doesn’t recognize hitting ability. The resulting lack of talent he got in the trades that dismantled the Pirates over a couple of seasons has been compounded by an inability to recognize hitting talent on the free agent market or in the amateur market. Out of all the hitters in the NL with 300 plate appearances in 2012, the Pirates employ four of the 20 worst in terms of OPS+. Rod Barajas, Clint Barmes, Jose Tabata and Alex Presley. The team needs/needed a substantial offensive upgrade at four positions out of the chute in 2012 after Neal Huntington had five years to assemble a team. That’s four out of eight positions that were not just subpar, but among the worst in the league. Positions that Huntington had five years to figure out and failed to do so.
3. He has spent frugally but not well in the free agent market.
4. He has spent with reckless abandon but not very successfully in the amateur draft. The Pirates minor league system has some good players, courtesy of picks that were awarded to the Pirates based on their lackluster win total at the Major League level. I’m reasonably sure that if given a week and a subscription to Baseball America’s online content, Rinku Singh’s parents could’ve picked Pedro Alvarez (or Eric Hosmer or Buster Posey), Jameson Taillon (or Manny Machado or Yasmani Grandal) and Gerrit Cole (or Trevor Bauer or Dylan Bundy) and the club would’ve been in roughly the same spot (although I’d trade Alvarez for Posey even up without hesitation). Credit Neal Huntington for knowing what to do when he had a top five pick in the draft. That should be the easiest part of the job and he did that part well. Too much of the rest of the drafts have been misses on overslot players. Credit Neal Huntington with emphasizing Latin America again. That effort has yielded some exciting young players who will hopefully continue to develop.
5. He has not assembled a good team. Not last year. Not this year. The offense is not good. I thought the pitching staff was pretty solid, but it has faltered. This is not a good team. The Pirates are twelve games over .500 against the five worst teams in baseball (the Astros, the Cubs, the Rockies, the Twins and the Indians) and are eight games under .500 against everyone else.
6. He shouldn’t get credit for merely breaking the losing streak. Breaking the losing streak – the certainty of which is now in jeopardy – is not enough. I don’t want to settle for mediocrity. I want to see Andrew McCutchen playing post-season baseball (for the Pirates). I don’t want him to play for a continuing series of also-rans that fell just short.
7. He hurt the 2012 team by not picking up the options on three players and bringing in three lesser players. All else the same – even with injuries – Neal Huntington could’ve upgraded this team a three positions simply by exercising options (and, yes, taking on more payroll) on three players – Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm. Cedeno, whom no one really liked as a player, would be better than Barmes. Even with Cedeno missing time (all else the same) in 2012 and his spot being filled by Jordy Mercer while he was injured, it would be an upgrade at short offensively with a likely drop off in defense (as measured by the currently accepted metrics). A tandem of Doumit and Michael McKenry would be an upgrade at catcher (or even Doumit as the primary) with basically the same defense. Doumit is by no stretch a good defensive catcher. Neither is Rod Barajas. And Doumit’s bat would’ve been available to start at first base or a corner outfield spot to exploit matchups. Paul Maholm is better than Erik Bedard. Had he merely retained two of those three players, the team would’ve been better. Credit Neal Huntington for getting A.J. Burnett. But essentially every other move he made in the off-season didn’t work out well.

That is what I believe. Neal Huntington has not done a good job. He has had ample time and ample resources at his disposal. He should be fired for a lack of results. I don’t believe for a second that Neal Huntington will be fired.

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  • burgh_fan

    I don’t get number 7. Essentially you are saying he could have improved the team by going way over market price for free agents. None of those 3 players received anywhere near their option amounts in free agency, Essentially this is the same thing as saying he should be fired for not offering Pujols 40 million dollars a year.

    Your first six points are very valid though and overall I agree with you.

    • RandyLinville

      That’s a good point. He would’ve overpaid those guys had he kept them. But given that he overpaid (or hasn’t gotten fair value in return) on the three guys he brought in and given that it was NH who signed the options that were deemed to be too expensive, he still is shoulders the blame for weakening the team.

      • Rob

        Point number 7….I am fine with letting Maholm go. He was mediocre with us, but is having a great season this year. Now watch someone overpay for him (Hopefully not us) and then next season he returns to being the Maholm that frustrated all of us.
        Doumit, I have always liked. If only he would have stayed healthy. If he was with us, where would he play? Not catcher everyday, because he would have gotten hurt. He weakens our defense wherever you play him. He is a DH!
        Cedeno, as frustrating as he is, I would take him over Barmes. I know he isn’t as strong defensively, but he is stronger at the plate.
        I don’t think Neal needs to be fired, I will hold that judgement until after next season. Fact is, if before this season began someone asked you if you would take the Pirates being only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, we would all jump on it!

        • RandyLinville

          You are right in that if someone had said in Feb 2012 that the Bucs would be 2.5 games out of the final wild card spot in mid-Sept, we would be happy.

          On the flip side, if you had told me five years ago that NH wouldn’t field a team that looked like it could compete for World Series in five years then I would’ve said we shouldn’t bother hiring him and/or should let him go after those five years.

          We are currently in both places at once. I take that as a sign that NH did such a poor job of building the team that we were left feeling like this team had no chance coming into 2012. The fact that it does have a chance does not mean that he has done a good job. It just means our expectations were lowered coming into 2012.

  • http://twitter.com/wondertaint Will

    Agreed. I hope for a GM upgrade this offseason and for Clint Hurdle to be given a chance to assemble his own coaching staff for what’ll probably be his last season at the helm. Gregg Richie has to go.

    • RandyLinville

      Thanks for the comment, Will. I’m torn on Hurdle. I really WANT to like him. Tim and Matt have written critical pieces recently about some of his strategies (bunting, stealing and bullpen usage) and I agree with them on those. His unwillingness to let McKenry be the primary catcher is mystifying.

    • whiteAngus

      our 4 best hitters are all having their best seasons, and richie must go??? think about it.

  • JohnDreker

    Totally agree he should be fired. Mostly for draft failures, which is how this organization was supposed to rebuild. I’d also throw in that he is an absolute butcher when it comes to the rule V draft. The only pick I liked was Veal and he got hurt so I can’t blame him there. Raynor, Rodriguez and Nunez were all horrible picks, he keeps getting worse every year at it. Even Meek was an odd pick at the time, that they had to pay to keep because he wasn’t good enough to stay. Why is Nunez still around too? He is going to have to go through the whole stay with the team phase next year too, it carries over if the guy is on the DL. Are they really going to throw away next year’s pick too, just to carry a AA shortstop that couldn’t hit to begin with? Or do they actually plan on making another horrible pick and having the two of them battle it out to see who the lucky guy is that gets returned to his old team in early May.

    I think the whole treating the trading deadline this year like it was the Winter meetings thing is what set me over the edge with him. Who takes on multiple reclamation to help with a pennant run? Seriously? He would’ve been gone by August 1st if it were up to me, the Pirates recent “tailspin into familiarity” having nothing to do with my decision

    • RandyLinville

      Thanks, John. How did I miss the Rule V stuff? Good grief. We’ll just call your comment an addendum and make it point #8.

      • pirateswillwinin2012

        Tell me who really hit’s on the Rule V draft? Evan Meek became a all-star RP, not NH fault he got hurt and lost velocity.

        • RandyLinville

          I would say that of all the things NH has done poorly, his record in the Rule 5 draft is among the least offensive. I mean, I’d rather have him have gotten better players when he dismantled the team and I’d rather have him be able to find capable hitters more consistently.

          Regardless, he should’ve traded high on Meek and instead held onto him until he was worthless. And both RA Dickey and Ivan Nova and a halfway decent shortstop Everth Cabrera were taken in the Rule 5 draft while NH was in charge. Prior to NH coming into the picture, good players who moved in the Rule 5 draft since 2002 include Joakim Soria, Dan Uggla, Jose Bautista, and Shane Victorino Typically about 20 players are taken annually.

      • pirateswillwinin2012

        Good grief is right Randy, just like all your points.

    • burgh_fan

      Well when the Pirates were playing well and looked like they had a chance at the playoffs one could say Nunez would have provided postseason roster flexibility. Um that is pretty much all I’ve got.

    • whiteAngus

      how many rule5′s actually make it??? this is insane! the last few years it was okay for the team to take chance with rule5 guys because the pirates weren’t going to compete anyway. but this is your reason? and for the draft??? ridiculous. why? look at the pirates top 20 prospects on MLB.com and you will see the deepest system we have had in like forever. both MLB.com and Baseball america have exclaimed that the pirates have one of the most improved systems in all of baseball.
      nunez still around??? youre griping abou that? you should give baseball a break and wait for hockey season.

      • pirateswillwinin2012

        haha people are ridiculous, as I said below how many rule V make it? Not many. This article and this comment is just written out of frustration and not out of a realist look

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bill-Tull/1252034036 Bill Tull

    I think the criticism for not picking up Doumit is off. And even Maholm. Many were quite happy letting both those go. Although both have come back to bite him in the ass, it’s unfair to say at the time those were bad moves. Tim, you get the benefit of hindsight with those moves. I will agree with Cedeno but the other two are off based on their previous contracts.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I didn’t write this article.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bill-Tull/1252034036 Bill Tull

        OH sorry…..Randy….you get the benefit….

    • RandyLinville

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that not many batted an eye at letting them go. And as noted before in a different comment, keeping them would’ve been overpaying. At the same time, the option amounts were figures that Huntington signed them for. We have the benefit of hindsight. But the GM signed options that were well above market value and deemed to be too expensive to pick up. That’s on him.

  • Marco Rincones

    I’ll take Barmes over Cedeno given the defense Barmes has given. I agree that Barajas was/is an embarrassment both at bat and behind the plate. You can argue about not picking up Maholm. Signing Erik Bedard never did a whole lot for me but he did hold his own much of the time prior to the All-Star break. I think the bigger indictment against NH is the lousy stuff he is trading for or picking up at the trade deadline. These last two years the club has only gotten worse. Breaking up the great chemistry that this 2012 club seemed to have has been disastrous. Trading Casey McGehee for Chad Qualls? Travis Snyder may become a decent find but they have really missed Jeff Lincoln coming out of the pen.

    • Rob

      Again, I think Chemistry is over-rated, but that is just an opinion.
      The trade of McGehee was just a dump, fact is Sanchez has better numbers than McGehee did, so I am ok with that swap. Also, Qualls is gone after this year.
      If nobody has noticed, Brad Lincoln has an era of 3.80 in Toronto and is pitching worse than Resop, Watson, Grilli, and Hughes since his trade.
      I like Snider. I am ready to go into next year with Marte, McCutchen and Snider in my outfield with Presley and Tabata off the bench.

    • whiteAngus

      who the hell is jeff lincoln? bullpen arms are replacable and you know it. the biggest and most obvious problem for the 2012 pirates is that we’re having our first real losing streak of the season, and its at the worst possible time.

  • Rob

    What we need to do this off-season is find a Catcher and Shortstop.
    Use Hanrahan as trade bait and see what we can land. I would be ok with a low average catcher IF they could play some defense. Fact is Barajas should be gone and McKenry is week defensively.
    Give me a shortstop that will make the routine play and can hit.
    C- Need one!
    1b – Jones
    2b – Walker
    3b – Alvarez
    SS – Need one!
    LF – Marte
    CF – McCutchen
    RF – Snider
    I am ok with this lineup, and think you will see McCutchen continue to do what he does. The improvemen will come from Snider, Marte & Alvarez.

    • whiteAngus

      its still about the pitching, brudder. we’re probably going to need another SP for the rotation unless we are ready to give it to Locke and/or McPherson. we’re also going to need bullpen help since Hammer is likely to be gone.
      barmes defense is stellar and he will probably be our starting SS out of spring training. the only other option i can see is that Holt is groomed for that position but after seeing Holt for 2 years now, i can safely say that his glove will be wayyyyyy below what Barmes brings to the 6.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rob.loesch.9 Rob Loesch

        I agree, Pitching is key. I just think that we are close to having a pretty good starting staff with our own pitchers. Odds are against it, but It is not inconceivable that Cole makes the rotation out of spring training. If not, he could be up by June. At which time I could see Taillon moving to Indy to take his spot.
        One thing NH has done a good job of is acquiring a pretty decent bullpen year in year out. So the bullpen will be fine.

  • ecbucs

    the part about Maholm and Doumit leaving is that the Bucs didn’t even try to sign them for less than their options. NH and crew decided they could do better. So IMO, NH and scouts judgement does come in to question. They just miss too much. It should have been pretty clear that Barmes and Barajas were not going to be good performers (even if just expecting average years from them) the Bucco scouts missed. I think they missed on Burnett too. NH wanted a veteran starter and he has probably performed beyond what they expected. (would have been happy with ERA of 4.00 and over 30 starts). A.J.’s competitive drive has probably done more for the team than Hurdle.

    • whiteAngus

      just to make a point here, but we have no idea if NH made an offer to Doumit or Maholm. second, why would maholm take less HERE after the pirates refused the $9MM salary he was due? would YOU accept substantially less to stay at your current job? hell no! you go elsewhere. thats what I would do, and everyone else.

  • http://twitter.com/StevefromYukuDU Yukudukes

    Prior to the season, I said the Pirates need to do better than 90 losses for Neil to keep his job. Clearly that is going to happen and clearly to be in the high 80′s would be a massive disappointed right now. 5 years in I’m fine with where the team is. If they can’t finish over .500 this year and next year, we can talk about moving on. However, as long as I’m seeing improvement Huntington keeps his job in my book.

    As for your points, I’ve made it pretty clear in another entry that you’re doing lots of cherry picking and undervaluing what the Pirates got and overvaluing what was given to doctor your weak premise on trades. On 4, that’s just idiotic. 2008 is really the only draft that you could fairly evaluate at this point. Right now, Pedro Alvarez is emerging as the top power hitting 3rd basemen in the NL, Robbie Grossman returned enough cash in the Wandy deal that he essentially paid for the entire draft, and the Pirates have had 6 guys (including Scheppers) reach the majors. At a quick glance, only the Giants and Nats have that many. On top of that, I still like Jarek Cunningham’s upside (though I know I’m among a dwindling few on him). 2009 and 2010 he took some high upside projects in the early rounds and some over slot guys who haven’t worked out so far. In the case of Chambers and Dodson, they probably won’t. However, the book isn’t even close to being shut on those two drafts.

    I think if anybody goes it’s Hurdle. These late season collapses should fall more on the manager than the GM in my opinion. Neil went out, improved the team at the deadline and after that it’s up to the skipper, IMO.

    • RandyLinville

      Thanks for the comment. I think we have a difference in opinion on what success is. In five years, I expect a winner, not merely progress or a step in the right direction. I would expect that in year 1 or year 2. Five years in, this team remains mediocre.

      In that other post, you acknowledged (after I questioned you), that you aren’t happy with the return that NH got. If I’m undervaluing the return so be it. In a separate post, I also looked at what Syd Thrift got when he took apart another last place club 20 plus years ago. Bonilla, Drabek, Van Slyke. I can’t expect anyone to land three such players, but I don’t think landing one All-Star caliber player is too much to ask. Five years after Thrift & Brown began dismantling the 1985-1986 Bucs, those three players had combined for four All-Star appearances, two top five MVP seasons, three Gold Gloves and a Cy Young award. I equally cherry picked the haul from that era by not including Jay Bell or Don Slaught, since they, like Burnett and JMac were outside the scope of my examination – players acquired for inherited players.

      Pick a team:

      Burnett, JMac, Hanrahan, Karstens, Snider, Tabata, McKenry, Harrison, Locke, Morton & Wandy.

      Or

      Bonilla, Drabek, Van Slyke, LaValliere, Bell, Slaught, Bream, Reynolds, Redus, Patterson, Kipper and Cangelosi.

      That is a no brainer. My premise on trades is far from weak. NH has done a poor job. We have forgotten what it looks like to have a good GM. Instead we have called mediocrity acceptable.

      I agree with you in that it is too early to give a final judgement on the drafts. But outside the front line guys he took in the top five, I don’t see too much depth from the amateur draft. As I noted, credit him for the Latin American emphasis.

      • http://twitter.com/StevefromYukuDU Yukudukes

        Thrift traded for Bonilla after failing to protect in him the Rule 5. You’re seriously going to count that? He had to trade an asset to make up for poor asset management. I was very young at the time of trades but looking at the numbers, Rick Rhoden, and Tony Pena probably had more value than anyone save for Jason Bay at the time they were traded. Bill Madlock certainly had more than Xavier Nady. That’s a much better core to work with than what NH inherited. Not suggesting that Thrift didn’t put a product on the field faster. Clearly he did, but he also clearly had more to work with. And what about his trades that didn’t work? I’m sure there were a few of those too.

        With all due respect, the Bay deal was horrible and really set the franchise back. You will get no argument from me there. That was an opportunity lost. You’re right that overall, I’m not happy with the return but I don’t view it as a failure either. Certainly not a fireable offense and I think there was a good amount of long term value added. If I had to grade NH out so far I give him a C- for trades (before this year), a C for FA/waiver pick up, a B+ for the 2008 draft, a B+ for Latin American player acquisitions, a B- for professional staff hiring/retention and a B- for player development. I’d also give him an INC for his the performance of the major league team though I am encouraged so far.

        And don’t act like their is a cut off to your original list of trade critiques with inherited players. Off the top of my head you included Eric Hinske who was signed a free agent by NH.

        • Rob

          I am not ready to fire NH. I think he has done a nice job recovering from the David Littlefield fiasco that set this organization back many years. We have been considered to be a talent poor organization for a long time, and that is no longer the case.
          Deadline moves that I liked are Wandy and Snider. Don’t really care about Qualls, he will be gone and I was no fan of McGehee.
          I will trade ANY middle reliever for a potential 24yr old everyday player and not have a second thought about it. Losing Brad Lincoln was NOT the downfall this year.
          Hurdle in-game decisions are confusing. That is the nicest way to put it.
          But NH is doing fine by me. All GM’s make mistakes.

        • RandyLinville

          Thrift was hired 11/7/85. The Rule 5 draft took place 12/10/85. So, yes, blame him for letting Bonilla go when he was a month on the job. He still got Andy and Doug, both of whom are far superior to any player that NH acquired. In that other post, I fully address all of Thrift’s trades, even the ones that didn’t work like the Rick Reuschel deal.

          I give a thorough rundown of the players who were dealt and what happened to them after the trades in the other post. By and large, the players Brown and Thrift dealt were older (some exceptions like DeLeon and Orsulak) and out of baseball by the early 1990s. Other than DeLeon, there was no one who could’ve started for the 1990s teams (maybe Ray and Orsulak off the bench). Both GMs were dealing from last place teams. So it was last place talent level in both cases. Without question, what Bautista went on to do far out paces anything anyone off the mid 80s teams did after they left Pittsburgh.

          We will have to agree to disagree. The lack of talent NH got for dismantling the club is currently hurting this team.

          You are right about Hinske. You can take him off the list and the trade record for NH is still paltry.

        • TonyPenaforHOF

          Tony Pena had awesome value :)

  • kquickstillsucks

    Do you know what the farm system looked like before Neal got the job? Littlefield was unable to get any kind of farm having a top pick year after year. I am not sure if you know this or not but farm system’s take time to yield MLB talent. Go back and look at what he inherited at the MLB level only positions you could argue 2007 team was better are 1B LaRoche and LF Bay. Pitching staff had Tony Armas and Shawn Chacon….Also I am pretty sure 28 teams were not beating down the Pirates door to get Bautista.

    As for the Pirates should have retained Maholm Doumit and Cedeno? Do you know what that would have cost? Cedeno $3 mill Doumit $7.25 PLUS $8.25 in 2013 Maholm $9.75. Barmes $5 Barajas $4 Burnett $5 (Who really replaced Maholm). SO the pirates Saved $6mill and basically broke even in the talent department the 6mill they saved was used to sign Bedard and Grilli. Could also argue if they didn’t sign Barajas Burnett would not have been nearly as effective. Doumit was a often injured malcontent Maholm was never this good in a pirate uniform and pretty sure paying him almost 10mill would not have been a good use of resources. Cedeno for Barmes(see why it was done Barmes at least shown he had some power) trade off has been mostly a wash.

    Finally the dismantling of the team really needed to be done. Other than the Bay trade and perhaps the Freddy Sanchez deal I think he did just fine. Id argue most of his trades have been pretty good. Traded Dotel for J.Mac, McClouth deal, Burnett Deal, Marte to NYY, Hanrahan deal, Garrett Jones signing. Other than Not tendering Matt Capps and Bautista deal lol (again certain 28 other teams were not beating down the door to get him) IMO hes done just fine in evaluating talent.

    2011 and 2012 teams IMO are just a taste of whats to come as the farm produces MLB talent on a regular basis which it hasnt in the entire 20 seasons of losing the “frugal” spending wont be as necessary and I would like to think they well be spending on 1 big piece instead of 3 small pieces.

    What Neal did was totally rebuild a organization lol. Not just MLB level ALL levels. This season and last significant progress has been made WITH Neal Huntington running the Show IMO he deserves to see it through with Marte now coming up and Cole and Taillon to soon follow.

    • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

      So, Huntington is better than anyone else the Pirates could afford? I really don’t think so. He IS super arrogant though, so he does have that working for him. And another loss means the 20th losing season is not so far away. Maybe next year? Oh, that’s right they won’t have the Astros to kick around. Well, maybe 2014? Why is now never important, but the future is where the sunshine, rainbows and lollipops come in?

      • kquickstillsucks

        Another who can’t seem to grasp the mess Huntington took over. Spending $ is what wins games right? Red Sox are having a great year as are the Phillies and Marlins…..Yeah Pirates might go 0-162 next year because the Astros aren’t in the NL anymore LOL…. If someone said before the season Pirates would be 3 games out of a wild card in mid September would you have thought they were from sunshine rainbow lollipop land? Yeah thats what I thought…..

        • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

          Ah, it was all Littlefield’s fault that Huntington has given money away to guys who were unworthy. Boy, that Littlefield sure is powerful, is he Barajas’s agent? Or Bedard’s, or Barmes’s? The Pirates, until recently, have gotten fat on the terrible teams, like the Astros. Or hadn’t you noticed? They didn’t sweep the Orioles, they got swept.

          • kquickstillsucks

            No Littlefield wasn’t the GM before Huntington didn’t run the draft make trades sign players etc etc. How are things in sunshine rainbow lollipop land? Did he sign them for 7 year deals? SMH!!!! SO what u are saying the Pirates aren’t as good as their record indicates all hope is lost for future seasons they should of traded away the farm for 2 month rentals at the deadline? WHO should they have signed instead of those 3? Kept Maholm Doumit and Cedeno spent 6mill more and gotten the same results from them as always?

            I am going to leave you with this 2010 Win total 57 2011 Win total 72
            2012 Win Total 73!!!! 18 games left to play. AND most games ever won by a Littlefield run team is 75 his 2nd season on the job.

          • RandyLinville

            The 57 wins in 2010 was due in part to NH turning over the majority of the core of the 2008-2009 team and getting almost nothing of value in return. He got players who were supposed to be Major League ready and they were awful. The 57 wins in 2010 is partly due to DL doing a poor job of developing talent and partly due to NH doing a poor job of acquiring talent through his numerous failed trades.

          • kquickstillsucks

            OK lets pretend 2010 didnt happen 2009 was last season of record 62 wins that season. Wanna go back further 2008 67 wins. Both under Huntington’s watch but 2011 improved on those records also. 2011 season 72 win mark matches or is better than 5 of 6 Littlefield seasons.

            Please enlighten me on the terrible trades NH has made besides the Bay deal where is Jason Bay these days BTW? Would Bay have put the Pirates over the top LOL. $16mill for Bay that would of been $ well spent.

        • RandyLinville

          ‘If someone said before the season Pirates would be 3 games out of a wild card in mid September would you have thought they were from sunshine rainbow lollipop land?’

          I noted this elsewhere and here’s how I see this. Had you told me in April we’d be in this spot, I would’ve been thrilled. Had you told me this in April 2008, then I would’ve said clearly NH failed. So, the fact that 3 games out of the final wild card spot is a pleasant surprise to me means that we’ve lowered our expectations from success to mere mediocrity.

          • kquickstillsucks

            I bet the Cardinals fans were angry they snuck in the playoffs last year calling for their GM’s job even ;) .

            The Minor league system is FINALLY recovering and were are seeing prospects contribute at the MLB level. I know this is gonna sound like a broken record but BE patient.

    • RandyLinville

      I’m not comparing DL to NH. I don’t think DL did a good job. So, you’ll get no argument from me. NH had a bare minor league cupboard when he came aboard. No question about that.

      Regarding Bautista, look at the context of what happened. NH traded what we thought was a solid utility player who was do a raise in arbitration to Toronto for their third best catching prospect. Then NH went out and signed a less versatile utility guy (Ramon Vazquez) who was also a weaker hitter to a two year deal for a marginal savings over what was going to be paid to Bautista. Vazquez was so bad that the Pirates released him after one season and ate the second year of his contract. Even if you take any consideration for the player Bautista has become out of the equation, then series of moves was nothing short of dreadful.

      I acknowledge in my post that picking up the options on those three was going to add payroll. I would argue solidly against breaking even in the talent department. Barmes is the worst hitter in the National League. Barajas doesn’t throw anyone out and isn’t ranked in the top 10 by BP (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17623) in their advanced catching metrics. Maholm, as mediocre as he might have been, would be better than Bedard. So, even for more money, I’d rather have the three holdovers than the three new guys.

      Agreed, the dismantling of the team needed to be done. The issue is that NH did a poor job of it. I’d argue the opposite of you – that most of his trades have been pretty bad – I cover that in great depth here (http://blogs.piratesprospects.com/linville/winning-in-spite-of-bad-trades/) and then contrast it with the job done in the 1980s here (http://blogs.piratesprospects.com/linville/winning-in-part-because-of-good-trades/).

      NH took a franchise that was bad. He has made it mediocre in five seasons in spite of turning over an entire starting eight of Major League players and some starting pitchers. If you told me five years ago when NH was hired that we’d be in the position we are now – hanging onto the hope for what was at that point a non-existent post-season spot – I would’ve suggested that we pass on him.

      • kquickstillsucks

        How big of a mistake was Vazquez really though? Are the pirates still paying him? So he missed on a UTL inf happens to every GM id argue. Letting Bautista go was a HUGE mistake but NOBODY saw what he turned into coming.

        How can u compare 80′s and 00′s trades way different time and economics involved. Hunting IMO has done a excellent job really with what he had to work with Bay deal aside.

        It takes time to build a consistent winner unless you can buy your team and even then it doesnt always work out. The Pirates are on the verge of being a perennial contender i feel. You can’t deny the progress the team has made can you?

        I am not trying to sound like a NH fanboy but IMO hes done a very good job with what he had to work with hes done it the right way and the Pirates have become relevant over long stretches the last 2 years perhaps another year gets them to where everyone is happier? Maybe?

        Oh and id argue Burnett > Maholm Thats who AJ replaced Barmes> slightly Cedeno barmes has atleast showed power before Barajas = Doumit bat no way but Doumit wasnt much of a catcher himself and was always hurt PLUS i don’t think it can be undervalued Barajas impact on AJ.

        • RandyLinville

          In another comment you poo-poo the horribleness of the Bay trade by saying he got hurt. Well, we can’t also poo-poo the horribleness of the Bautista deal because no one saw it coming. You can’t have it both ways. Bay got hurt and struggled, but still posted equal or better OPS production that what Pittsburgh trotted out into LF both in 2010 and 2011. Bautista absolutely blossomed. I’m looking at the Bautista deal as if he was only still a typical utility guy and that was STILL a bad series of moves. You add in the fact that he is a masher and that deal and the signing of Vazquez looks like incompetence on the part of someone in the organization (the GM, the hitting coach, someone)

          The Vazquez deal is a microcosm of part of the problem. Whether we like it or not, this team has limited resources. We can’t fritter them away on marginal improvements or downgrades like Vazquez and like Barajas (or Matt Diaz or Casey McGehee or any of the number of awful free agents NH has brought on board). It hamstrings the club. Is Vazquez hurting us in 2012. No, unless you count the fact that NH has yet to learn his lessons regarding the signing of crappy free agents.

          1980s versus now. Ready set go
          1. Both teams strapped for cash? Check
          2. Both teams the laughingstock of the league? Check
          3. Both teams near the bottom of the league in attendance? Check
          4. Both teams unable to attract decent free agents? Check
          5. Both teams have last place talent to trade to re-shape the team? Check

          There are plenty of similarities between now and then and the main difference in the economies is the scale, not the scope. The 1980s Pirates were in such dire straits that they were almost sold and moved.

          I’m not denying the progress the team has made – and I openly credit NH where I think he has done a good job. I’m not saying he has been unable to do anything positive. He’s done some good things. I’m simply saying in five years there should have been/could have been more progress if NH had done a good job. Had he acquired one impact bat when he dismantled this team, the club would be in great shape. Had he been able to find a better crop of free agent hitters than he has, this team would be in great shape.

          My basic premise on this is that it has been so long since we’ve had a good GM that we have forgotten what a good GM looks like. NH has done a mediocre job and we are calling it great. It hasn’t been great. If it was great, the team playing at PNC in 2012 would be better.

          I start my post with saying that I hope this club wins out and wins the World Series. I want this post to make me a pariah. And, sure, maybe this club in 2013 will be great. Maybe Cole and Taillon will be front line, true #1 starters. Maybe the players coming from Latin America will be studs. I hope all of that happens. But five years in, I believe NH should’ve accomplished more.

          • kquickstillsucks

            Would of getting anything of value in the Bay trade helped? Sure, let alone a impact bat in return. You say NH has been mediocre not good I GUARANTEE 20 some other teams would of made roughly the same moves in the same situation. The Bay deal at the time was applauded league wide. I am sure the Mets are sleeping well at night knowing Bay’s OPS in 2010 and 2011 lol. As i have said before LF and 1B are the only spots Huntington has failed to approve on what he inherited.

            As far as them frittering away resources on minor upgrades id rather them miss small than miss big wouldn’t you? McGhee was a All star caliber 3B 2? years ago all he gave up to get him was Veras worth a shot IMO. Diaz I understood why that move was made to platoon with Jones. Barajas to me was another low risk move. WHO were the pirates supposed to get in FA? Barajas hit double digit hrs the majority of his career he was just about the best option in FA. IF Littlefield wasn’t such trash maybe they would of had a C in their system by now? Barajas again IMO has been worth it just for getting most out of AJ.

            That economic scale was the BIG difference I was referring to. NO WAY you can compare the disparity the 80′s Pirates faced to what the current Pirates face.

            Sure there could have been more progress but thats like the Rangers saying “we could of won the WS two years in a row”. There is still work to be done but significant progress has been made. FA hitters i really can’t imagine them doing better to be honest. You said it yourself FA don’t wanna come here AND the Pirates WOULD HAVE OVERPAID and like I said before missing small im fine with missing big I want no part of that. NH having to sign Barajas all stems back to Littlefield being unable to produce much of anything at MLB level.

            Regarding your premise how many great GM’s are out there lol? When u look at it is NH any worse than say Ruben Amaro of the Phillies?Just plucked a team out of thin air thats been good recently and not so good MOST this of the season. Trades multiple top spects to Astros for Hunter Pence last summer THIS SUMMER trades Pence for considerably less and extends Hamels to a lucrative deal. Just wondering would you rather have that team with multiple 20 million dollar per year contracts, top hitters are all over 30 and farm is probably bottom 10? OR would you rather have a lineup were its top hitters are all under 30, assumed payroll flexibility with no 20 million dollar contracts and a top 10 farm system? Marlins look what they did in the off season LOL.

            Is NH really that bad if you think about it? From what he started with to what they have now it takes time the Rays are proof of that (and they dont have a big bat).

          • RandyLinville

            You said the Bay deal was not so bad because he played poorly. He has played poorly. The Bay deal was bad and is magnified not only because what we got in return was terrible but also because the LFers NH has employed haven’t been able to match the horrible stats Bay has put up while in age and injury decline.

            The Pirates came into the season with four gaping holes offensively – both corner OF, SS and C. We have four of the worst 20 hitters in the NL on the club. So, I’d say he failed to upgrade four spots. Maybe I don’t value Barmes’ defense as much as I should and maybe I don’t value Barajas’ mystical ability to call a game, which seems to have disappeared in the second half. I’m happy with the AJ deal and with having him on the team. But right now his ERA is barely above league average and he is among the pitchers most frequently stolen on. I’m happy he feels comfortable pitching to Barajas. But I don’t see that as being worth a sub .200 batting average and poor defense from your primary catcher.

            Who were the Pirates supposed to get in free agency or in trades five years in? Well, if NH had traded well, he wouldn’t have to have gotten anyone. The 1990 team signed two free agents – Wally Backman and Dann Bilardello (who got like 30 at bats). Everyone else was already in place in 1989. Had NH traded well, he wouldn’t have had to continue to shop for vets past their prime and then overpay for them almost every year. How many catchers did NH trade for while dismantling the club? If one of them had worked out, he’d have been set. But none of them could play. So, now we have Barajas. No doubt, DL left a bare cupboard. But NH had chances to fill it better than he has.

            As I said, the difference was scale. Not scope. The Pirates were a small market team in the 1980s. It is easy to compare them. The Pirates dumped or lost via free agency a number of their good players in the early 1990s because of economics. The same forces were in play then. Just on a different scale.

            I’m not saying there are a lot of ML clubs that are run well. With the Pirates limited financial resources – just like they had in the 1980s – the margin for error is tighter than a club that can spend wildly. The wealthy teams can cover for mistakes with money. The Pirates need to have made fewer mistakes than they have.

            NH did a terrible job blowing up the roster. He has done a terrible job at acquiring hitters. But I’ve given credit where I think it is due (the pitching staff, first round picks, Latin America) and I acknowledge that this team is better than where it was five years ago, which isn’t saying much. It isn’t enough. He has done a mediocre job and the result is a mediocre team on the field. We think a mediocre level of performance is okay because it has been so long since we have seen a good performance.

            If you had told me five years ago when NH was brought in that this team would struggle to play .500 ball in 2012 even though he had the entire roster at his disposal to deal from, I would’ve said he shouldn’t be hired.

          • kquickstillsucks

            OMG other than Bay WHAT did he have to trade LOL. In order to “make better trades” or get impact bats you generally have to have something to deal. Is anyone else he dealt when he blew up the team still in the majors doing anything of consequence? Scale scope BS 80′s teams weren’t competing with 150+ million in payrolls to compare then to now is lunacy. That’s like saying cars in the 1920′s were as good as cars today because they had 4 wheels. AGAIN what trades were bad you haven’t said any other than Bay and Bautista. You think turning over a ENTIRE organization is done with a drop of a hat i guess LAUGHABLE. This isn’t the NFL where everyone can spend the same amount of money and get impact players right away. Hindsight if this if that LOL This team has made substantial progress in the 5 years hes been here. I know, I know Rome was built in a day…..or it should of been. Right?

          • RandyLinville

            Two things on the trades:

            1. When dismantling a team, the players you are trading will almost certainly be out of baseball before the players you are trading for because, generally, you are going to trade for younger players. I’m assuming you agree with that right? That’s common sense. In nearly every case – maybe the Aki Iwamura deal being an exception – NH got a younger player or a package of younger players. So, you’d expect they players being traded to decline while the players being acquired are rising. So long as you traded for bats that were near Major League ready (which NH did), three to four years after the deals, you’d expect production from the acquisitions to be near the peak of the production of the players traded (that is the production in 2012 by the acquired players should equal the production that was dealt in 2008/2009). If in three to four years if that isn’t the case, you haven’t done a good job in acquiring players

            So

            2. When evaluating trades three – four years down the road, you don’t evaluate them based on the current accomplishments of the players you traded versus the current accomplishments of the players you acquired (although just for fun I will do just that in a minute). You evaluate the trade based on how that trade made the club better and you evaluate the trade based on the peak production – not the future production – of the players lost. In other words, if we traded the 2008 version of Jason Bay, I would hope in 2012 we have someone who is equaling Bay’s 2008 numbers on the roster (or a combination of players equaling his production on the roster) rather than equaling Bay’s 2012 numbers.

            Even though this is a not the way to actually judge a trade or a series of trades, for fun, here are the hitting stats in 2012 of the players Pittsburgh acquired in trades made by NH when he took apart the team.

            But before I go to the stats, do you know one way I know these trades were awful? The number of hitters the Pirates traded who are still active is greater than those making a contribution to the 2012 club.

            2012 Buc hitters (mostly Tabata and Harrison with Fryer, Clement and Gorkys) acquired during the dismantling:
            .205/.291/.333/.625 in 564 at bats with 72 runs, six homers and 29 RBI. Hitters NH acquired that aren’t even in the organization anymore are Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche, Robinzon Diaz, Jason Jaramillo, Lastings Milledge, Argenis Diaz, Ronny Cedeno, Aki Iwamura. This list of non-members of the 2012 team is important, lest someone come back and say ‘he focused on pitchers.’ He focused on both hitters and pitchers. He did a little better – see below – on getting pitchers.

            2012 stats of Buc hitters sent packing during the dismantling (and I’m not even going to count Bautista) .208/.298/.378/.677 in 1,414 at bats with 175 runs, 46 homers and 162 RBI. Again, not counting Bautista.

            So, the ex Bucco hitters still playing are out performing the current Bucco hitters acquired for them who are on the 2012 roster. That’s with the ex Bucs aging and getting injured. That’s with Bay, Nady and Jack Wilson combining to put up numbers that would rival the crappiness of Barajas’ numbers. That’s with me removing Jose Bautista’s data just to make it more interesting. You throw Bautista’s numbers in the mix and you have what is without question a horrible job by NH in dealing for bats. Because he failed to acquire decent bats when he took apart the team, he has continually sought bats on the free agent market with continued failure.

            On to the pitchers. Hanrahan, Karstens, Locke, Morton, Morris and D. McCutchen are the acquisitions from the dismantling who have pitched for the 2012 Bucs. They have combined to go 11-13 with a 3.83 ERA. They have made 88 appearances, started 26 games and pitched 204-2/3 innings. Hanrahan has notched each of 35 saves earned. The two pitchers remaining from the club that NH dismantled are Sean Burnett, Jesse Chavez and Tom Gorzelanny. They combined for a 6-5 mark with a 4.37 ERA in 139 innings. They have three saves among them. The WHIP/BB per 9/K per 9 marks for current Bucs is 1.261/2.68/6.99 and for the ex Bucs it is 1.353/3.05/8.61. NH got a decent, but frequently injured middle/back of the rotation guy in Karstens. Morton had flashes of brilliance but was overall below average and might not ever pitch for the Pirates again. Hopefully Locke will be as good as Karstens. Hanrahan is outstanding and Morris and McCutchen are run of the mill relievers who aren’t as good as Burnett and Gorzelanny have been in 2012.

            Do you call that return for the players traded good? I don’t. I call that bad. In fact, if you count Bautista’s numbers, the production value in 2012 of the players he traded even in 2012 is greater than the value of what he got back. If you take Bautista’s numbers out, you basically have Joel Hanrahan’s stats keeping the acquired players a nose above the production level of the traded players who have aged and gotten hurt. Dude, that flat out stinks. I’m not sure how you can even argue this point. He did a terrible, terrible job pulling the team apart.

            I’ve conceded and will state again here, tip of the hat to him for getting JMac and Burnett. Those trades were made after the dismantling was complete and the premise of this is that he did a horrible job of getting players back for the active roster that he turned over. I’ve noted above I think he did a fine job of putting together a pitching staff.

            I’ve acknowledged that what NH had to work with was last place talent – just like the 1980s clubs. Rather than rehash the whole post, please have a look at my detailed trade-by-trade account of how NH took apart the team (http://blogs.piratesprospects.com/linville/winning-in-spite-of-bad-trades/).

            I didn’t expect the team to instantly improve (or at the drop of a hat). The trades took the better part of two years to complete. He took his time, as he should’ve done, but he didn’t do a good job. Year three on the job (and two years spent turning over the roster via trades just like NH), Syd Thrift had a team on the field (1988) that was above .500 and clearly a team on the rise. This club is struggling five years in, in part because NH did such a poor job during the dismantling process, and has many question marks. Five years into the rebuilding process from the 1980s and the Pirates had a division winner, the first of three. The economic forces in play then (that continue to be in play now – see below) helped wreck that team as the club could ill-afford to pay the numerous stars they had drafted and acquired. I didn’t expect a miracle in five years, I expected a team that was competitive. This team is mediocre, in spite of having a top MVP candidate on the roster.

            Regarding the economics, let’s put some numbers to it. I use the word scope to describe the generalities and scale to describe the specifics. Things are very similar – but in a different scale – than what they were before. In 1986, the average player salary for all Big League teams was $410,517 (http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/haupert.mlb). The Pirates were 9th in the 12 team NL with a total payroll (that’s the scope) of about $9.3 million (that’s the scale) according to baseball-reference.com

            The Pirates in 2012 have a Payroll of approximately $52 million (that’s the scale) according to Cot (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/?page_id=136). From what I can tell on Cot’s web site, that puts them last in the 16 team NL (that’s the scope). The average salary in 2012 for all players in the Big Leagues (from the same source above) is about $2.386 million.

            Doing the math, the average salary has gone up about 5.8 times while the Pirates payroll has gone up about 5.6 times. If you want to say the Pirates are disadvantaged now based on economics and small market and all that stuff, then the same was equally true back then. The economic forces were in play back then, just on a different scale. The scope is the same. Claiming things are different now because the payrolls are higher isn’t a valid point. The Pirates payroll has gone up commensurate with the bump up in average salary across the Major Leagues and they remain near the low point in overall payroll, which is how it was in the 1980s. The team NH inherited was in last place. Same as the 1980s. The club was the laughingstock of the league in the 1980s and was when NH inherited it. Free agents didn’t want to come to Pittsburgh then or now. The car argument is way off because we aren’t talking about an advance in technology. We are talking about an increase in salary paid to human beings playing baseball.

            The point of my post is that NH has not done a good job. He’s better than DL. He is likely better than some other GMs currently employed by other clubs. I make that claim that he has not done a good job because the team on the field is not good now. And given the resources he has had, the team should be good right now.

  • Smrtbusnisman04

    “Spent frugally”- He barely spent anything on the free agent market. The Barmes contract I believe was more for his defense, not hitting. If anyone needs to go, its hitting coach Gregg Ritchie or Clint Hurdle. They DO NOT stress the fundamentals and plate discipline. That explains why are team is so incompetent and not scoring many runs. His idea of putting speed at the top of the lineup doesn’t work and I think he takes way too much credit for the 2007 Rockies. He has 6 players in MLB’s list of the TOP 100 prospects. Did Dave Littlefield ever do that?

    • RandyLinville

      Thanks for the comment. If you note what I wrote above, I credit NH for knowing what to do with a top 5 pick and for re-establishing a foothold in Latin America. By and large, those two things are the sources of the prospects ranked in the top 100.

      NH is better than DL in nearly every single aspect of the job (I’d say DL had a better handle on recognizing hitting ability). NH is not good. As I’ve noted in other posts, Pirate fans have forgotten what a good GM looks like. So, we look at a mediocre GM who happens to be the best GM we’ve had in recent history and we call him good. He is not a good GM.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Let’s look at money for a second. Does anyone think the Pirates are going to get the same value of the $10 million they will spend on Barmes as they would have gotten in spending it on Maholm this year? Paying $10 million over 2 years to Barmes is overpaying him about 8 million too much. I didn’t like Cedeno either, but I’d take him at 3 million over Barmes. It’s not like Barmes didn’t have a track record, same with Barajas and Bedard. In fairness, I didn’t like Burnett either, but that clearly worked out. Huntington and his ‘I’m the smartest guy in the room’ act got wearying for me long ago. When given an absolute gift like this season, he didn’t know how to accept it. Gaby Sanchez my eye.

  • Lee Young

    Gee Randy….31 games ago, some people were touting him for Executive of the year!

    Sorry….I disagree with your reasoning. I’d go point by point, but Tim beat me to it in his article.

  • RandyLinville

    Fair enough. Five years in, I expect more than what NH has done.

  • pirateswillwinin2012

    Bobby Cox has said it himself it takes at least 7 years to rebuild a franchise. It’s been slow process but every year this team has gotten better. Look how young this team is still with the core people in place now. McCutchen, Marte, Walker, Alvarez, Snider. Compare these two years like the 88 and 89 seasons, you could see the light. Tell me you can’t see the light?

    Also this team hasn’t had a winning season in 19 years (Some of us forget) if they finish over .500 this year Huntington will be the GM at the helm that got us over the hump, I think we all need to look at the big picture. I blame Hurdle more than anything NH has done. Its the lineups he rolls out there, it’s the unnecessary bunts, squeeze plays, pitching changing, lack of using his best BP arm (His closer) unless it’s a “save situation”. His managing has been horrible over these past two months, I don’t see how anyone could argue that.

    Greg Ritchie should the one to go first though, The Pirates plate dicsipline and situational hitting is atrocious, worst I’ve ever seen. Is that lack of talent? Or lack of coaching? Mindset, Approach, Having a damn clue what to do when you get in the box? I don’t see it with anybody on this team. That reflects the coaching and the minor league coordinator, it’s pretty pathetic that half the players on this team can’t even bunt properly.

  • whiteAngus

    ritchie may end up the fall guy, but its entirely on the players themselves. coaches are hired to be fired. however, some guys have improved this season while under richie’s watch, including McCutchen, Jones, ALvarez and Walker, whom have all put up the best numbers of their careers. so we fire richie when your 4 top hitters all improved?????????????? makes sense.

  • RandyLinville

    Syd Thrift took three years to put a .500 team in the standings because he turned over the roster (he and Joe Brown before him) very, very well. NH did a very poor job turning over the roster and the 2012 team is suffering because of it. Within five years, the Brown/Thrift/Doughty rebuilding put a division winner in the stadium. Five years in, NH has a mediocre club on the field.

    I can see the light. No question. This team is better for NH having taken ahold of it. But that’s not saying much and the progress has not been substantial enough for him to keep his job IMHO. Finishing .500 doesn’t thrill me because mediocrity doesn’t thrill me. I don’t believe in moral vicotories.

    I agree with you in that I’m not sold on Hurdle. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I really WANT to like him. But he makes moves that are questionable far too often. At the same time, four of the worst 20 hitters in the NL on are the 25 man roster. That’s on NH. It’s on Hurdle as to why he continues to write their name on the line up card.

  • whiteAngus

    defensive numbers say that Barmes is worth the contract by themselves. NH doesnt come off as the smartest guy in the room unless hes in an elevator with a yinzer.

  • pirateswillwinin2012

    but others have regressed. And its just the maturation process of the players you named all coming into their 2nd, 3rd and 4th big league seasons respectively. You have to admit everyone’s approach top to bottom in small ball game situations is pathetic. How many times do they fail to get a bunt down (even though i don’t agree with hurdle’s excessive bunting) or fail to hit the ball on the right side with no one out and a guy on 2nd? Or a guy on 3rd with 0 or 1 out and we can’t get him in? In college we did simulated situations like this all the time and practice do the small things over and over because that’s what wins you games. As you can see over the past month the Pirates inability to do the little things with runners on base is what has killed them, that comes from mindset and approach.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Really, defensive numbers say a guy hitting that crappy is worth $10 million dollars for 2 years? Tell ya what, go get any of a plethora of good field, no hit shortstops. Let them fight it out, the winner gets a 2 year job in the majors at major league minimum. Then explain to me how the $9 million + you spent on Barmes isn’t a waste. This should be good.