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.
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.