It looks increasingly likely that the Pittsburgh Pirates record of futility – 19 losing seasons in a row – will extend to 20. If the Pirates want to stop 20 from becoming 21, there are five things that they must do this offseason.
1. Fire Neal Huntington
I am not guaranteeing it will happen, but they are few things that unite Pittsburgh fans more than the sentiment that General Manager Neal Huntington must go.
The anti-Huntington sentiment hit an all-time high after the explosive piece by Pittsburgh Tribune Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic on the questionable training procedures in place for Pirates farmhands.
Even without the embarrassment and outrage over the revelations regarding the highly unorthodox training procedures in the Pirates' minor league system, Neal Huntington has earned a ticket out of Pittsburgh. The five years of the Huntington era have produced zero winning seasons and two epic collapses.
Huntington’s record on the free-agent market is horrific. Particularly when it comes to signing position players. Lyle Overbay, Rod Barajas, Matt Diaz, Nate McLouth and Clint Barmes read like a who’s who of free-agency busts.
The Huntington-era farm system has produced almost no talent drafted by Huntington. Despite high draft picks and high profile over-slotting to convince college-bound players to sign with the Pirates, the minors have essentially produced nothing that Huntington can point to—outside of streaking 3B Pedro Alvarez. Indeed, most of the Pirates core of young up-and-comers are made up of players drafted by the previous regime—players like Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and even rookie Starling Marte.
What is the Most Important Thing the Pirates Can Do this Offseason?
There has been talk of mythical five-year plans since Cam Bonifay was the GM of the Pirates at the beginning of this streak of losing seasons. Well, Huntington has had five years, and yet the Pirates continue to lose.
2. Fire Clint Hurdle or at least give new GM the power to fire Hurdle
This pains me, because I like Clint Hurdle. However, you can’t fire Huntington and bring in a new GM without giving that GM the opportunity to hire his own head coach. This means that Hurdle must be fired—or, at the very least, the new GM must be empowered to fire Hurdle.
While I like Hurdle, he is certainly not without blame for the situation the Pirates find themselves in for the second straight year. Hurdle made a series of questionable moves with his pitching staff, including inexplicably trotting out James McDonald time after time when it was obvious to everyone in the entire world that something was the matter.
It is also worth noting that in the 10 years that Clint Hurdle has been a big-league manager, he has only had one winning season.
3. Sign Another Veteran Front-Line Pitcher
Think AJ Burnett. The Pirates need another AJ Burnett. Neither Gerritt Cole, nor Jameson Taillon, the crowned jewels of the Pirates farm system, will be ready for big-league action at the beginning of next year. For the second year in a row, the starting rotation was spectacular in the first half and dreadful in the second half. The rotation needs another veteran hand who can eat up innings and keep the Pirates in games.
While the Erik Bedard experiment didn't work, if the Pirates are going to be able to sustain in the August and September next year, they need another veteran pitcher.
4. Rebuild the Bullpen
Given that this is one of the only things that Neal Huntington really was successful at doing, maybe we should ask him to sign a couple of bullpen guys before we show him the door. The Pirates closer for the last two years. All-Star Joel Hanrahan, may not be back, and quite honestly, given how uneven his play has been, and how often he seems to be doing a Mitch Williams impersonation, that might not be a bad thing. Hanrahan’s set up man, Jason Grilli, is a free agent who will be looking for a big payday. A payday he is likely to get, but given how he has pitched in September, buyer beware. Long reliever Brad Lincoln was dealt to the Blue Jays at the trading deadline, and Juan Cruz and former All-Star Evan Meek were both DFA'd.
The Pirates bullpen, once a strength of the team, will need an entire overhaul in the offseason.
5. Upgrade at Catcher
Defensively the Pirates could not have been worse behind the plate. Some of the inability to pick off opposing runners is on the pitching staff, but certainly the catchers shoulder a good deal of the blame as well. Unbelievably, opposing runners have stolen on Rod Barajas at a 94 percent success rate in 2012. Catcher Michael McKenry, who split time with Barajas, was only slightly less terrible, with opposing runners having an 84 percent success rate stealing against him.
Barajas has not only been a defensive liability, he has also been an offensive liability as well. In 305 at-bats, Barajas is just about at the Mendoza line at .203. He has hit 10 HRs, but has driven in just 29 RBI and has an OPS of .616.
McKenry has been more serviceable offensively, but much of his offensive production came in a burst in the summer. McKenry still managed 12 HR/39 RBI/.795 OPS in just 227 ABs.
It is clear the Pirates do not believe McKenry is an everyday catcher, and if he is going to be one half of a platoon, they need a better platoon partner than Barajas.