Team President Frank Coonnelly announced on Wednesday afternoon that the Pittsburgh Pirates would retain General Manager Neal Huntington as well as assistants Greg Smith and Kyle Stark. While the decision may be unpopular, the Bucs were right to give Huntington another year on the job.
The Pirates are in the latter stages of their long rebuilding program and have provided Pittsburgh fans with more exciting baseball during the last two seasons than they had seen during the preceding decade. While each season has ended in disappointment, it is important for Pirate fans to remember how far this team has come and how much closer it is to achieving its ultimate goal.
The organization has been restocked
When Huntington first came to Pittsburgh, the Pirates were devoid of talent in all parts of the organization. While there were bright spots like Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, there was no level of play where the Bucs were above average. Now the picture is quite different.
Huntington cannot take all of the credit for this. High-impact talents like Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Pedro Alvarez were rewards for losing a lot of games, as all a team has to do to get elite talent from the No. 1 or No. 2 draft slot is not completely whiff.
Yet under Huntington the Bucs have not merely resorted to easier forms of talent acquisition; instead, the Pirates have looked under every rock to add talent and depth to the organization. Core players Garrett Jones and Jason Grilli were scrap heap pick-ups, while the Yankees actually paid the Pirates to take current staff ace A.J. Burnett off their hands.
Huntington has had his fair share of success in the trade market as well, acquiring James McDonald, Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens and considerable prospect depth without giving up much of consequence. Even the Pirates' "win-now" trades in 2012 netted three players (Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez) who will be useful contributors beyond this season.
Mistakes have been made
There are areas in which the Huntington administration has clearly underperformed. Aside from their early picks, the Pirates have not generated much from their recent large draft expenditures. The Bucs have hit on very few of their recent over-slot draft selections, and while it is too early to judge all of Huntington's drafts the first two do not look particularly promising.
Huntington has also been less than stellar in the free agent market, especially when it has come to signing hitters. Often hindered by a small budget, Huntington has opted to sign three or four distinctly mediocre players (Clint Barmes, Lyle Overbay, etc.) as opposed to one player who may actually be useful.
As Huntington goes forward as a Pirate, he will need to show improvement in these areas. Coonelly and Bob Nutting should discuss changing the approach to free agency in particular, as Huntington should have a few less holes to fill this offseason.
Huntington deserves the chance to improve
This is Huntington's first go-round as a general manager, and he has done a lot of positive things in his tenure. He has displayed clear strength at acquiring players from other teams on the cheap, an attribute that is critical to a small-market team.
There are also areas where Huntington needs to improve, and this should be made clear to him. His free agency approach needs to change and he may need to revisit some of the Pirates' draft scouting processes. But these are changes that Huntington should be given the chance to implement.
Pirate fans have a bad taste in their mouths after the way the team performed in August and September, but even 76 wins is far more than most outlets predicted for this club in 2012. The Pirates may have failed to "finish" this year, but Huntington deserves the chance to try to finish the rebuilding process he has enacted.
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