Why the Pittsburgh Pirates Have Hope with Neal Huntington As GM

Sam FogelgarenCorrespondent IAugust 3, 2009

For all Pirates fans who think that Neal Huntington has dementia and can't remember that he just traded a key player so he goes out and does it again, you won't like this article.

Huntington does not have memory problems, but he isn't exactly making Pirates fans happy. In other words, Huntington realizes he isn't making the popular moves, and is aware that numerous Pirate fans hate his guts.

But hate no longer. Neal Huntington is your savior.

Neal Huntington was named general manager of the Pirates Sept. 25, 2007, replacing Dave Littlefield.

For all that hated Dave Littlefield, you probably shouldn't hate Huntington.

Look at what Littlefield did as GM. He would acquire middle of the road players in exchange for high quality players.

Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong.

Jason Kendall for Jerry Blevins and Rob Bowen.

Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez for Matt Bruback, Jose Hernandez, and Bobby Hill.

These are just some examples. Littlefield wasn't looking for prospects, like Huntington is. He was looking for guys who he could just insert in the lineup the day after the trade. He wasn't looking toward the future.

Huntington is.

Believe it or not, that is the reason for trading guys like Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson. Because Huntington is looking toward the future.

Let's look at all the relatively recent Huntington trades, and you'll figure out his motives.

John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs for Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio.

Grabow is a valued reliever for the Pirates and Gorzelanny was once a valued starter for the team.

Grabow, who has been one of the best middle relievers in baseball over the last six seasons, is eligible to be a free agent this coming offseason.

Between 2006 and 2008, Gorzelanny started 64 games for the Pirates, including 32 in 2007, a season in which he won 14 games. His time this season has been limited, as he as only pitched nine games with the Pirates, with no starts.

The Pirates received Jose Ascanio and Kevin Hart.

Both Ascanio, 24, and Hart, 26, are young relievers who have spent parts of at least the last two seasons out of the bullpen with the Cubs.

This may not have been a Neal Huntington type move, but it made perfect sense. Gorzelanny was struggling, and was in the minor leagues for most of the season.

As usual, Grabow has done a great job, but is in the last year before his free agent year, and the Pirates don't have the money to afford him. What do they do? Ship them off for two young relievers with potential.

Let's take a look at another trade the Pirates made recently.

Freddy Sanchez to the Giants for Tim Alderson.

Sanchez was one of the most respected players on the team, and many Pirate fans felt that if he and Jack Wilson were traded, it was the end. Well, they were both traded, and it is definitely not the end. It is the beginning.

Sanchez was perhaps the most productive Pirate offensively over the last five years. He won the NL batting title in 2006, with a .344 average. The thing about Sanchez is that his contract technically runs up this season, but has a team option for next season.

Whether Huntington planned on picking it up or not probably had a large impact on this trade. The Pirates tried to negotiate with Sanchez, but it didn't work out.

Alderson is a 20-year-old star in the making. In his minor league career, he is 21-6 with a 3.04 ERA in 47 starts. A first round pick (22nd overall) in 2007 with the Giants, Alderson is 8-2 with a 3.54 ERA this season in the minor leagues.

This trade was made mostly because the Pirates knew they couldn't afford to bring back Sanchez for next year, and even if they could afford to, they knew they couldn't re-sign him beyond next season.

Let's take a look at another.

Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to the Mariners for Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Aaron Pribanic, Brett Lorin, and Nathan Adcock.

Wilson was traded for basically the same reason Sanchez was traded. There were contract negotiation issues, and they felt like trading him was the best option.

Wilson was the longest tenured member of the Pirates major league team (John Grabow was the longest tenured with the organization). He was a fan favorite and was known for his excellent defense. 

Snell has been a consistent starter for the last four seasons, but he struggled this season, going just 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA in 15 starts. He spent part of the season in the minor leagues, but due to his request. In six minor league starts this season, he dominated, going 2-2 with a 0.96 ERA.

In return, the Pirates received five prospects.

The centerpiece of the package the Pirates received was Jeff Clement. Clement, who plays catcher was the third overall pick of the 2005 MLB Draft by the Mariners, and so far has not disappointed. Clement is a career .288 hitter in the minors, and so far with the Pirates' triple-A team, is hitting .556.

Cedeno was also one of the main players in the deal. Acquired from the Cubs before the season, Cedeno has been a decent player throughout his career.

Aaron Pribanic has done very well in his first season in the minors, posting a 7-6 record with a 3.21 ERA.

Brett Lorin has also done a great job. In 16 games, Lorin has posted a 5-4 record with an ERA of just 2.44.

Nathan Adcock is the only one who has struggled this season, and it hasn't been too serious. He's posted a 5-7 record with a 5.29 ERA.

This is perhaps Huntington's greatest trade. The main player traded was Jack Wilson, who plays shortstop. Who was one of the players they got in return? Ronny Cedeno, who started at shortstop this season for the Mariners. Cedeno isn't quite as good as Jack Wilson, but think about it.

With Wilson's contract off the books, the Pirates save nearly $7 million from this trade.

Ian Snell's love of pitching minor league baseball and inconsistencies in the majors this season doesn't really help the Pirates, so throw him in the trade, and what do you get? Five talented minor leaguers, including one who could become a great catcher.

It's true, prospects are prospects, and what do prospects have? That one word that drives every fan crazy. Potential. 

But Huntington's best quality is that he gets very good prospects. The prospects that he gets don't just have potential, they deliver. 

Huntington has made so many trades, I don't want to go into a ton of detail about every single one of them, but I will use this one as an example. 

On June 30th, 2009, the Pirates traded Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to the Washington Nationals for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan.

At first this trade makes no sense. Why trade Morgan, who was hitting .277 with 18 steals in 71 games and Burnett, who had a 3.06 ERA in 38 relief appearances? 

And an even better question is why trade them for Hanrahan, who had an ERA near eight with the Nationals and Milledge, who played just seven games all year with the Nationals?

Now even with deep analysis, the trade doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I'm not going to defend every move Huntington makes, but this trade, though I don't completely agree with it, fits perfectly in the kind of trades he is trying to make. 

Morgan is 29 years old, and though he has been productive, Huntington thought that it is the perfect time to trade him. He is heading into the best years of his career, and the value is rather high. 

Hanrahan was likely a throw in to the deal, but he's 27 years old and is an okay reliever.

Milledge was the key guy here. The reason the Pirates wanted him is because of his age. Yes, this is his fourth season in the majors, but he's just 24 years old.

So for a 24-year-old kid, he's played at least 50 games in three seasons, two with the Mets and one with Washington last year, in which he played 134 games.

Why did he play seven games with the Nationals this season? He struggled early on, he was sent down and he got hurt. So he likely would have played more if the injury didn't occur.

Though it doesn't look like a good trade on the forefront, it is a good trade. Morgan is 29, and Milledge is 24. That's why Huntington wanted to make the trade. If Morgan was 25, the trade would have never happened.

It's Milledge's mix of potential, major league experience, and young age that made Huntington pull the trigger.

Here is a list of all the players that Neal Huntington has traded as general manager. Then there will be a list of all of the players he received. Only trades that affected the Pirates on a major league level will be included.

Traded: Todd Redmond, Kyle Pearson, Damaso Marte, Xavier Nady, Jason Bay, Ronny Paulino, Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett, John Grabow, Tom Gorzelanny, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Ian Snell, Adam LaRoche, and Eric Hinske.

Received: Tyler Yates, Denny Bautista, Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Jose Tabata, Brandon Moss, Bryan Morris, Craig Hansen, Jason Jaramillo, Joel Hanrahan, Lastings Milledge, Kevin Hart, Jose Ascenio, Tim Alderson, Jeff Clement, Aaron Pribanic, Nathan Adcock, Ronny Cedeno, Brett Lorin, Hunter Strickland, Argenis Diaz, Eric Fryer, and Casey Erickson.

Huntington has traded 14 players and gotten back 24. That's pretty impressive, the fact that they have taken in close to twice the amount of players that they have traded away.

If you are a Pirates fan, you probably disagree with this article. But let me point something out to you that you might not have considered. 

Pirates fans have been trashing on Neal Huntington for trading guys like Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth, and John Grabow. But what were the Pirates doing when they had these players? Nothing.

They continued to play the same mediocre baseball. Take their large contracts off the table and bring in a bunch of youngsters who have a bright future and that just might be the answer. 

Neal Huntington is trying to mix it up. We have seen that even when the team has had guys like Wilson, Sanchez and Bay, the team flounders. Huntington is proposing a new theory.

Get rid of all of the expensive guys who are near their free agency signing periods and bring in a bunch of young players who have three to six years before they take off for the free agent market. Guys like Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson haven't been able to turn the Pirates around. It's guys like Jeff Clement and Lastings Milledge who now have the honor of trying to turn them around. Can they?

I'll give them three years. If they aren't winning 85-90-plus games in the next four years, they're hopeless. I say three years because it lets the rookies and second year players now develop into veterans, and it lets guys who are one or two years away into the league.

The Pirates will be one of the most interesting teams to watch over the next three years. Success could happen. Just have some faith in Neal Huntington.


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