In one of the worst seasons in Pittsburgh Pirates history, it was almost fitting that the season ended with a loss—a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Florida Marlins Sunday afternoon.
Along with the loss come the rumors of the possible firing of manager John Russell and that General manager Neal Huntington will be retained.
For a change, I agree with both decisions if they were to happen.
First, Huntington. He's done a quality job bringing talent into the organization. Look at the whole organization now, from the time he took over for Dave Littlefield. For the average players he had to deal, he's done a fine job of trying to rebuild the Pirates.
The Pirates went from having no prospects four years ago to having the organization flooded with "real prospects." He's drafted great. He's gotten involved in international free agents. he's doing an overall good job. When you criticize Huntington, don't forget he's got a cheap owner backing him. The sky isn't exactly the limit for him.
Sure Huntington has made a couple of mistakes, but his overall track record has been solid. he deserves the chance to see his guys reach the majors.
Now onto Russell. The fact is, someone has to be held accountable. You can make whatever excuses you want for Russell, but the facts are that he didn't get the job done. You can say that they traded away all of his players in 2009, but he didn't win when they were here to begin with either.
Sure, he hasn't had great talent, but he had to do better then he did. In three seasons, Russell compiled a record of 186-289. His .383 winning percentage is ninth worse of all-time. The names ahead of him? You don't know any of them. All of them managed in the early 1900s or late 1800s.
Other than Roy Hartsfield (.343 winning percentage), who managed the Toronto Blue Jays from 1977-79, Russell is statistically the worst manager in baseball over the past 100 years. He has to be held accountable for that.
Aside from the wins and losses, there is the lazy demeanor. I firmly believe that teams take on the personality of their manager. That is evident in this team, because the Pirates are lazy on the field. Sure they hustle, but they don't have the fire to them.
Many people want Russell fired because he doesn't come out and rant and rave like Lou Piniella would. I could care less about that. I don't need a guy that draws attention to himself.
What I do need, though, is a guy who will stick up for his players, which Russell doesn't. How many times do the Pirates pitchers not get the call a couple inches off the plate, but have it go against them when they are batting? A good manager doesn't let that happen for 162 games.
Russell, and his staff, also must be held accountable for the lack of fundamentals this team shows. Sure they are young, but they make far too many fundamental mistakes. Way too often: the Pirates don't throw to the right base, miss the cut off man, fail to lay down bunts, can't hit behind the runner, etc.
Little things win games and the Pirates don't do them under Russell.
Also, has there ever been a worse base running team then this current Pirates club? The players didn't ever get held accountable, so they continued to make the same mistakes over and over again.
The facts are that with all of the promising young talent the Pirates have now and the ones that will be called up in the future, you don't want them playing for Russell. There are just too many bad, lazy habits to be learned under Russell and his staff.
Who should replace him? It's way too early to tell. I've often dropped names like Phil garner, Willie Randolph, and Bobby Valentine, but none of those guys will want to work for the cheap Bob Nutting.
You have to hire a manager that has won before though. You need someone who will gain the respect of the players from the first day he's on the job. They need a guy to come in and say, "This isn't the way we play here anymore."
One name I would like to see here is Freddie Gonzalez. He has experience managing young players and definitely showed he is a no nonsense type of manager. he's also a candidate for both the Cubs and the Braves openings, so the Pirates likely have no chance at him.
Another name to keep an eye on is former Indians manager Eric Wedge. Sure, things didn't end well for him in Cleveland, but many people forget that Wedge had a young Indians team only one win away from the World Series.
The problem is that there will likely be over ten managerial openings this upcoming offseason. None of the qualified candidates are going to want to work for a cheap owner, no matter how promising the young talent on the field is.
Either way, Russell must go and the Pirates absolutely can not make a mistake hiring his replacement.