Pittsburgh Pirates: Is 'No Deal Neal' Afraid to Make a Mistake?

Paul LadewskiCorrespondent IIJuly 28, 2011

PITTSBURGH - JULY 19:  Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington talks to reporters prior to the game against the Cincinnati Reds on July 19, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

(For complete Pirates coverage, see Piratesreport.com.)

The first-place Milwaukee Brewers acquired reliever Francisco Rodriguez, and they may not be done. The second-place St. Louis Cardinals picked up starter Edwin Jackson, reliever Octavio Dotel and outfielder Corey Patterson among others.

In the meantime, while their offense has failed produce more than four runs in any of the last nine games, the third-place Pirates have picked up Marcel Marceau via the trade market thus far.

What up with that? That's what several major league sources wanted to know in our correspondence this week. Several expressed surprise and even disappointment that general manager Neal Huntington hadn't been more active before the Sunday trade deadline even though he had the go-ahead to do so.

“They have to do what is necessary to improve,” one National League talent evaluator told me. “Maybe they have to buy a bat even if (Pedro) Alvarez turns out to be the guy. They should get a player or players who will make them better this year, not in the future but now.”

“I don't know what their farm system has right now, but Pittsburgh is on a high,” an American League source said. “They should add to what they have at the major league level. It would make a major statement about whether they win or lose their division.”

Said one N.L. team executive who wore several hats over the years. “They should be buyers because this is their first chance in many years to be in the race. They can give their great fans and city something besides the Steelers to be proud of.”

That's easy to say, but what if he has to trade an upper-tier prospect in order to acquire a name player?

“Nobody has 10 top prospects,” he said. “Are you going to throw away a chance to win for someone who might not make it? Remember how many years it has been since they competed.”

Huntington has never been in this position before. In his first three-plus years on the job, his primary focus was to trade quality and experience for quantity and potential. All of a sudden, his team is in the Central Division chase, which requires a different thought process. While Huntington has made repeated references to the exorbitant prices in the marketplace, some others wonder if it's really the other way around, whether he can make adjustments on the fly or is afraid to make a mistake.

It's also possible Huntington has agreed to a contract extension—the organization considers such information to be a top secret—which means that he can continue to focus on two or three years down the road.

“Neal is impossible to deal with,” one of the National Leaguers volunteered on his own. “If you ask him, almost every young player in the Pirates farm system is a potential All-Star. He'll talk about some of their lesser prospects, but when you bring up the higher-end names, then forget it. He won't discuss them. They're off limits. And I don't mean just the ones on their top-10 list.”

Huntington isn't the only GM who is attached at the hip to the farm system. In this case, he has even more reason to do so. When he came aboard, the mandate was to build from within almost from scratch. He has put a lot of time and energy into the project.

He scouted these kids. He traded for them. He drafted them. He helped sign them. He developed relationships with them and their families. This is what he knows best. At some point, however, he may have to cut the cord with some of the better ones if the Pirates expect to contend on a regular basis.

I expect the front office to complete at least one trade in the next few hours, but I doubt Houston Astros outfielder Hunter Pence or Tampa Bay Rays outfielder B.J. Upton will come aboard. The player is likely to be along the lines of Baltimore Orioles reliever Koji Uehara, Colorado Rockies corner infielder Ty Wigginton, Oakland Athletics outfielders Conor Jackson and Josh Willingham, or Texas Rangers first baseman Chris Davis and catcher Taylor Teagarden.

It seems that the large percentage of Pirates fans don't expect much to happen this week, either. In a recent Piratesreport.com poll, 71 percent said that they had either a low (15), below average (19) or moderate (37) confidence level in Huntington as it concerned his ability to upgrade the major league product before the deadline.

He has three days to put his stamp on this team and change some minds.

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Paul Ladewski covers the Pirates for Piratesreport.com and the Ogden Newspapers. Unless otherwise noted, the quotes were obtained first-hand, from industry sources or official Pirates media materials.