What’s the future of GM Huntington?
General Manager Neal Huntington is in his final year of his current contract and the performance from the team this season could determine whether he will have a job in October.
In the three years Huntington has been GM, the Pirates have gone: 67-95 in 2008, 62-99 in 2009 and 57-105 in 2010. We have seen fan favorites traded away, but even more talent acquired.
Huntington discussed his future with the Trib’s beat reporter Rob Biertempfel.
How would you assess the job you’ve done to this point? Will your contract be extended beyond 2011?
The simple answer is, we’ve won fewer games in each of my three years here. That’s not acceptable. We have to get better. We have to win more games. But I wasn’t brought here only to manage the 25-man roster. I was brought here to overhaul the baseball operations department. I am proud of what we’ve done in scouting on the pro and amateur side and on the international side, with the talent we’ve flooded the system with, with the way we develop players. I am tremendously proud of all of that. The depth and talent system, both on the field and in the scouting arena and coaching arena … we’ve taken huge steps forward. Because we have so many at the major league level, our prospect depth may not be (ranked) in the top 10, but we don’t focus on that. We focus on how do we win games at the major league level — and not just for one year. How are we going to do it, year in and year out? The complicated answer to your question is, I am very proud of everything we’ve done except for the won-loss record at the major league level. I get that (wins and losses) are all that people care about. It’s only been three years. We think we’ve made a significant impact on creating the foundation and building the first level of the house that will allow us to be a consistent championship-caliber organization. As far as my job, I’m going to do it to the very best of my ability until they tell me not to do it anymore. My contract is irrelevant. The day I start making moves to save my job is the day I should be man enough to resign. That’s not what I’m about; that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to put a championship team back on the field in Pittsburgh, and that doesn’t happen with quick fixes.
What are your expectations for manager Clint Hurdle this season?
The expectation for Clint are for him to be the manager, the voice in the clubhouse, the one who comes in and makes an impact. We’re going to be better this year; it’s just a matter of how much better. It’s an exciting time. We expect there to be a lot of energy in spring training. It’s going to be a fun camp but also a camp where there are a ton of decisions to make, which isn’t ideal. Our guys are going to have to be ready to go from day one. Clint’s personality, energy and communication skills will make players comfortable, but at the same time, with a little bit of edge. We’ve got to go. We’ve got to get better and win some games this year.
Some of the younger players, Andrew McCutchen in particular, are reaching the point where contract extensions might be in order. What are the risks in that process?
It takes two parties to reach a deal. Both sides have to compromise. The club takes on a tremendous amount of risk because, as we’ve experienced here already, it doesn’t always work out to the club’s benefit. The player takes the risk that he might be underpaid for three or four years. But if he is underpaid, he’s about to make $60 million, $80 million, $130 million, so the player really has almost no risk in a multiyear contract. He just doesn’t want to be underpaid for years four and five of his arbitration eligibility, but then he’s going to be rewarded as a free agent. The club takes on most of the risk, but there is cost-certainty and hopefully some savings. Maybe we (buy out) a year or two of free-agent (eligibility) for a player who we believe is going to have a quality career. It is part of the plan. It is part of what we hope to do going forward. But it’s always going to require a compromise on both sides
Can the Pirates compete with the other starting rotations in the NL Central?
There’s no question it’s a pitching-strong division. The nice part is most of those guys aren’t here for three, four or five years unless their clubs extend them and commit significant resources. In terms of this year, there’s no doubt we need guys to step up. We’ve got to figure out how to score some runs for Ross Ohlendorf, who last year was the best 1-11 pitcher I’ve seen in a long time. Is James McDonald for real? We need a bounce-back year from Paul Maholm. Looking at Kevin Correia, the numbers behind the numbers gave us comfort that he’s going to come back this year closer to the pitcher he was in ’09. To go through what he did last year, losing his brother, I can only imagine how tough that must’ve been for him. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, his ground ball rate … we feel there’s a good chance he bounces back. For the No. 5 hole, can Scott Olsen, Charlie Morton or Brad Lincoln step up? Looking down the road, there’s Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Jeff Locke — and that doesn’t include all the arms we drafted (in 2009 and 2010). We believe we need to be strong in pitching. But we’re not prepared to give up our absolute best prospects for guys who might only be here a couple of years. We’re in the process of building something for the longer term. We’ve got to develop our own starting pitching because it’s just so expensive on the free agent market.