Not one pitch has been thrown yet in the 2013 season, not one jersey has had dirt engrained in its fabric, and not one batter has absorbed a 93 mph fastball in the ribs. But the clock is already ticking on Neal Huntington.
It shouldn’t be this way, as Huntington is an affable and earnest man in a nearly impossible position, but baseball is a wins-and-losses business. Huntington has yet to oversee a winning season in his five full years as Pittsburgh’s General Manager. If the Pirates have a losing season in 2013, and the overwhelming crush of history shades in that direction, then it will be hard to justify keeping him on after six losing seasons. After last year’s punch to the gut finish of the season, when the Pirates peaked at 62-46 only to finish at 79-83, it would have been very easy to clean house on both Huntington and Clint Hurdle. But Bob Nutting took his time, counted to 10, and made no changes (Hurdle should have been fired, but that’s another column for another time).
If the Pirates do have a losing season or otherwise don’t meet internal expectations and Huntington is fired, the next GM is going to reap the benefits of a fertile farm system overseen by Huntington. That’s a sharp contrast to what Huntington inherited from his predecessor, David Littlefield. Not only was Littlefield horrible at creating a major league team, but he was also incredibly inept at bringing in talent to the minors. Yes, Littlefield did draft McCutchen and Walker, but his other picks were either outright busts or low-upside players that maxed out at AA or AAA, aside from a bench or bullpen player here and there.
During Huntington’s tenure, a strong financial commitment has been made to the draft. The Pirates have also revitalized their moribund Latin American program, which has resulted in top prospects like Alen Hanson, Luis Heredia, and Gregory Polanco. Although Huntington’s June drafts have not resulted in a tidal wave of talent, he appears to have correctly selected and cultivated two pitchers in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon that appear to be the future #1 and #2 pitchers in the Pittsburgh rotation. Of course there is also Heredia, Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes, and Tyler Glasnow who all profile as top-to-mid rotation starters. Coupled with Alen Hanson (SS), Gregory Polanco (OF), and Josh Bell (OF), the Pirates have an enviable collection of talent percolating on the farm. The problem is that, aside from Cole, all of it is 1-3 years away from contributing in Pittsburgh. It would be unrealistic to keep Huntington on board while continuing to lose at the major league level in the hopes that the top prospects will be successful.
So if Huntington wants to enjoy the fruits of his own labor, it would extremely beneficial for him to guide the Pirates to a winning season in 2013. That may mean doing something he has been loath to do up to this point – trade a top prospect in order to bolster the roster at the major league level. It will up to Huntington and his staff just which prospects to keep and which ones to trade if they are fortunate enough to be in position to do so. For his sake, I hope that’s a choice he has to make in July.
Steel City Buzz, Pittsburgh Pirate Staff Blogger