Friday, July 15, 2011

Time is now to extend Pirates' GM Neal Huntington

First year Clint Hurdle being introduced by Pirates general manager Neal Huntington
 So what's the most surprising about the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates season?

Is it No. 5 starter Jeff Karstens ranking No. 5 in the National League with a 2.55 ERA at the All-Star break?
Could be free-agent surprise Kevin Correia's 11 wins or Joel Hanrahan's perfection in save situations out of the bullpen? Maybe it's the fruition of Andrew McCutchen's potential in front of our eyes, Paul Maholm's sub-3.00 ERA, Neil Walker's 59 RBIs to lead all of baseball's second basemen or three-week wonder Alex Presley's bat tearing up the league? Or just the Pirates' 47-43 record and being a game out of first place in the NL Central?

I got a better one for you.

How about Pirates general manager Neal Huntington's contract expires at the end of 2011 and still hasn't been addressed yet? Well, at least publicly.

What Huntington and his staff has done in four seasons to put a respectable product on the field while hitting the reset button on a minor league system is simply amazing.

Of course, he's been fortunate.

Correia was looking for a place to be a top-of-the-rotation starter and the Bucs didn't have one. Fast forward three-and-a-half months and the honeymoon between the two is still going. Walker was a bat without a position when Huntington cut the cord on the disaster that was Akinori Iwamura. Abracadabra, the hometown kid has at home at second base.

But some moves were simply genius.

The Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte deal with the Yankees has provided 117 starts (Karstens 59, Ross Ohlendorf 57), a bullpen arm pitching to a 2.33 ERA (Daniel McCutchen) and a lead-off man with great speed and good defense for a tricky PNC Park left field (Jose Tabata).

What did the Yankees get? After the 2008 season which didn't result in a Yankees' title, Marte was inked to a four-year deal for $15.75 million and has taken the term Bronx Bombers a little too literally with his 6.02 ERA. Nady? His 28 at-bats in 2009 cost the Yanks $6.5 million.
Maybe the Yankees can afford that mistake. Huntingdon couldn't and he knew it.

Octavio Dotel was pitching well in Pittsburgh but James McDonald's 4.02 ERA in 29 starts with the Bucs is more valuable and less expensive.

Think about it, was there really room in the outfield for the $15 million contract that Jason Bay would have wanted? The return didn't work out, but at least they got something for what every other GM in the league knew the Pirates couldn't afford.

In July 2007, the Pirates promoted Pittsburgh native Don Kelly for infield depth. Four days later, Kelly was designated for assignment and the team traded for Cesar Izturis. All of the right questions for that move begin with 'Why?' Why did the team promote a guy hitting .247 in Triple A (Kelly)? Why did the team acquire a player and pay him nearly $2 million (Izturis) when they were already out of the race?

Now, Huntington can go get Chase d'Arnaud (.280 in Triple A) and give him a real shot. He's struggled some but d'Arnaud has provided a spark and adequate depth. The same can be said for Josh Harrison, acquired via trade, who is hitting .284 for the Bucs this year. And didn't cost an arm and a leg.

And thanks to all the acquisitions, players like pitcher Brad Lincoln are allowed to develop in the minors and uber-prospect Pedro Alvarez can be sent to Triple-A to get his swing back, rather than feel the pressure of rushing top prospects too soon because that's all the team has to count on.

After four seasons, the GM is giving the fans more bang for their Bucs. Now it's time for the Pirates to show him a few more years and a few more bucks.

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