Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sorry Neal, But It's over

I am sure he is a good guy who means well
By nature I am not a negative guy. I wish no ill on anyone. While often extremely frustrated, and always upset that the Pirates perennially fail to invest meaningfully in their major league product, I nevertheless tried my hardest to stay with the program as articulated, designed, and implemented by Pirates GM Neal Huntington.  Didn’t accept that it was the only way to resuscitate the franchise; but I tried to believe.

But Huntington has been the GM for four and a half years now. The Pirates have not progressed.  The Neal Huntington era has gone on too long, and it’s time to move on. He probably wasn’t the right guy in the first place. But let’s deal with the here and now. It’s time to let Neal Huntington seek greener pastures.

To his credit, Neal Huntington has done well on the pitching side of things. McDonald was a steal. Karstens a nice addition.  Bedard and Burnett were good acquisitions and we can enjoy them until the trading deadline. Hanrahan for Nyjer Morgan? We got the better of the deal. And he’s done well building up our bullpens on a consistent basis.

Correia? Hart? Alderson? Ok, no one’s perfect.

Now let’s take a look on the hitting side. Here’s the problem.  Here’s a list of the offensive players that Neal Huntington has acquired that have had impact at the major league level:

Jose Tabata
Xavier Nady
Pedro Alvarez
Garrett Jones

Here’s a list of offensive players acquired by Neal Huntington that have EXCELLED at the major league level:


At what point do you conclude that the GM is not able to evaluate offensive players? And is that acceptable when working with budgets that allow no margin for error?

Now the predictable retort is, “you have to look at the constraints under which he’s working. Nutting, blah blah blah.” We all know the problem. And yes, it’s the root cause.

All true. But the fact remains, the right GM for the Pirates is the one that would figure out how to work under the Nutting death grip. The GM must be able to build a team in all its dimensions.  That means you can’t roll the dice and hope for the best (see, e.g., Brandon Wood, Lastings Milledge, Jeff Clement, Brandon Moss). Rather, you need above all else to hire the best talent evaluators money can buy and you’ve got to get it right, nearly every time.  Neal has not done that, and the results are what we see now. Flirting with mediocrity, and what appears to be a regression from last year.

The other predictable retort is: Huntington has done a good job in the draft. It’s only a matter of time before his efforts bear fruit. You need to show patience.

Ok, there are a couple decent bats in the system. But three drafts now, and not one player has percolated up through the system to be a reliable major leaguer? Not one? And what has Neal done that demonstrated shrewd evaluation skills? Cole? Tallion? Pretty obvious picks. And the one time he DID go “out of the box,” with Tony Sanchez, ain’t looking so hot. I give him credit for signing Josh Bell. But that did not reflect shrewd talent evaluation. It reflected a willingness to spend the money to sign the guy.

And as for the record levels the Pirates spent in the draft? Well, I’m glad they did it. But everyone knew the new CBA was looming, and that there was a good chance it would constrain draft bonuses. So give them credit for going for it, but it was a short term tactic, as opposed to a long term commitment.

Further, it was at the expense of the major league team, which still has one of the lowest payrolls in the major leagues. So at least they didn’t just hoard the money, but they really didn’t do more than rob Peter to pay Paul. They chose to prioritize one over the other. They owed it to the city of Pittsburgh to do both.

I guess what has put me over the edge, though, were Huntington’s recent comments that the players we have now – the “internal options” - are the ones that will have to step up. When Huntington came, he made a big deal about “accountability” and how it’s a new era and all that. By his own standard, then, Huntington should be saying, “I built this team, I am responsible, and I am going to work night and day to improve the hitting. Period.” Instead, we’re told, “oh poor pitiful me, no one wants to trade right now, there’s nothing I can do, the players will have to figure it out.”  That’s a major league GM??

It’s the same mindset that led them to do virtually nothing at the trade deadline last year beyond Derrick Lee (and you can see how anxious he was to return to Pittsburgh).  The “internal options” will figure it out.

It’s the same mindset that led Huntington to do nothing this offseason to improve the offense, even when there were options out there, and it was obvious that we had glaring needs at first, in the outfield, everywhere. The “internal options” will figure it out.

Well guess what, Neal? Your internal options consist of one legitimate star, a bunch of underachievers, and a spate of guys that are just over the hill. They’re doing what they can but…they aren’t going to figure it out on their own. They need help. Fast.

My guess is that Neal is, in fact, working the phone lines. I don’t see how he can’t be, realistically speaking. I’d expect Bedard, Burnett, and Hanrahan to be gone by the trade deadline. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. We have SP options; the manager has already hinted that he could see Brad Lincoln closing. That tells me they’re spreparing the public for losing Hanrahan. I used to be against that. Now I’m for it.

The question is, does all this take place at the deadline, when we’re out of it, or as soon as possible, to try to salvage the season? Neal must think he’ll get more at the deadline and that’s probably what will happen. But maybe Neal will move before then. I hope so. I’m tired of waiting for the future. I want to win now.

I just don’t know if we can do it with Neal Huntington at the helm.

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