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Pirates: Has Neal Huntington Overstayed His Welcome?

Posted By Michael Waterloo On May 19 2011 @ 2:50 pm In Pittsburgh | No Comments

When evaluating a trade in baseball, there needs to be a waiting period of about three years before deciding which team got the better deal.  In the case of the Pirates trading Jose Bautista to the Toronto Blue Jays, I think it’s fair to say which team got the better deal.  On August 21, 2008, Bautista was traded from the Pirates to the Blue Jays for a player to be named later, which ended up being minor league catcher Robinzon Diaz.  While Diaz played all of 43 games for the Pirates before signing a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers, Bautista has become a superstar in Toronto and the top homerun hitter in all of baseball.  Can we fairly criticize the Pirates for letting Bautista go?

In his four seasons with the Pirates, the highest he batted was .254 and the most homeruns he had was 16 in a season.  Bautista has 16 homeruns so far this year, and it is only the middle of May.  This trade may go down in history as one of the worst trades in not just Pirates’ history, but maybe baseball history if Bautista stays at the pace he’s on.  However, two important facts should be noted: 1) Bautista played for 5 teams in 2004, and 2) he cleared waivers before being traded to Toronto.  The point there is that it wasn’t just Pittsburgh that missed on him.  Even former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi admitted Bautista has well exceeded his expectations since his arrival in Toronto.

With Pirates general manager Neal Huntington’s contract expiring at the end of this season, will this be the trade the ultimately ends his tenure in Pittsburgh?  In my opinion, Huntington hasn’t done all that bad of a job with the Pirates and I would like to see him return next season.  Sure, he has had some bad signings (two examples: John Russell as manager and Aki Iwamura) and trades that didn’t turn out totally in his favor (two examples: Freddy Sanchez and Jose Bautista), but for the first time since 1992, Huntington has actually taken the steps needed to turn Pittsburgh into a potential winner in the coming years.

He was able to build through the draft by landing Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie – the top pitchers in the 2010 draft – as well as drafting Pedro Alvarez in 2008 and Tony Sanchez in 2009.  In years past, the Pirates wouldn’t take the top player on the board because they wouldn’t want to spend the money on them, but Huntington has taken the top prospect regardless of the price.  Pirates fans weren’t happy when Huntington traded outfielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for Gorkys Hernandez, Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton.  However, with Pitching Coach Ray Searage fixing Morton’s mechanics and McLouth struggling since arriving in Atlanta, the trade is looking pretty good now.

Huntington was able to trade Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the New York Yankees in 2008 for Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Ross Ohlendorf, all of which are on the current roster for the Pirates.  Marte and Nady weren’t able to adapt to New York like Yankees general manager Brian Cashman thought they would.  The trade of Freddy Sanchez to the Giants brought over pitching prospect Tim Alderson who ended up being a complete dud.  However, by trading Sanchez, it opened up the second base position for potential all-star Neil Walker.

The additions of Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz have yet to pay dividends for the Pirates, especially with the $5 million that Overbay is making, but the addition of Kevin Correia is making up for it.  The fact is, Huntington is playing with the cards he is dealt and, with the dealer being current Pirates ownership, there’s only so much he can do.  With the success of the other Pittsburgh general managers, Ray Shero (Penguins) and Kevin Colbert (Steelers), Huntington has some pretty high expectations to live up to.  Huntington brought manager Clint Hurdle in for three years this offseason and I’d like to see Pirates president Frank Coonelly give Huntington two more years on his contract as well.  He should be allowed to finish what he started.

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