Posts Tagged ‘Neal Huntington’
Freddy Sanchez was a super-likable presence during his time with the Pirates, coming in as a blocked Red Sox prospect, not getting a chance to play regularly in the majors until he turned 27, and ultimately willing himself into the Pirates’ lineup by outhitting Joe Randa then converting to second base and posting a string of reliably productive seasons. His oft-mentioned batting title in 2006 is one of the few tiny hooks the Pirates of the 2000s can hang their tiny hats on, and even when his production dipped in ’08, Sanchez remained extremely well-liked by the Pirates fanbase, and rebounded slightly in 2009 before being dealt to the Giants at the 2009 trade deadline, two months before his contract expired.
Sanchez overcame early injury problems in 2010 to post a decent season for the eventual NL West champs, and last night, in his first-ever World Series game, Sanchez went 4-for-5 with 3 RBI and 2 runs scored in the Giants’ 11-7 victory. It was a truly transcendent, feel-good night for fans of the terrific ballplayer and person that we loved in Pittsburgh, and seeing him finally get a chance to shine on baseball’s biggest stage was truly satisfying.
At least, that’s what I thought. Apparently, most of my friends who don’t follow the Pirates were absolutely outraged by Sanchez’s performance last night, and I slapped my forehead pink watching Facebook post after Facebook post appear that ripped on the Pirates for letting Freddy Sanchez go because management is dumb and cheap and never changes and let a World Series HERO slip away. I wrote several paragraph-length responses to these Facebook posts but never posted them, like some depressed ex-boyfriend fighting my drunkenness long enough to discard the email I was about to send my now-engaged former girlfriend.
Let’s clear up three things about Freddy Sanchez’s performance in Game One:
Despite their 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday night, the Pirates have officially clinched the #1 overall pick in next year’s MLB Entry Draft.
Neal Huntington, always one to offer concise, super-literal quotes for any occasion, offered this super-literal quote:
“We’ve had two No. 2s already and, in our minds, it’s no different except that we’re able to pick out the guy we want a little earlier than usual.”
Well said! That is a literal fact that is true.
When asked about who the Pirates’ closer will be in 2011, Huntington replied, “In our minds, the 9th inning is no different than the 8th except it happens 9th and the game ends after it.”
He then added, “I’m looking forward to a busy October, which in our minds is no different than September except it happens one month later and also Halloween happens in it.”
Sorry again for the spotty posting, been out of town most of the past week, and even when I have been around, the only news to report is ultra-preliminary Steeler training camp stuff about which I have no educated opinion (but who WILL snag that 8th linebacker spot??), and Pirates stuff, which is, well, like writing about how throwing mosquitoes on yourself every summer results in those mosquitoes biting you a bunch of times.
Fortunately, this week brought some legitimately good Pirates news, and not of the “grasping at straws” variety, but more like grasping at really significant straws, just straws that won’t have an impact for 3-4 years, when I’m entering my thirties. I’m gonna skip a couple lines now so I don’t have to look at that last sentence.
Anyway, the good news is, the Pirates had another monumentally successful draft this year, locking up #2 overall pick Jameson Taillon as well as second round pick but consensus first-round-talent Stetson Allie to deals worth $6.5 million and $2.25 million respectively, as part of $11.9 million in total 2010 draft spending (second most behind the Nationals), pushing the Pirates’ total draft spending under Neal Huntington to $30.7 million over three years, the most in the majors in that span.
Baseball America also named the Pirates as one of the “Winners” in this year’s draft, along with the Nationals and a couple individuals, with the Brewers and Padres falling into the “Losers” category. The Pirates don’t win a lot of things nowadays, besides the Great Pitching On Opposite Day contests that I just made up, but they absolutely took care of business in this draft, dealt out above-slot bonuses across the board, and infused their system with another rich class of badly needed talent, particularly on the pitching end. A week like this is far more significant to the franchise than the Brandon Donnelly release or the Iwamura trade, even if the attention it receives from the mainstream press is comparable. “Comparable,” meaning, the Pirates never get any attention for anything ever, unless an injured sausage is involved.
Speaking of the actual team, how many hits did they manage against Ricky Nolasco tonight? Negative three? Cool.
I am not getting into another full-on argument about the Pirates’ trades (my doctor says if I continue ranting about these at my current pace, I’m looking at a heart attack sometime around next Wednesday – and yes, I only have a doctor for the purpose of old timey jokes), but I will make one comment about Bob Smizik’s blog post today, entitled “Huntington trading report card: F”.
Nowhere in the column does he mention the words “free agency” or “years of control”. This makes the entire column irrelevant.
This is a flagrant piece of statistical cherry-picking and conveniently-ignorant journalism designed to further preach to a choir of irate Pirate fans, rather than an attempt to make a rational, legitimate case against Huntington’s executive decisions. It’s irresponsible, manipulative, and offers nothing to the greater discourse of a well-worn topic.
I’ll stop there – I can feel my heart shooting me a dirty look.
UPDATE: A friend of mine couldn’t resist leaving the following lengthy comment on Smizik’s post…
[UPDATE 6/16: Obviously this argument is even more pointless now with Alvarez coming up, but it was a valuable use of hours of my life nonetheless]
The Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook wrote a column today arguing that Neal Huntington should promote Pedro Alvarez ASAP. He then goes into a half-hearted rehashing of a bunch of non-arguments about the Pirates’ recent trades and how they somehow mean that Huntington is going to be fired.
As long as columnists aren’t gonna get tired of these same tired arguments, I won’t get tired of rehashing the same tired really obvious logical responses to them. Let’s dive into the column:
If I’m Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, I’m promoting hotshot prospect Pedro Alvarez from the minors today, putting him in the lineup at third base tonight against the Chicago White Sox at PNC Park and praying like crazy he does something to help me save my job. Next month might be too late. Heck, next week could be too late.
Huntington has to be running out of time. He’s in the final season of a three-year contract and management has given no indication it plans on extending him. There’s a good reason for that. Overall, he hasn’t done a very good job.
Ok. Three things:
1) Cook is arguing that Neal Huntington should be making executive baseball decisions partially motivated by saving his own job. That’s one of the most dangerous things a baseball executive can do; the last time a Pirates GM was desperate to save his job, the Pirates ended up eating the contract of a near-death Matt Morris.
2) Does it really matter if Pedro Alvarez comes up Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday? Alvarez is a potential franchise cornerstone under team control for the next six major league seasons — are we really going to base an entire column of vitriol on the specific date of his arrival? It’s nit-picky at best, and certainly not rage-inspiring; he’s not sealing Alvarez in a time capsule along with a Lady Gaga cd and oil spill news clippings and mailing him to 2050. He’ll be in the majors this week.
3) Is Cook able to cite any sources that Huntington’s job is in jeopardy? The column is pure speculation, based on Huntington’s contract being up at the end of the year, mixed with observations of the major league team and conjecture. Pay attention as the tone of Cook talking about Huntington’s impending firing changes from speculative to inevitable.
Huntington can pat himself on the back for rebuilding the Pirates’ minor league system, through the draft if nothing else. It’s not so much that he and his scouts picked Alvarez No. 2 in the 2008 draft. That was a no-brainer. What’s more impressive is that baseball people have praised the Pirates’ overall drafts under Huntington. Good for him and his people.
Good for you, Neal Huntington. You have excelled at the single most important aspect of your job. You’re building the team from the ground up with an unprecedented level of draft spending, outspending every other Major League team on the draft over the last two seasons to bolster an area which has absolutely crippled the franchise for the past decade. Congratulations. Pat yourself on the back. If I couch these facts in patronizing half-sarcasm, it makes these accomplishments seem like a throwaway detail, even though they’re a billion times more important to the franchise than two or three extra games for Pedro Alvarez, who has played less than a season and a half of professional baseball.
Let’s move on:
I spent all week deciding that the Pirates had to take Florida prep high school shortstop Manny Machado in the first round of Monday’s MLB Draft, figuring that there’d be no way Neal Huntington would gamble on a high school pitcher with the second overall pick. Texas righthander Jameson Taillon was considered a near-consensus #2 talent this year, but based on Huntington’s past draft strategy — taking seasoned college position players in the first round two straight years — and his own admission that high school starting pitchers represent an enormous risk (with plenty of historical evidence), I assumed that no amount of upside would sway Huntington towards picking a starting pitcher over a 6’3″ shortstop with considerable upside of his own.
Huntington once again proved himself to be unpredictable, inasmuch as he literally did the opposite of the strategy he laid out in the ’09 draft (proven position player in round one, spread the remaining money on a quantity of high-upside arms in the hopes that some will survive to the bigs). One week ago, I would’ve bet the farm that the Bucs would’ve taken the shortstop, and it turns out, I would’ve been wrong, and now I’d be in big trouble trying to explain to my draft-gambling partner that I do not in fact own a farm.
My reaction to the pick? I’m excited.
The “Why”, after the jump:
The Pirates have traded right-handed AA reliever Ronald Uviedo to the Toronto Blue Jays for 26-year-old left-handed starting pitcher Dana Eveland, who was recently designated for assignment by Toronto in the midst of a monumentally unsuccessful season.
Let’s break down the deal and Neal Huntington’s possible rationale for this bizarre move into two sections: The Bad and The Not Quite As Bad.
Eveland’s last two partial seasons in the majors have been objectively across-the-board terrible. In 88 2/3 innings, he’s allowed 127 hits and an abominable 53 walks to just 43 strikeouts, posting an unsightly 6.80 ERA. He hasn’t had a dominant minor league season since his 2006 campaign at the age of 22, and he most recently posted an unimpressive 1.484 WHIP in 124 AAA innings last year at the age of 25.
In short, he’s been a crappy starting pitcher for two seasons, he’s no longer of prospect age, and he was about to be released by the Blue Jays if they couldn’t find a trade partner (presumably, some team was poised to claim him on waivers, or the Pirates would’ve just waited and picked him up for free). The Pirates’ starting rotation is indeed terrible, but adding a hit-happy no-strikeouts lefty in the midst of two terrible seasons to a rotation that already includes Zach Duke and Paul Maholm (and possibly Brian Burres for a little while) seems borderline torturous.
The Not Quite As Bad:
The Pirates have decided to non-tender closer Matt Capps, avoiding a likely $3+ million arbitration award for Capps and officially making him a free agent.
P-G Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovacevic said of the Capps release, “This is easily the most surprised I have been by any move from the Pirates’ current management team,” and for good reason; the Pirates now have only two remotely proven relievers on their roster, Capps had been their closer for three years, he’s only 26, and his brutal 2009 was his first bad season after three straight productive ones.
Neal Huntington offered this explanation:
But the reality is, we’ve now got some money to apply to the bullpen to fill Matt’s spot and elsewhere…If you’re talking about the Matt Capps of ’07 or ’08, that would be very, very difficult to replace. He’s probably not somebody we non-tender. The second half of ’08 and into ’09 … it’s not that hard to replace a reliever with a 5.00 or 6.00 ERA. We’ll miss Matt, and we wish him well. The only reason we had interest in him is that we felt he’s due to have a bounce-back year.
Huntington’s argument isn’t without merit; Capps was absolutely brutal last season, and a closer in title only, posting a 5.80 ERA and allowing 73 hits in 54.1 innings. His walk total jumped from 5 in 2008 to 17 in ’09, his home run total doubled from 5 to 10 in that span, and he posted a 2009 VORP of -3.6, meaning, essentially, he performed worse than any readily-available minor league free agent would have in those innings.
That said, I’m not in favor of this move.
Via Bucs Dugout:
Pirates GM Neil Huntington: “In acquiring (Akinori) Iwamura, we opened the door to getting Japanese players. We gave up a middle reliever to get Iwamura, so he [Igarashi] is a player we have interest in.”
Ryota Igarashi is a 30-year-old right-handed reliever for the Japanese League’s Yakult Swallows (I hope their logo is a bird) who’s posted consistently respectable numbers in Japan and is looking to sign with an MLB team this offseason.
He and the Pirates make a lot of sense for one another; the Pirates just dealt righty reliever Jesse Chavez from an already makeshift bullpen, they have plenty of payroll room, and an Igarashi signing in the same offseason as the Iwamura acquisition would graciously give Pittsburgh sportswriters some softball “Asian players loving the ‘Burgh!” columns to write every other day.
On Igarashi’s end, if I were his agent (or any successful reliever’s agent), my absolute #1 priority would be signing with the club that would provide the shortest possible distance between my client and the closer role, and on the Pirates, he’d be just the breadth of Matt Capps’ linebacker neck and possibly a Joel Hanrahan tuneup away from grabbing ninth inning duties, padding his statline with some saves, and exponentially increasing his subsequent contract if he remains successful.
Still, after Rocco Baldelli signed with the Red Sox last year for less money and less playing time than the Pirates were offering, I remain eternally skeptical of the PBC’s ability to land any remotely pursued free agent, regardless of how logical the fit is for both sides. I assume Boston will sign him for $15 million to be their solid, go-to 5th inning guy.
If this fails, there are still tons of terrific, top-tier free agents available for the Pirates to throw money at: