Extending Pirates GM Neal Huntington in 2011 Looks Genius Now
By Tom Smith
The date was September 11, 2011 and the rampant speculation about the fate of Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington was put to rest. What was rumored to be happening, happened. Frank Coonelly announced that Huntington had been signed to a three-year extension to remain in Pittsburgh with a 2015 club option.
Huntington had been hired on September, 25, 2007 and was signed to a one-year extension during the 2009-2010 offseason. Huntington was his typical humble self after signing his new contract.
"“I’m very excited to be able to continue to build what we have been working so hard on for the last four years,” Huntington said. “We’re on the right path…. it may be not moving as quickly as everybody would have liked, and we understand that. We have a lot of work left to do, but there are a lot of good things going on.”"
Inside the offices on Federal Street most seemed to agree with the move. Elsewhere the reaction wasn’t popular. In fact, Bob Pompeani said, “When is this guy ever going to be judged with what he’s done at the major league level?” Others like 93.7 The Fan’s Greg Gianotti didn’t like the timing of the move– “The fact The Pirates waited until noon on Sept. 11th with all the Sept. 11th festivities and Steeler kickoff to announce this is typical Pirates garbage.”
What if the Pirates had said goodbye to Huntington in 2011? Can you imagine if the Buccos had started over back in 2011, another five year plan? It’s hard to imagine the Pirates would be the team with the best record in baseball right now.
We understand that Huntington hasn’t been perfect, but despite all of the Matt Diaz dumpster dives, when the guy has been given real money, his signings have turned out pretty good, of course I refer to Russell Martin. Even All-Star Kevin Correia. But hell, even those deals were ridiculed at the time.
The 12th GM in franchise history, never let it faze him. In fact, Huntington looks nothing like the number four guy from Cleveland any longer.
The son of a hard-working farmer, Huntington always admits his mistakes, practically blaming himself for the disappearance of James McDonald. The job Huntington had in front of him was incredibly challenging–he needed to gut the pathetic 67-win Pirates, Jack Wilson, Fred Sanchez, all of ’em.
He ignored the criticism that making unpopular trades created, and the team lost game after game–299 losses in his first three seasons in fact. Well he ignored it on most occassions, only losing his cool once-in-a-while in incidents that always were blown wide open by the local media. The criticism seems to have seasoned the life long baseball man and as the talent has grown, the success on the field has blossomed in Pittsburgh.
Now the same guy deflects acclaim for adding Francisco Liriano, the success of Jeff Locke and for sticking with the eclectic Charlie Morton. The team has a stacked farm system, it gets back a crucial member of the pitching staff on Sunday when A.J. Burnett returns to the mound. The left-hander the Bucs need most in the rotation, Wandy Rodriguez, hasn’t had such luck.
But starting pitching options still remain in the system. Another stud, Jameson Taillon is lingering in the minors and many more after him. It’s a tribute to Huntington and the team he has built. From pitching depth that includes reclaimation projects like Jason Grilli, Jeanmar Gomez, Mark Melancon and Vin Mazarro, Huntington has realized that pitching wins the majority of the time at the ML level.
We always joked that he never cared what fans thought about all the moves he made. We always knew he did, but he just couldn’t show it. The guy had a job to do.
And he’s done it well..