There are two types of General Managers in Major League Baseball. Ones that are revered through the good and the bad times, and those who are consistently criticized. Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington is the latter. However, it is possible that this 2015 Pirates team may be the best one Huntington has put together during his almost eight years with the organization.
Since being named the 12th General Manager in team history in late 2007, Huntington has made some questionable decisions, some underrated ones, and ones that have made the Pirates a team to beat in the National League within the last few years. Bobby Crosby, Matt Diaz and Rod Barajas were a few of the disappointing acquisitions throughout the Huntington era, however, deals like the one that sent Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and Gorkys Hernandez in 2009, was an underrated deal that people didn’t see clearly until now. Huntington has also signed and acquired big name talent such as Russell Martin, AJ Burnett, Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau during his tenure as GM. However, what Huntington has done this season has stood out amongst the rest. Throughout the offseason, Huntington signed quality ball players, while also filling voids through the trade deadline. Let’s take a look at some of Huntington’s moves, both in the offseason and at the 2015 trade deadline, that have helped the Pirates become one of the league’s best in 2015.
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A.J. Burnett – The return of “Batman” to the city of Pittsburgh was a huge deal over the offseason. After spending the 2013 season with the Pirates, Burnett spent last season with the Philadelphia Phillies. After an 8-18 season in the city of brotherly love, Burnett chose to return to the Pirates to play in his final Major League Season. After a stellar first half that included his first ever All-Star selection, Burnett has struggled to find his rhythm in the second half, finding himself on the disabled list as well. A healthy, hard throwing Burnett is a good sign for the Pirates. Though fans were not initially sure what AJ Burnett they were going to see this season, it’s a nice sight to see AJ in the black and gold during his final year.
Sean Rodriguez – After being acquired in the offseason from the Tampa Bay Rays, Rodriguez has served as a solid super utility man for the Pirates. His offensive production has not necessarily been off the charts, but it hasn’t had to be. The Rodriguez signing was for one reason and one reason only: Solid defense off the bench. Rodriguez has played every position on the diamond this season, aside from center field, catcher and pitcher. He provides the team with very good defensive versatility and a great option off of the bench. This season, Rodriguez is hitting .251 with four home runs and 13 RBI, while hitting .444 in his last 15 games. So, it’s not like he’s a complete liability at the plate. He has had his offensive struggles throughout the seas0n, but he has provided the Pirates with stellar defense and has proven to be a solid addition to the Pirates roster.
Since I have written about Kang in the past, I am going to make this short and sweet. I will come right out and say it. Kang was the best off-season acquisition in Major League Baseball. Period.
Francisco Cervelli – What can I say about Cervelli that hasn’t already been said. He was an absolute steal in the offseason. The former Yankees catcher, who was acquired in the offseason for relief pitcher Justin Wilson, has been a pleasant surprise for the Pirates, taking over for Martinwho signed a long term deal with the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason. Cervelli has been incredible behind the plate for the Bucs, working well with the pitching staff and playing stellar defense behind the plate. However, the biggest surprise has been Cervelli’s impressive presence in the Pirates everyday lineup. This season, Cervelli is hitting .300 with a career high six home runs and 39 RBI. Cervelli has taken advantage of his opportunity to be the everyday catcher here in Pittsburgh and has emerged as an important bat in the Pirates lineup. Along with Chris Stewart, Cervelli has provided the Pirates with such depth at the catchers position that we almost forget that Russell Martin once played here. Almost.
Jung Ho Kang – Since I have written about Kang in the past, I am going to make this short and sweet. I will come right out and say it. Kang was the best off-season acquisition in Major League Baseball. Period. Not only has Kang solidified himself as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate this season, but he has become a huge threat in the middle of the Pirates lineup. This season, Kang is hitting .290 with 15 home runs and 58 RBI. He has also played well on defense, spending time at both shortstop and third base. Huntington took a chance on signing Kang, even without knowing how his play would translate to the Major League level. His gamble paid off and the 28-year old is bound to give Kris Bryant and Danny Duffy a run for their money when it comes to the National League Rookie of the year award.
Aramis Ramirez – Ramirez was the first of many deadline moves for the Bucs and was probably the most nostalgic. After 12 years away from the organization, Ramirez struggled in his return to Pittsburgh. However, his bat has eventually come back to life. Since being acquired on July 23, Ramirez is hitting .248 with five home runs and 28 RBI, while his season totals include a .248 average with 16 home runs and 70 RBI. Ramirez served well as a replacement when Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer were hurt, but he now serves an even more important role as a veteran leader in the Pirates lineup and an experienced hitter coming off of the bench. Based off the fact that Huntington barely gave up anything in exchange for the 37-year old makes this a great bargain. Ramirez has said that this is going to be his last season and I can bet that he will play a huge role in the Pirates postseason push.
Joe Blanton – If I were to tell you before the trade deadline that Blanton was going to be one of the Pirates best relief pitchers in the latter months of the season, you would probably would have thought I was crazy. Huntington scooped Blanton up before the deadline and he has been nothing but excellent coming out of the Pirates bullpen. In 14 appearances for the Pirates this season, Blanton is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 26 innings. The former starting pitcher was one of the more underrated pickups at the deadline and has consistently proven over time to be a huge asset to the Pirates deadly bullpen. Yes, when I say that, I am still referring to Joe Blanton.
J.A. Happ – Like Blanton, J.A. Happ has continuously proven critics wrong. I am one of those people he has proven wrong. After the deadline deal made by Huntington, I immediately thought that this was a crazy idea. His first start as a Pirate didn’t help his case much either. Following his first outing in which he gave up four runs over 4.1 innings, Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage and pitching guru Jim Benedict worked with Happ to refine his mechanics and “fix” him. Since that first start, Happ has been lights out, compiling a 5-0 record and only giving up four runs combined in five starts. A month ago, I didn’t think I would be saying this, but J.A Happ has become one of the Pirates top starters. In the absence of AJ Burnett, Happ has solidified himself into this Pirates rotation as the team battles for a division title, and once again I must bow down to the powers of Ray Searage and Jim Benedict.
Joakim Soria – Soria was without question the biggest name that the Pirates acquired at the trade deadline. After coming to Pittsburgh from the Detroit Tigers, Soria has done his job and has done it well. In 20 appearances in a Pirates uniform, Soria is winless, however, he has 52 strikeouts in 59 innings pitched and has served well as the Pirates seventh inning guy, holding opponents to a .222 batting average. Along with Watson and Melancon, Soria has provided the Pirates with an amazing amount of depth at the back end of the bullpen. Depth that will come in handy throughout the postseason.
Mike Morse – The acquisition of Morse from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jose Tabata was one of my favorite Neal Huntington moves at the trade deadline. Though Morse hasn’t had the best season, he provides the Pirates with quality bench depth and a right-handed bat who can play solid defense over at first base. In 28 games with the Pirates, Morse is hitting .326 with one home run and four RBI in primarily a bench role. However, his statistics can be misleading. Morse provides the Pirates with a lot more than just a bench guy who can occasionally hit the ball out of the ballpark. He provides this young team with experience. Morse was a member of the 2014 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants and played a huge role on that ballclub. That is the same thing he could bring to this Pirates team. He has proven to be a clutch hitter in two postseason appearances with the Washington Nationals and the Giants. Don’t be surprised to see him do it again, but this time in a Pirates uniform.
I think it’s time to let the past, less than popular decisions made by Neal Huntington slide. Why you ask? Because Huntington has done his part to bring winning baseball back to the city of Pittsburgh. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, the Pirates GM has acquired talented players to make this team better. All while keeping top prospects in the Pirates possession. However, all of his 2015 acquisitions do have something in common. There were always questions surrounding each of them. Fans were not immediately sold on any of these players and the most convenient person to point fingers at when things get rough is the General Manager. Well, now that things are going well, I think it’s time once again to point fingers at Neal Huntington. A man who has made the Pirates a better ball club with the moves he has made throughout the year. A man that has put this team in a position in which they are 2.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the toughest division in baseball. So, thank you Neal Huntington. Because of your efforts to help bring a World Series back to Pittsburgh, we will try to forget names like Crosby, Diaz, and Barajas.