Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to save your job if you're a GM: make a move

Like trading for Matt Morris? Let's not go there.

But let's indeed go here.

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.

Things Neal Huntington isn't on: the hotseat.

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.

I will eat this blog if the front office lets Huntington go after this year. The bottom line is that he's done a fantastic job gutting all the overpaid, mediocre parts from the top level club, and restocking the minors so that in the next two years, we can have legit talent in the majors.

Huntington can pat himself on the back for rebuilding the Pirates' minor league system, through the draft if nothing else.

Wait, let's go back.

Overall, he hasn't done a very good job.


Huntington can pat himself on the back for rebuilding the Pirates' minor league system, through the draft if nothing else.

Rebuilding a farm system is such a huge fucking accomplishment, and like the only thing that can be expected to happen before a small market, low payroll team can compete. It is ridiculous to say that Huntington isn't very good AND that he's rebuilt the farm system in two consecutive sentences.

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.

But what about the big league club?

RON COOK'S WIFE: Ron! Great news! I'm pregnant!!
RON COOK: Good for you and your people. But what about the baby? That still isn't born yet, now is it?

While Huntington has been off overseeing the minor leaguers, it has become a joke, even worse than when he took over from previous general manager Dave Littlefield.

In some ways this is the least talented first-half roster we've seen in a while. That one week of hell against Milwaukee was legendary. But all this said, I'm feeling pretty excited about my Bucs. Yeah, they're largely terrible, but we're looking at an emerging talent core of Cutch, Walker, Tabata, Lincoln, and Alvarez, which will hopefully all be settled in by this year's All-Star break. That core is cost controlled, young and the kind of foundation that you can build around. So what do you want? A lot of bums and some exciting question marks, or a lot of bums and some overpaid bums like Joe Randa, Sean Casey, Jeromy Burnitz, Matt Lawton, Jason Kendell, Matt Morris, Kip Wells, Mark Redman, Jose Mesa...

The proof is the eight-game losing streak and 23-40 record the Pirates will take into the game tonight. Only the woeful Baltimore Orioles are worse. It's hard to remember a worse Pirates lineup, the pitching is the second worst in baseball and the defense significantly has worsened.

Other than that, everything is just great.

As sports fans, we never root for our team to lose. However, we also never root for them to be mediocre. I am confident that we can stay at that .400 winning percentage indefinitely, just as I'm confident that we can't surpass that .500 mark without taking a few steps back. All the house cleaning and purges serve a purpose.

Huntington has to take the blame for this mess.

Littlefield had us up to a .420 winning percentage in his last year. How dare Huntington come in and wreck that?

His trades have been mostly failures, although it's still too soon to pronounce final judgment on some. The Xavier Nady-Damaso Marte deal, which brought Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen, was a really good one. But the rest? At least to this point, they range from bad to awful.

Nady is chronically injured/mediocre. Damaso Marte is just terrible. Tabata is a future stud. Ohlendorf is a steady starter. Karstens is a less steady starter. McCutchen is a minor league project at best.

Just getting Nady and Marte out of town and taking a top prospect would have been enough, but Huntington made a point of shoring up our AAAA pitching so he could have flexibility in future deals. This shows the kind of intelligence and long term strategy that we Pirates fans aren't used to, coming from the front office.

Glad Ron Cook approves.

Robinson Diaz for Jose Bautista, who had 18 home runs through Sunday for the Toronto Blue Jays?

If you're proposing that Jose Bautista had done ANYTHING to recommend that he not be moved, you're fucking nuts. Jose Bautista's time with us was the very definition of suck. He was happy to hit .245, wasn't even close to a league average OPS, and happened to be terrible in the field. He had a -1.1 WAR in his time spent in Pittsburgh, which means had we given his playing time to a minor leaguer, we would have lost one less theoretical game than we did.

The fact that at age 29, he's doubled his HR rate of 3.3% to a whopping 6.6% is simply nonsense. It is the kind of thing that occasionally happens with bum players and does not last long. Remember Chris Shelton? He was this ugly bum that Littlefield forgot to protect in the Rule-5 Draft, and Detroit took him. In 2006 he hit 10 HRs in the first month of the season, and everyone was predicting he'd cure cancer by the All-Star break. He ended the season with a total of 16 dingers and a lot of disappointed kids in his wake.

If you really want to talk about utility bums that got away, look at Ty Wigginton. He is NOT very valuable, but he's consistently more valuable that Jose Bautista or Chris Shelton. And he was also leading the AL in HRs earlier this season. Guess what he's no longer doing.

Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Bryan Morris and Craig Hansen for Jason Bay?

Bryan Morris is blowing through AA right now. He was the centerpiece of the deal. All credible intelligence pointed to LaRoche being a top flight third baseman. That was obviously wrong. Moss and Hansen were considered interesting projects. They're not. Jason Bay was going one way or the other. Neal did what he had to do. Bay will now die a slow, miserable death in Citi Field, while Morris will come up in the next big infusion of talent, circa 2011.

Bad as those deals were, sending Jack Wilson and $3.3 million to Seattle to get Jeff Clement as the key acquisition was worse. Clement was given the first-base job in the spring and hit .189 before being sent, finally, to the minors Wednesday.

Jeff Clement was never the key acquisition of anything. His own mother invites him over for Thanksgiving dinner because she wants to spend time with his wife. Jeff Clement is a bum with potential that we gave some PAs to because we can afford to try guys out.

The deal that sent Jack Wilson AND Ian Snell out of here is perfectly fine. Yeah, we passed along some cash, but paying $3 million for Jack Wilson to be injured and Snell to be terrible in Seattle while getting FOUR new prospects in our minors is a lot cheaper than paying $9.5 million to have Wilson be injured and Snell be terrible in Pittsburgh.

Then, there was the Aki Iwamura fiasco. Huntington traded to get him in the offseason when the Tampa Bay Rays were ready to release him and took on his $4.85 million salary, which is highest on the Pirates.

Conjecture that he was about to be released. Total, random conjecture.

Iwamura is hitting .177 and has no range in the field because of a bad knee.

This one didn't work out. I have no problem admitting it. But the plan was sound. We'd trade nothing to get something, then trade that something to get some prospects at the deadline and not be on the hook for the bill. Turns out Aki is not something at all, but rather just terrible and injured. We eat the loss and move, happy that we haven't made any long-term mistakes.

If you count Iwamura's salary with the money the Pirates sent to Seattle for Clement and the $2 million the team ate to release Ramon Vazquez in the spring, that's more than $10 million wasted dollars for a franchise that can't afford it.

Just think, Littlefield could have used that money on a Matt Morris and everything would have been great!

Shame on Huntington.

No. No! Shame on you, Ron Cook. Shame on the Post-Gazette. This is lazy, anger-mongering designed to sell paper, all while disguised as journalism. I'm not even asking you to do some research on what you're writing about; I'm just asking that you use a little critical sense before publishing. Suggesting that Huntington's job is in danger and that HE is the reason we're so fucked up as a franchise, that's simply an irresponsible use of your soapbox. Shame on you, trying to rile up the people of this city for all the wrong reasons.

One final blunder by Huntington:

Not signing highly touted Dominican Republic shortstop Miguel Sano was a huge one. People loved this kid. He badly wanted to play for the Pirates. Huntington couldn't get it done, losing him to the Minnesota Twins over a few hundred-thousand dollars.

The Sano signing was the biggest punch to the gut that Neal Huntington has taken. It was not a matter of the Pirates being cheap, it was actually Sano's agent using us to drive up the price, with no actual intent to sign here. Sucks.

In many ways, the Pirates' season is over again, long before the Fourth of July. But wouldn't it be fun to see what Alvarez could do with future star Andrew McCutchen and the other young guys that Huntington has finally, seemingly reluctantly, brought up? Tabata. Neil Walker. Brad Lincoln. Steve Pearce once he is healthy again. Who knows? Maybe they could put a little something good together. Maybe they could save Huntington's job.

I guarantee two things:
1) Neal Huntington's job is not in danger.
2) Pedro Alvarez could not save it if it was.

The maximum contribution you can expect from half a season of an elite player is what? About 3 more wins than you'd get if you kept playing a bum? That's about what we got from the legendary second-half performance of rookie Zach Duke (3.1 WAR to be exact). We project to lose SO many games this year, that 3 more wins will not be noticed.

I don't mean to undersell what Alvarez could mean to us in future campaigns: indeed, his full season value in the perfect world will be 7 to 10 more wins a year than we'd get with the usual crap. That, combined with the other blue chip prospects Neal Huntington has assembled will add up and make the difference.

Patience everyone. Patience.

If I'm Huntington, I'm willing to take that chance. Apparently, he isn't to that point yet. What? Is he afraid Alvarez will fail? If that happens, he almost surely will be fired.

Know what Dave Littlefield apparently wasn't afraid of? That Matt Morris might fail.

That's a terrible way to generally manage, isn't it?

Littlefield, yes. Huntington, no.

If I'm Huntington, I'm going down firing all the bullets in my gun. I'm not leaving any in the chamber in Indianapolis.

If I'm me, a fan of the Pirates, I'm going to hope our GM does what he thinks is prudent for the long run, so that we never have to go through another two decades of pigshit again.

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