Neal Huntington Rumors

Quick Hits: Astros, Huntington, Reds, Nola

Collin McHugh‘s recent struggles have only sharpened the Astros‘ need for starting pitching help, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes.  McHugh has a 7.77 ERA over his last four starts, leaving ace Dallas Keuchel as the only truly reliable rotation option, as it’s asking a lot of rookies Lance McCullers and Vincent Velasquez to immediately help carry a playoff-contending team (though McCullers has been outstanding in six starts.)  Here’s some more from around baseball as we head into the new week…

  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington tells David Manel of the Bucs Dugout blog that the club will again “walk that balance between now and the future” in making any deadline additions.  “We want to do everything we can to put this club in a position to make the playoffs this year, win a World Series this year. At the same time, we want to be able to be in that position as many years in the future as we can,” Huntington said.  Pittsburgh will face a lot of competition in making deals only a few teams are truly out of the race at this point; as Huntington puts it, “this is absolutely a sellers market, at this point in time.”
  • The rising costs of youth baseball has led to fewer young athletes choosing the game, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes.  The Pirates value having versatile players who are able to play multiple positions, and the best fits for this model are those who played baseball and other sports growing up, so they have a larger athletic toolbox.  With more youngsters specializing only in one sport growing up, however, these well-rounded athletes are harder to find.
  • Despite the Reds‘ struggles, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer doesn’t think manager Bryan Price’s job is in jeopardy.  “It would be hard and foolish to fire Bryan Price given all the injuries” the Reds have had to deal with, Fay writes.
  • Most scouts feel that the Reds wouldn’t trade Aroldis Chapman “if push came to shove” and they became deadline sellers, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports.  There hasn’t been any indication that the Reds are willing to deal Chapman, though his name has at least been floated in talks with the Nationals.
  • Also from Cafardo, some scouts following the Reds have mentioned Brandon Phillips, but while he’s having a good season, Cafardo feels the second baseman’s large contract is still a deterrent to a trade.
  • The Padres, White Sox and Indians are three of the many clubs still relatively close to a postseason spot but unsure if they’ll be able to make a legitimate run, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (Insider subscription required).  San Diego’s situation is particularly tricky given their major winter expenditures and rival evaluators doubt that the Padres would engage in any major sell-off if they continue to struggle.
  • Top Phillies pitching prospect Aaron Nola has been promoted to Triple-A, the club announced earlier today.  Nola, the seventh overall pick of the 2014 draft, posted a 1.88 ERA and 6.56 K/BB rate over 76 2/3 innings at Double-A this season, with the only minor red flag being a middling 6.9 K/9.  At this point, Nola seems well on pace to earn a promotion to the Show late this season.

Huntington On Kang, Taillon, Morton

Pirates GM Neal Huntington met with the media today prior to the team completing its three-game sweep of the Brewers. Here are some excerpts courtesy of Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

  • Echoing manager Clint Hurdle’s comments yesterday about how it is best for Jung-ho Kang to develop in the Majors rather than play everyday at Triple-A, Huntington said, “We believe Kang has earned opportunity to be on this club & is one of our best 25.” Huntington added, “The variables that would be added by dropping him now into Triple-A, in our minds, don’t make sense.
  • Top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon is making progress in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and Huntington is lookingforward to getting him against an opposition uniform sooner than later.
  • Huntington noted Taillon, the second overall selection in the 2010 amateur draft, is “continuing to make progress and continuing to check box after box,” but was mum on whether the right-hander has pitched in extended Spring Training and where he will begin his rehab assignment.
  • Huntington was more forthcoming about Charlie Morton, who threw 55 pitches in a simulated game Friday. Huntington admitted Morton’s “body just didn’t function the way the body functioned before the surgery” he underwent this past offseason to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, butwe’re getting closer to where Charlie feels like he can just go compete and doesn’t have to work through making sure that he feels right.

Huntington On Snider Trade, Pitching Market

Here are the highlights of Pirates GM Neal Huntington’s long conversation today with Ken Laird and Guy Junker of TribLIVE Radio (podcast link):

  • The Pirates traded Travis Snider to the Orioles in part because they didn’t envision a likely role for him beyond 2015, Huntington says. Also, because Snider was out of options, removing him from their roster gives them more flexibility.
  • In the past, the Bucs had gotten great results with down-on-their-luck pitchers like Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez, but they found those types of pitchers difficult to acquire this offseason, because they now require “$10MM to $12MM to $14MM annually” to sign. Huntington is presumably referring to pitchers like Brett Anderson and Justin Masterson, who looked, heading into the offseason, like they might be good fits for the Pirates. Instead, the Bucs went way under the radar to sign Radhames Liz (who’s pitched in the minors, in Korea, and in the Dominican Winter League in recent years) to a one-year, $1MM big-league deal.
  • The development of the free-agent pitching market this winter demonstrates another reason the Pirates traded Snider, Huntington says — they acquired two pitchers in that deal, Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault, who could one day be big-league starters.
  • Huntington speaks of the challenges of making decisions based on input from various voices within his front office and scouting staff. “I’m the first to realize that I don’t have the best evaluation skills within our organization,” he says. “I don’t necessarily always have to see it with my own eyes. It helps when I see what they’re seeing, and if I don’t see what they’re seeing, I can ask questions.”


Pirates GM Neal Huntington On Signing Jung-ho Kang

Earlier today, the Pirates announced that they have officially signed Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang to a four-year deal.  The appeal to Kang is clear.  He slashed .356/.459/.739 for the Nexen Heroes of the (admittedly hitter-friendly) Korea Baseball Organization with 40 homers across 117 total games in 2014.  What wasn’t so clear about the signing is where Kang will fit in with the Pirates.  Earlier today, I asked General Manager Neal Huntington about how he anticipates that Kang will be used in Pittsburgh.

We like the player a lot but we also understand and respect that there’s going to be a significant transition period here, not just on the field, but off the field as well.  We want him to transition culturally as well as professionally and as he comes into camp he’ll very much complement our major league team,” Huntington said on the conference call.  “We’re looking forward to confirming our belief about his ability at shortstop, he has played some third, and we know he can play some second but right now he’ll come in as a complementary player as he adjusts to major league baseball and the United States in general.”

While there will be an adjustment period for Kang, the Pirates want the infielder to get acclimated to life in the majors right away.  That means that Huntington & Co. have no intention of sending Kang down to the minor leagues for seasoning.

Huntington says that Kang is on board with serving in a complementary role in 2015, despite recent comments that he made which suggested that he wanted to start immediately.  The Bucs GM chalked that up to something of a miscommunication: any major leaguer, he says, will assert that they are starting caliber if asked.  By the same token, Huntington says that Kang respects the hard work that Bucs teammates like Josh Harrison have put in to earn their leading roles.

The Pirates are excited about welcoming Kang into the fold but not everyone in the baseball world is a believer.  The KBO boasts notoriously boosted batting lines and many equate the league’s level of competition with Double-A baseball.  In Huntington’s mind, that’s not necessarily a fair comparison nor is it an accurate predictor of how well a Korean player can fare in the big leagues.  Japan’s NPB has a stronger level of competition but Huntington notes that many Japanese players haven’t been able to hack it in the States, and vice versa.

That skepticism over his level of competition led to a more tepid market than some anticipated at the outset of the offseason.  I asked Huntington if he had a sense of how many teams were ultimately in on the bidding process.

It’s a blind process and on one hand its a bit disconcerting to not know, but on the other hand we don’t really care.  We got the player wanted for what we feel is a fair dollar amount that works for him and for us,” Huntington said.

If things work out with Kang, it certainly seems possible that he could displace someone in Pittsburgh’s current infield.  Huntington isn’t thinking that far ahead, however.

This move was made to make us a better team. You can never have enough good players, You can never have enough quality major league players, especially ones that have versatility and can do it from the left side.  There’s no set script [that says] if he becomes a good player, we’re going to trade player X or player Y. If things go well, we’re going to have a very talented and deep position player group,” the GM explained.

In an interesting twist, Kang’s Nexen team will be training in Arizona this spring.  The Bucs will allow the infielder to work out with his former squad before flying across the country to meet them in Florida.


NL Central Notes: Martin, Huntington, Brewers, Cubs

As a former player, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly can relate to what Cubs prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara are going through, writes David Just of the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s just a time factor with the young guys,” Mattingly said. “They can look good right away, and the next year they come out and it doesn’t look good. Or they can look kind of shaky and figure a lot of it out. So time is going to tell.” As a youngster, Mattingly got off to a slow start with the Yankees, hitting .278 with a .326 on-base percentage in his first 98 games during the 1982 and ’83 seasons. He then led the American League in hits, doubles, and batting average in 1984.

Here’s the latest from the NL Central:

  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington says re-signing catcher Russell Martin is a priority for the franchise, tweets Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We are going to try to do everything we can to keep Russ,” said Huntington. “We’d love nothing more than to have (Martin) in a Pirates uniform.
  • Huntington, however, reiterated the Pirates will not veer from their financial philosophy. “We’re going to continue to have to pay guys for what we believe they’re going to do, and not what they’ve done,” said Huntington (as quoted by MLB.com’s Stephen Pianovich). “The bigger markets certainly have luxury to be able to extend much beyond comfort levels to pay an extra year or two, to pave over prior mistakes with more money.
  • Brewers GM Doug Melvin does not “think there’s a need to go out and try to get another starter” and will instead focus on offense this offseason, reports MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. The Brewers are all but certain to pick up the $13MM option on Yovani Gallardo, McCalvy opines.
  • The Brewers‘ biggest offseason decisions will be the infield corners and whether to exercise Gallardo’s option, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a recent chat. The Brewers will consider both internal and external options at first base, but Haudricourt notes finding productive first basemen is easier said than done.
  • In a separate piece, Haudricourt writes Rickie Weeks is nearing the end of his tenure with the Brewers (his $11.5MM option isn’t expected to be exercised), but the team’s senior member in terms of service time is not thinking about 2015. “I’ll worry about that when the time comes,” Weeks said. “I’m still with the Brewers right now. That’s the way I look at it.
  • What we’d really like is to have a bunch of really good baserunners,” is what Cubs manager Rick Renteria told reporters, including MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, when asked about the club’s 2015 wish list.

NL Central Notes: Lackey, Brewers, Huntington

Here’s what’s happening around the NL Central…

  • John Lackey told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jen Langosch) that he will honor his contract and pitch in 2015 despite the fact that he’ll only earn a minimum salary.  The fact that Lackey was traded to the contending Cardinals played a factor in his decision: “Obviously, it was case by case.  It would have been a harder decision other places, for sure, but this is definitely somewhere I wanted to be, and I’m excited about it.”
  • The Brewers checked in on such names as the PadresJoaquin Benoit, the RockiesLaTroy Hawkins and the DiamondbacksAddison Reed and Brad Ziegler yet came up short in their hunt for a right-handed reliever, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Twitter link).  Earlier today, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that the Crew were one of the finalists to obtain a notable lefty reliever in Andrew Miller.
  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington discussed his team’s lack of trade activity, telling reporters (including MLB.com’s Tom Singer) that “we identified potential fits, wanted to add and worked hard to. At the end of the day, we weren’t able to push anything across the line….It was interesting, in that the majority of impact players went for Major League talent instead of teams trying to grab the best prospects they can, as has been the case in recent years.”  Since Pittsburgh was connected to Jon Lester and David Price, Singer speculates that Huntington was perhaps willing to move young prospects for these aces but couldn’t outbid the A’s and Tigers’ respective offers, both of which included established players.

NL Central Notes: Reds, Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates

The National League Central saw a change atop its leaderboard as the Brewers fell out of first place for the first time since April 5 after a 5-4 walk-off loss to the Nationals. It could be temporary pending the outcome of the Cardinals’ game with the Dodgers tonight. Here’s the latest from the NL Central:

  • Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty has several of his inner-circle baseball operations people on the road with him and is eyeing some additions, but that doesn’t mean anything will happen this month. “I’d like to add a bat,” Jocketty said, according to MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. “We just haven’t found anything that attracts us yet. It may not happen before the 31st.”  Jocketty went on to say if the Reds acquire a bat, the preference would be for the player to play multiple positions.
  • With Brandon Phillips on the disabled list, the Reds GM was asked about pursuing the recently released Dan Uggla. “We haven’t discussed that yet,” Jocketty said (as quoted by John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer). “I haven’t talked to our scouts that saw him. I don’t know. We’re going to meet tomorrow and go over some stuff.
  • In a chat with Jim Bowden of SiriusXM (via Twitter), Jocketty made it clear he’d like to acquire a middle of the order bat he could put into the Reds‘ lineup right away, not an injury risk type player.  When asked about Rays‘ second baseman Ben Zobrist (link), Jocketty said, “That’s a good name. That’s all I’ll say.”
  • The Reds have interest in the Phillies‘ Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo, reports CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury.
  • The Cardinals‘ top Trade Deadline priority should be starting pitching and not a replacement for the injured Yadier Molina, according to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  • The Cardinals‘ due diligence with David Price is reminiscent of their pursuit of Matt Holliday in 2009, tweets Strauss’ colleague at the P-D, Derrick Goold (Twitter links).
  • Brewers GM Doug Melvin has downplayed the prospects of making a major deal before the Trade Deadline citing the lack of playing time for a bat and the limited impact a reliever can have because of the few innings they pitch, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt.
  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington told reporters, including Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the ask is still high on the trade market, but the club has the payroll flexibility to make a move. “It’s the basic law of supply and demand,” Huntington said. “There’s not a lot of teams that are looking to sell, and there are a lot of teams looking to buy. There’s not a ton of players out there who are significant upgrades. There are some guys you think can be, so as a result asking prices higher than you’d like. It’s a balance of what do you give up for projected current wins for projected future wins.

Zach Links contributed to this post.


Draft Notes: Astros, Huntington, Rodon

We’re under two weeks away from the first round of the 2014 amateur draft, which kicks off on June 5.  Here’s a collection of draft-related info…

  • No one knows what the Astros are going to do with the first pick,” an executive from a team with a top-six draft pick tells Peter Gammons.  Another rival executive feels Houston may not take Carlos Rodon first since “many of the Astros people believe that picking a pitcher at the top is a gamble because of the historical predictability of pitchers.” (Though of course, the ‘Stros took Mark Appel last year).  The exec feels the Astros are “looking…closely” at high school outfielder Alex Jackson, and if Houston passes on Jackson, the Marlins also like him a lot as the potential second overall pick.  Miami is favored to draft a hitter due to the number of pitching prospects in their system but “they love [Tyler] Kolek and it would be hard to pass on Rodon,” Gammons writes.
  • Also from Gammons’ wide-ranging column, he polls executives about which teams had the best drafts of the last decade, and also muses about there would be much more casual fan interest in the draft if picks could be traded.
  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington feels that a deep selection of talent is available, write Charlie Wilmoth and David Manel of Bucs Dugout. Huntington also addresses the pressure to select local players and how the Bucs are adjusting to picking near the end of the first round rather than with an early selection.
  • If Rodon does go first overall, it doesn’t seem like the Astros would give him a record bonus simply because of how the draft’s rules have changed, Baseball America’s John Manuel writes.  Scott Boras (Rodon’s adviser) argues that MLB should alter the draft format since the current rules hurt teams at the Major League level; the agent suggests such changes as not subjecting first-round contracts to the salary allotment cap or not taking away a team’s first round pick for signing free agents.

Pirates Extend Neal Huntington, Clint Hurdle

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The Pirates have announced that they've extended the contracts of general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle for three years each through 2017, with club options for 2018. Huntington and Hurdle had both been under contract through 2014, with team options for 2015. With Huntington and Hurdle's deals done, the Pirates are currently working on contracts for assistant GMs and coaches, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tweets.

"Neal and Clint have led a team of baseball professionals, in the front office and on the field, that has transformed the Pittsburgh Pirates into a club that again must be reckoned with in the National League," says team president Frank Coonelly. "We are extremely pleased that they will continue to lead this team in Pittsburgh."

Prior to 2013, the Pirates had five straight losing seasons under Huntington and two straight under Hurdle, who was hired prior to the 2011 season. (Huntington inherited a poor big-league team and farm system upon taking the Pirates' GM job in 2007, so the losing in the first several seasons was not primarily his fault.) The team endured second-half collapses in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

In 2013, however, Huntington and Hurdle led the Pirates to their first winning season and playoff berth since 1992, as the team won 94 games and beat the Reds in the NL Wild Card game before falling to the Cardinals in the NLCS. Huntington's offseason acquisitions of Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano and Mark Melancon were crucial to the Pirates' success. Hurdle led a shift-heavy defensive strategy that was a key component of the Pirates' surprising season, and he took the 2013 National League Manager of the Year award for his efforts.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


NL Notes: Niese, D’backs, Pirates, Marlins, Dodgers

Mets left-hander Jon Niese was removed from his start today after only two innings and 35 pitches with what the club calls left elbow discomfort. Niese had been wearing a neoprene sleve on his left arm the past few days, tweets Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. "It's the Spring Training from hell," Niese told reporters (as quoted by ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin). Niese also said he hyperextended the elbow, which first flared up during an intrasquad game 10 days ago, and has been taking anti-inflammatory medication and undergoing rehab since. Niese added the discomfort is in the back of the elbow, not in the ligament area (the focus of Tommy John surgery). The Mets are flying the 27-year-old to New York tonight with a MRI, his second in less than three weeks, scheduled for tomorrow, tweets Marc Carig of Newsday

Elsewhere in the National League: