Neal Huntington Rumors

Nutting: Pirates Must Take Step Forward

The Pirates extended general manager Neal Huntington following the 2011 season and extended manager Clint Hurdle this week. Despite those moves, Huntington and Hurdle face pressure from above, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reports. Owner Bob Nutting said the organization’s decision makers expect to win and that the franchise “must take a step forward." 

"The idea that an extension is somehow a free pass is exactly the message I would not want to send, and not the message Clint heard,” Nutting said. “We've shown we're willing to make a change if we need to, irrespective of the contract terms."

Nutting said the Pirates aim to win the World Series, but declined to clarify what a step forward would look like in further detail. Ending the franchise’s 20-year streak of losing seasons isn’t a goal in itself and would be "an inappropriate target" in Nutting’s view.

The Pirates came close to ending their streak of losing seasons in 2012, but finished with a 79-83 record. Huntington added Russell Martin, Jeff Karstens, Jason Grilli, Francisco Liriano and Jonathan Sanchez this offseason.


Pirates Will Not Make Any Front Office Changes

Despite embarrassing reports of military-style training programs for the team's prospects, Pirates owner Bob Nutting told Dejan Kovacevic of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the team will not make any front office changes. President Frank Coonelly, GM Neal Huntington, and assistant GMs Kyle Stark and Greg Smith will all return.

“What we have been doing and what we’ll continue to do is a comprehensive review,” said Nutting. “But that is not a two-week or a four-week process. That is one that is going to continue as we evaluate every aspect of the organization. Because we need to get better.”

Nutting conducted an internal investigation into the club's developmental practices and stressed that he was not done, but he did acknowledge that this was not the right time to make a change. “I believe that our primary responsibility is to develop baseball players to play baseball and win championships at PNC Park … We are not and we should not be a military organization," he added, while also saying the training methods will stop immediately.

The Pirates came under heavy scrutiny when Kovacevic published a pair of reports in recent weeks detailing the team's training regimens. Top prospects Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco reportedly suffered minor injuries during the incidents. The Pirates had their best record since 1997 under Huntington this year, but a second-half collapse prevented the team from breaking the .500 barrier. He was hired as GM following the 2007 season.


Coonelly: No Changes Coming For Pirates

Pirates GM Neal Huntington and his front office staff have come under heavy scrutiny in recent weeks, as his club is mired in a second straight second half collapse that has them poised for a 20th consecutive losing season. Despite that, team president Frank Coonelly issued a statement endorsing Huntington and his staff on Wednesday. Here is the text, courtesy of Karen Price of The Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

“As soon as we finish this season as well as we possibly can, we will turn our full and total attention to evaluating why were unable to finish the job and what we must do differently to take the next step to becoming a championship team. There will unquestionably be changes made to the way in which we operate as a result of this thorough critical self-evaluation, but we will not be making personnel changes at the very top of our baseball operations department. Neal, [assistant GM Kyle Stark], [assistant GM Greg Smith] and [manager Clint Hurdle] are dedicated and intelligent baseball men in whom I have great confidence.

“Confidence in and support of Neal, Kyle and Greg should not be misunderstood with acceptance of another poor finish at the Major League level. We must understand why the quality of our execution and play deteriorated so markedly in August. Finishing was the focus from spring training but it certainly was not achieved.”

Last week we learned about a military-style training program implemented by Huntington and Stark for the club's top prospects. Few around the game will be surprised if the front office is overhauled, but Coonelly's statement suggests that the current regime will be given a chance to reap the rewards of a strong farm system that includes top pitching prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.

Huntington has been at the helm in Pittsburgh since the end of the 2007 season. The club has gone 330-561 under his watch with four last place finishes in five full years. Baseball America ranked the Pirates' farm system as the 26th best in baseball when Huntington was hired, and this past winter they had climbed to 11th. Five years is generally considered enough time to evaluate a rebuild though, and patience in the Steel City has certainly begun to wear thin.



Huntington Talks Front Office Changes, Pirates’ Slump

Before the Pirates broke their five-game losing streak in Houston this afternoon for only their eighth win in their previous 31 games, GM Neal Huntington sat down with reporters, including Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

  • Amid a growing clamor that Huntington's job is no longer secure, news broke this week about the Pirates holding military drills for their prospects. Huntington, however, downplayed the need for Owner Bob Nutting and/or President Frank Coonelly to make any changes to the front office, "If Bob or Frank decide to make a change and bring in a new general manager, that's their call. I sure hope they don't. I believe in the people I'm working with, I believe in what we're doing and how we're doing it. I don't see making a change at any leadership position at this point in time. I believe in their leadership, character and ability. Winning masks a lot of not-so-good things. Losing masks a lot of very good things."
  • Assistant GM Kyle Stark, the architect of the military drill idea, was defended by Huntington. "Kyle Stark is a tremendous front-office executive — intelligence, character, abilities. When you're a leader and you're willing to have a tough conversation, you tend to have people who may not always like you. That's what we're dealing with right now."
  • Huntington also tried to put Stark's email (full text provided by Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) about the drills into context, "The impact Kyle has had on our overall development (of players) because of his desire to learn the whole person is remarkable. Out of context is a dangerously abused term in our industry. But when you take one email and try to paint the whole man or our development system, it's inaccurate. That terminology was used to connect with 18- to 25-year-olds. They don't want to hear about 'cohesiveness' or 'team-building' or 'preparation.' But when you use the terminology that grabs them … We're not trying to create Boy Scouts, native American warriors, Hell's Angels or hippies. We're trying to get (players) to think like that. We're using images and metaphors to connect a message.
  • The Pirates are also dealing with their second consecutive second-half slump that has seen them win as many games as the the 50-win Astros since August 15. Huntington gave his theory for this year's collapse, "As we've tried to evaluate metrically how we've gotten here, you look at the numbers and we weren't supposed to be 16 games over .500. We should have been closer to eight (games), which is still progress. What's happened since Aug. 1, batting averages on balls in play have plummeted for our hitters and increased for our pitchers, especially with runners in scoring position. It doesn't mean it's bad luck, but … yes, it means it's bad luck. There is a double-edged sword in that we've done some things to not play well and we've had some things go against us. Is the last six weeks the way we envisioned our season? Absolutely not. Every team has tough stretches; ours, unfortunately, has been longer and late (in the season)."
  • Huntington also blamed the team's struggles on players trying to do too much, according to MLB.com's Tom Singer. Said Huntington, "We define players in one of three categories, and one of them is 'survivor.' A survivor is someone who cares about surviving, about staying in the big leagues. We've had some guys fall back into survivor mode these last two months. It isn't a selfish mindset, so to speak. But you see men on first-and-second and nobody out, and instead of making sure to get the runner over, you try to hit a three-run homer. It's well-intended, but when you get outside of your game and try to do too much — the age-old excuse — you start to get yourself in trouble.

Pirates Notes: Huntington, Stark, Taillon

The Pirates fell below .500 when they lost to the Brewers last night, but that’s not why the team is making headlines today. Details surrounding some unusual player development practices have surfaced, generating surprise and criticism. Here are the details:

  • Pirates prospects spent this past weekend in Florida performing military drills directed by former Navy SEALS, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. General manager Neal Huntington and assistant GM Kyle Stark implemented the program, which started at 5 am daily and included running along the beach with a telephone pole, flipping truck tires, and diving into sand piles. Earlier in the year Stark emailed his players, encouraging them to “Dream and be creative like a Hippie. Have the discipline and perseverance of a Boy Scout. Be crazy and take risks like the Hells Angels.”
  • Kovacevic calls the Pirates' actions inexplicable and indefensible.
  • Players dreaded the activities and team officials feared them, Yahoo's Jeff Passan reports. MLB executives expressed skepticism about the program’s effectiveness. "I didn't like it,” one person told Passan. “Nobody did. They don't know what they're doing."
  • Top prospect Jameson Taillon once suffered a non-serious knee injury during the program’s hand-to-hand combat component, Passan reports.
  • “Whispers are becoming louder” that Huntington’s job status isn’t completely secure, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. However, an ownership source told Heyman the Pirates’ upper management really seems to like manager Clint Hurdle.

NL Notes: Strasburg, Carpenter, Pirates

The first Sunday of the new NFL season has not gone unnoticed by MLB players. The Cubs are celebrating by wearing a NFL jersey of their choice on their flight from Pittsburgh to Houston tonight, reports Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com. But, like their season, the idea wasn't without its pitfalls. While Floridian Anthony Rizzo (Dolphins), Baltimore native Steve Clevenger (Ravens), and Virginian Shawn Camp (Redskins) came prepared, others were left to the mercy of jersey shopping in Pittsburgh. So, newly acquired Jason Berken, a Packers season-ticker holder, had to settle for a Steelers jersey. Enough of the gridiron and back to the diamond:

  • The Stephen Strasburg shutdown will test all of Nationals' intangibles: its confidence, cohesion, and just plain stubbornness, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post
  • Jake Westbrook will miss his next start for the Cardinals with a right oblique injury. MLB.com's Jennifer Langosch reports Chris Carpenter is a possibility to replace Westbrook on Thursday. Carpenter, who has yet to pitch this year after undergoing surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder, is set to throw a simulatated game tomorrow, but Langosch says the team could switch the schedule should they want Carpenter to step in immediately.
  • The Pirates are still developing their offseason plans for Gerrit Cole, the first overall selection in the 2011 draft, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (via Sulia). "We've got to spend some time with him and see where we can place him," Biertempfel quoted GM Neal Huntington as saying. Cole was roughed up in his final Triple-A start (eight runs in just two innings), but Huntingon was philosophical, "The biggest lesson is, Triple-A (batters) can hit 100 mph (pitches). If you keep coming with 100 mph, they're going to keep hitting it. You've got to use all your pitches. Things snowballed on him, things got a little quick for him. He's going to be better for it.

National League Notes: Huntington, Dickey, Scully

On this day in baseball history in 1939, NBC televised the first Major League baseball game using an experimental station W2XBS. Viewers were privy to a doubleheader between the Reds and Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Here's the latest news and headlines from around the National League…

  • The exercise of calling up players for the month of September has changed for Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, writes Karen Price of the Tribune-Review. Instead of giving raw prospects a taste of the big leagues, Huntington will be looking to add minor leaguers who can help his team win games with an eye on the playoffs and provide manager Clint Hurdle an extra weapon off the bench. “The makeup of our club at midnight on Aug. 31 is the makeup of our club on Oct. 5, provided we take care of business and we get there,” Huntington said. “So that’s a little different, to try to put together an Oct. 5 roster on Aug. 31.”
  • Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told season-ticket holders on Sunday that the Mets would love to retain R.A. Dickey on a long-term deal, writes Spencer Fordin of MLB.com. Word got back to the knuckleballer, who expressed a similar desire to call Citi Field home for years to come. "I love it here and I've always voiced that," said Dickey. "A part of me enjoys being loyal to an organization that's given me a shot. I connect well with the fan base, [the media] has always been good and I'm comfortable here. That says a lot for me and where I am in my career."
  • Legendary play-by-play broadcaster Vin Scully announced on Sunday that he will return to the Dodgers for the 2013 season marking his 64th year with the franchise. The Hall of Famer will turn 85 in November but remains enthused as ever about the Dodgers given the team's new ownership group, says Stephen Borelli of USA Today. "The new ownership of the Dodgers has revitalized the city, the team, the fans and myself," Scully. "I am so convinced of their great purpose and leadership that I eagerly look forward to joining them in pursuit of the next Dodgers championship."

September Call-ups: Pirates, Orioles, Padres, Mets

Major League rosters can expand to 40 players beginning September 1st. Not everybody thinks it's such a great idea. Tigers manager Jim Leyland recently vented to reporters, including Jason Beck of MLB.com. "I've been really adamant about that, really a stickler on it," Leyland said. "When I have that meeting with the Commissioner [as part of the special committee for on-field matters], I talk about that all the time. Myself, if everybody went to 28, that wouldn't bother me at all. I think that's fine. That's just my feeling, but any manager who does a pretty good job of managing all year, and then at the biggest month of the year, he loses some of his ability to maneuver." Let's take a look at what the plans are for other clubs looking to maneuver over the season's final month. 
  • The Pirates are mulling their September call-ups with the post-season in mind, as they entered play today holding the second NL Wild Card spot and with Triple-A Indianapolis likely playoff-bound. General Manager Neal Huntington told reporters, including Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Where we go from there … it’s a delicate balance. I’ve been with another organization where we raided the Triple-A team as it was headed to the post-season. The guys came up and didn’t play very much, and that didn’t go over very well on many fronts."  At least one left-handed reliever and another catcher will be added when rosters expand, writes Biertempfel.
  • Pirates manager Clint Hurdle adds another consideration when deciding upon September call-ups: cost. In Biertempfel's piece, Hurdle pointed out, "In my rookie year, if you got a call-up, you made $5,000 or $6,000 (in September). Now you’re talking about making $75,000. So if you call up 10 guys, you’re picking up $750,000 in salary and everything that goes with it.
  • Orioles manager Buck Showalter has acknowledged the team's September call-ups will be affected by the team's playoff chase. Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com lists possible players, both on the disabled list and at Triple-A, who could join the O's when the rosters expand. 
  • The Padres may not have the roster space to bring Jedd Gyorko up in September, according to John Maffei of the North County Times. The Padres already have 49 players on their 40-man roster (nine are on the 60-day disabled list) and may not want to start Gyorko's service clock just for a September sneak peak, writes Maffei. Since Gyorko has less than three full seasons in pro ball, the Padres don't have to add him to the 40-man roster next season.  
  • Lucas Duda will probably have to wait until September 1st to rejoin the Mets because the team wants to take a longer look at Mike Baxter, tweets the New York Post's Mike Puma
  • The Nationals have several candidates for September call-ups including pitcher John Lannan and 2011 first-round draft pick Anthony Rendon, writes MLB.com's Bill Ladson.

Quick Hits: Mets, Gerrit Cole, Aviles

The Games of the XXX Olympiad came to a close today in London. Nearly 11,000 athletes from 204 nations took part in over 300 events in 26 sports. But, none of the Olympic pagentry involved baseball. So, let's celebrate America's National Pastime with the latest news, notes and quotes: 

  • Not everyone in the Mets front office is sold that they can be a sustained contender moving forward with Ike Davis at first base, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. One internal option would be moving Lucas Duda in from the outfield and some believe that he would be more comfortable at first.
  • Mets owner Fred Wilpon wouldn't speak with reporters following a rare on-field appearance before last night's game against the Braves, but he'll have to start answering questions soon, writes David Lennon of Newsday. There are a lot of unknowns surrounding the Mets, including what their projected payroll will be for 2013 and if the franchise is on the rebound financially.
  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington says Gerrit Cole, last year's top draft pick, will not be a September callup, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (via Sulia). "We've not talked about it internally. My gut (feeling) is no." Huntington said. "To drop him into bullpen up here in September is not something we have lot of interest in doing. We have a lot of other options, instead of rushing a young prospect." Cole is currently starting at Double-A Altoona.
  • The A's had interest in Mike Aviles prior to the trade deadline, but a deal is unlikely now the Red Sox have placed the shortstop on waivers, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Slusser says the chances are slim the A's will acquire a shortstop before the August 31st deadline for playoff-roster eligibility.

Edward Creech contributed to this post.


Huntington Talks Trade Deadline

With the Pirates riding a four-game winning streak and sitting just one-half game behind the NL Central-leading Reds, GM Neal Huntington met with reporters today including Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (via Sulia).

  • The Pirates pushed their budget to the limit with the Spring Training acquisition of A.J. Burnett, but Huntington isn't concerned about adding payroll. "We've got some flexibility," Huntington said without elaborating. Biertempfel has received indications the front office has requested and received permission from owner Bob Nutting to increase payroll, if necessary, at the trade deadline.
  • With the trade deadline a little over a week away, Huntington says reality is starting to hit some teams. "Teams are starting to reach out with two-way logic — still looking to add but reality is starting to set in they might need to sell. There are not more clear sellers, but (more) teams that are beginning to prepare if they decide to go in that direction."
  • On trade talks, Huntington said he's "no busier than we've been the last couple last weeks of July."
  • On trading the pick obtained in the new Competitive Balance Lottery, Huntington said, "It's another asset for us. We've got a certain value on it. If we get that value, it's no different than a prospect in our system who we've played a value on. We're not looking to move it. It will be interesting to see how industry values it."