Neal Huntington Rumors

Huntington Talks Appel, Boras, Draft Picks

With the Pirates looking for their first interleague sweep in 11 years, GM Neal Huntington met with reporters before the game, including Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (via Sulia).

  • On signing first round draft choice Mark Appel, Huntington says "it's a challenging sign."  Scott Boras is advising Appel and Biertempfel references other Boras clients who were tough signs but came to terms.  Biertempfel thinks negotiations will heat up as the July 13 deadline approaches.
  • Huntington was asked about dealing with Boras, "We've dealt with him a handful of times, both on the amateur market and on Major League free-agent market. He's … There's a reason he's negotiated all the contracts he's negotiated. It, uh … it is what it is."
  • Huntington described the team's sales pitch to its draft picks, "We talk about who we are as an organization, the success that's coming through our deep and talented farm system and the role they can play in that. You throw the money at them and sometimes that's the final, and maybe only, deciding factor."

Pirates Notes: Cole, Huntington, Pitching

The Pirates were buyers at the July 31st trade deadline, acquiring Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee, but they haven't won a game this month. Here's the latest from Pittsburgh as the 54-59 Pirates look to post their first winning record since 1992…

  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington must sign first overall draft pick Gerrit Cole by next week's deadline, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes.
  • Kovacevic also says president Frank Coonelly should complete an extension for Huntington, whose contract expires after the season. 
  • Huntington told Michael Sanserino of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Pirates could solve their bullpen problems by calling up pitchers such as Tim Wood, Chris Leroux and Danny Moskos
  • Kovacevic points out that the Pirates' dropoff in starting pitching performances has contributed to the club's current ten game losing streak. Paul Maholm agrees that the results have to improve. "It's on us," Maholm said. "We're the ones who go out there and pitch."

Lame Duck General Managers

By now, I'm sure you've looked over our list of players that will be free agents after the 2011 season numerous times, but what about general managers? With some help from Cot's Baseball Contracts, here's the list of GMs without contracts for 2012…

  • Andy MacPhail, Orioles – Technically, MacPhail isn't the GM, he's the president of baseball operations. He's still the guy calling the shots though. Last October we heard that he doesn't have any plans to approach owner Peter Angelos about a new deal before his current one expires.
  • Neal Huntington, Pirates – Team president Frank Coonelly said he expects Huntington to be in Pittsburgh "for a long time" earlier this year.
  • Walt Jocketty, Reds – Cincinnati is clearly a team on the rise, so it seems likely that ownership would want to bring Jocketty back after the season.
  • Dave Dombrowski, Tigers – A few months ago we heard that the fates of Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland could be a package deal based on the team's performance in 2011.
  • Brian Cashman, Yankees – The third longest-tenured GM in the game would seem to be on rocky ground after being over-ruled by ownership on the Rafael Soriano signing, but we heard afterwards that he still has the "full backing" of the Steinbrenners.


NL Central Notes: Pujols, Cubs, Huntington, Jones

Here are some notes from baseball's only six-team division…

  • Cubs owner Tom Ricketts was very vague when asked about the possibility of Albert Pujols becoming a Cub according to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun Times (on Twitter). Chicago has been speculated as a potential landing spot for Pujols if he does in fact become a free agent after the season.
  • Ricketts did however say that there will be "a little more financial flexibility" at the end of the season and he's open to "mega" contracts for certain players, according to Bruce Miles of The Daily Herald and Gordon Wittenmyer of The Chicago Sun-Times (Twitter links).
  • Ricketts also told Cowley (on Twitter) that the team has some room in the budget to add at the trade deadline, though revenue in the first few months of the season will be key.
  • The Pirates have not yet extended GM Neal Huntington's contract according to Rob Biertempfel of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Team president Frank Coonelly said "it's our expectation that Neal will be here for a long time." Huntington's contract expires after the 2011 season.
  • MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports that right-hander Mike Jones, the Brewers first round pick in 2001 (12th overall), is retiring. The 27-year-old never reached the big leagues, and owns a 3.75 ERA in 623 1/3 minor league innings, all in Milwaukee's system.

Pirates Expected To Fire Russell, Keep Huntington

After posting the worst record in baseball and an 18th consecutive losing season, the Pirates are expected to fire manager John Russell after today's game according to Dejan Kovacevic of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. GM Neal Huntington is expected to remain. Both men are under contract through the 2011 season.

In three seasons under Huntington and Russell, the Pirates have gone 186-297. Their 57-104 record in 2010 is representative of how poorly they've played; Pittsburgh is dead last in the league in ERA (5.00), UZR (-63.9) and third-worst in OPS (.679). There is no word about the fate of Russell's coaching staff, but Kovacevic notes that most of them have contracts that expire after the season.

Huntington's plan has been clear since taking over: he wants to rebuild the team through the farm system. Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, and Neil Walker have already broken in with the big league team, and at $30.6MM, the Pirates have spent more money on the draft since 2008 than any other club. They've also been aggressive in pursuing elite international free agents, most notably Miguel Sano.

Building from within takes time, especially when Huntington didn't inherit much talent to begin with. That said, 18 losing seasons is 18 losing seasons, and blame apparently fell on Russell's shoulders.


GM Initiation: Neal Huntington

Neal Huntington took over as GM of the Pirates on September 25th, 2007.  He was active on the waiver wire out of the gate, but his first trade didn't come until December 7th.  Huntington struck a deal with the Brewers, sending reliever Salomon Torres to Milwaukee for pitching prospects Marino Salas and Kevin Roberts.

Huntington kindly answered a few questions for MLBTR about his first trade.

MLB Trade Rumors: Torres dropped his grievance before you took over as Pirates GM.  Did his request to be traded still stand?  If so, did it limit your leverage?

Neal Huntington: The reality was that we had very little to no leverage because we had a disgruntled 36-year-old relief pitcher coming off an injury-plagued and disappointing performance season that was due to make over $3MM. Despite acknowledging the lack of leverage and lack of quality market, we made the decision it was time to move beyond the player, work to re-allocate the dollars and get the best return we could for him. Obviously we dealt from weakness and it did not turn out the way we would have preferred.

MLBTR: What kind of relationship did you have with Brewers GM Doug Melvin prior to the deal?

Huntington: I knew Doug through baseball circles but did not have much of a relationship with him beyond a cursory level.

MLBTR: Torres considered retirement after learning he was traded to the Brewers.  Had he retired, would you have considered reversing the trade or compensating the Brewers somehow?

Huntington: Fortunately we did not have to work through an alternative scenario, but ethically we would have been compelled to consider alternatives.

MLBTR: What did you see in Salas and Roberts, the two relief prospects acquired for Torres?  In hindsight, were better players available?

Huntington: The scouting reports indicated both pitchers had good arms with potential major league caliber breaking balls but both were on the small side of ideal and had some command issues. A quick review of the list of players available at the time confirms that despite our efforts to ask for more, it was a limited selection pool due to the issues surrounding the player and our lack of leverage.

MLBTR: In your two full seasons as Pirates' GM, the team's relief ERAs have been at or near the bottom of the NL.  Revamping the pen by bringing in veteran free agents Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, D.J. Carrasco, Javier Lopez, and others this winter – did that represent a change in bullpen-building philosophy for you?

Huntington: The philosophy remained the basically the same but we had fewer internal options with which to build the 2010 bullpen. We believe building a bullpen is the most unpredictable and the most difficult part of a ball club to put in place. The inconsistency in the year to year performance of the large percentage of major league relievers makes it difficult to for a club with our resources to invest significant dollars or years into relievers. As a result, we look for subjective and objective indicators of potential bounce-back candidates and/or look to provide ourselves with different complimentary attributes (power arm (K’s) / ground ball guys / arm slots / etc.) to provide numerous options for our manager to utilize in the various leverage situations.

In 2008 we had a solid back end with Capps, Grabow, Marte and Yates but our middle relievers really struggled. In 2009 we had a few solid pieces but we had our struggles throughout all portions of the game. As we prepared for 2010 we wanted to add depth and complimentary options. We felt that Dotel could give us similar performance level for similar dollars and contractual control as Capps (despite the age difference). We liked what each of the free agents brought to the table as we constructed our bullpen and we felt that the addition of some veterans in the bullpen would help our young relievers mature into reliable high leverage relievers as well as provide us with much needed depth.

Thanks to Neal Huntington for his time.  Be sure to check out the other entries on the GM Initiation series: Jon Daniels and Josh Byrnes.


GM Trade Histories: NL Central

Brendan Bianowicz continues to update the GM Trade History series, covering the NL Central today.  Click below to download Excel spreadsheets chronicling trades, free agent signings, and top draft picks for each GM.


Neal Huntington – GM Trade History

We've got a new entry in the GM Trade History series, courtesy of Jesse Behr of The 'Burgh Blues.  Click here to download an Excel spreadsheet of Neal Huntington's work for the Pirates.


Pirates Talk: Payroll, Offseason Plans

Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the latest on the Pirates, in articles found here and here.

  • Kovacevic says the Pirates "do not plan to pursue a starting pitcher through free agency or trade this offseason."  The Bucs figure to enter Spring Training next year with four rotation spots decided and many options for the last spot.
  • As hot stove junkies, we love when GMs are revealing about offseason plans and payroll space.  However, it's often not in the best interest of the team for the GM to disclose that information.  With that in mind, Huntington is staying mum on free agent targets and the team's 2010 payroll.
  • Pirates president Frank Coonelly admitted next year's payroll will exceed the current $28MM projection, but wouldn't provide more detail.  Coonelly added, "This is a relatively weak free-agent class. Nevertheless, there are several players who would be of interest to us if they become free agents."  A few weeks ago, Kovacevic suggested Rick Ankiel and John Grabow are possible free agent targets for the Pirates.
  • The Pirates fell below their draft and international budgets this year, and Coonelly says that money will roll over to the corresponding budgets in 2010.
  • Huntington and manager John Russell are signed through next year.  Coonelly expects both to remain with the team beyond 2010.
  • In a Pirates 2010 outlook for MLB.com, Jenifer Langosch names Denny Bautista and Tyler Yates as non-tender candidates.

Miguel Angel Sano To Sign With Twins

WEDNESDAY: Kovacevic has details on the breakdown in communication between the Pirates and Plummer.  MLB.com's Jen Langosch has a statement from Huntington; here's the money quote:

"Miguel Sano has apparently agreed to terms with another organization without his agent engaging the Pirates in legitimate negotiations."

TUESDAY: Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that the Twins will sign Dominican shortstop Miguel Angel Sano. Sano will receive a bonus of $3.15MM, the largest for an international amateur player given this summer. Sano's would be the second largest Latin American signing bonus ever behind only Dominican pitcher Michael Ynoa, who signed with the A's for $4.25MM last year, says Baseball America. It's the second largest in Twins history behind Joe Mauer's $5.15MM.

Last May, Kovacevic said Sano's bonus could reach $3MM. The deal will be signed tomorrow; however, Jorge Arangure of ESPN the Magazine adds via Twitter that "this deal isn't completed until Sano gets a visa to play in the U.S. And that's no given." While his age remains unconfirmed, Sano's saying he's 16.

The signing comes as a surprise. As many as 8-10 teams were reportedly interested in Sano, but it was the Pirates that had intensely pursued him. Kovacevic notes a breakdown between Sano's agent, Rob Plummer, and the Pirates:

"Plummer made clear that his relationship with the Pirates, particularly general manager Neal Huntington and Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo, became frayed during the process. The Pirates were the most aggressive team once the July 2 international signing period began, making offers of $2 million at the time and $2.6 million a month ago — the latter payment to be split in three parts — but talks were minimal in the past three weeks… each side expressed strong distrust in the other."

According to Kovacevic, Plummer says Huntington never believed other teams were interested in Sano and was overly concerned he was bidding against himself.

Tim Dierkes also contributed to this post.