There's been speculation in recent days about the possibility of Pirates general manager Neal Huntington being named MLB executive of the year.
This is not an official MLB award, like MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year or Manager of the Year. But The Sporting News has been picking a winner in this category since 1936 (Branch Rickey) so it passes the muster of having a tradition and being of some importance.
There are no firm guidelines for this award. Unlike player awards, there are no statistics to rely upon. It often, as does the Manager of the Year award, goes to the executive who is perceived to have done the most with the least.
That is Huntington.
He has taken a team that had a losing season last year and added enough important pieces to turn it into a playoff-bound club. Lots of teams are going to the playoffs, but in the National League none of them had a losing record last year. In the American League, the Boston Red Sox have made the jump from a worse record than the Pirates had in 2012 to an almost certain playoff berth. But the Red Sox have a tradition and, more importantly, the payroll the Pirates cannot match.
Should anyone thing Huntington has had little to do with the Pirates improvement, let's go chapter and verse with additions to the 2013 team.
• He addressed the team's greatest need -- a catcher that could stop teams from running wild on the bases against the Pirates -- by signing free-agent Russell Martin, while the New York Yankees, his former team, dawdled. Martin has made a tremendous difference in the Pirates and, after Andrew McCutchen, is their No. 2 MVP.
• While most teams saw one-time ace-in-waiting Francisco Liriano as a risk not worth millions, Huntington saw him otherwise. While the other teams made small-time offers, Huntington stepped up with a deal that Liriano would accept and the Pirates came away with the biggest bargain in free agency.
• To bolster his bullpen. Huntington gave away a less-than-borderline prospect to obtain Jeanmar Gomez, and two pitchers you never heard of to get Vin Mazzaro. Both have been key to the Pirates success this year.
• When the team needed help at the July 31 deadline, Huntington, as did almost every GM in contention, refused to pay big-time for the players available and bided his time. When the prices were presumably lower, Huntington added outfielder Marlon Byrd, catcher John Buck and first baseman Justin Morneau in late August. All three should significantly upgrade the Pirates.
Some will criticize Huntington for waiting too long to make these moves but the same people likely would have accused him of acting too quickly if he'd made these deals in July.
Huntington deserves immense credit for these moves. He did not come close to mortgaging the team's future for players that can make a difference in 2013.
The benefits Byrd and Morneau bring to the team are obvious, power bats at positions that required but did not have power bats -- right field and first base. Buck's value is less obvious. Not only does he give the Pirates a veteran backup to Martin, but with three catchers now on the roster, he's a pinch-hitter to be reckoned with. When was the last time the Pirates had a 15-homer-60-RBI guy coming off the bench?
In about two months, The Sporting News will announce the Executive of the Year Award winner. Allow me to relieve you of any suspense. Neal Huntington will be the winner and it won't be close.