Cook: Huntington should act fast on Alvarez

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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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Huntington has to take the blame for this mess. 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.

Robinson Diaz for Jose Bautista, who had 18 home runs through Sunday for the Toronto Blue Jays? Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Bryan Morris and Craig Hansen for Jason Bay? 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. 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. Iwamura is hitting .177 and has no range in the field because of a bad knee. 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.

Shame on Huntington.

Think what you will of robotic-like manager John Russell, but he didn't build this lousy team. He was stuck with it by Huntington. In the cases of Iwamura, who -- against all odds -- remains with the club, Clement and pitcher Charlie Morton, who was previously seen in the minors working with a sports psychologist trying to get his head right again after two months of beatings, he was stuck with them way too long by Huntington, who couldn't seem to admit he was so wrong with their evaluations.

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.

It's no wonder Huntington is running out of time.

Under the circumstances, it's almost shocking Alvarez hasn't been called up. He has handled himself well at Class AAA Indianapolis, hitting .285 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs through Sunday. Huntington challenged him to hit better against left-handed pitchers and he has responded by batting .323 against them. He deserves to be playing against the White Sox tonight, not the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

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.

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.

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

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.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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