Neal Huntington experienced the fruits of six years' worth of labor last fall, not only on the field but also in the stands, a roaring mob of black-clad fans venting 20 years of frustration. Now the Pirates' general manager has the chance to build on it.
"The fan base has turned the negative passion into a positive passion," he said. "We've got to work to keep it positive."
The Pirates Saturday announced contract extensions through 2017 for Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle, removing Hurdle's status as the only manager in Major League Baseball whose contract was not guaranteed after this season.
During spring training in 2013, the Pirates exercised Hurdle's 2014 club option and added a club option for 2015, lining him up with Huntington, who received a three-year extension in September 2011 with a club option for 2015. The new three-year deals include club options for 2018.
"I really believe that a cohesive team, a stable team and a group that's able to think over the long term is going to always be in the best interest of the Pirates," Pirates Chairman Bob Nutting said. "I love both these guys."
The extensions were agreed to in spring training, Pirates President Frank Coonelly said, but the team waited to announce them while they finalized the documents.
Hurdle, 56, became the Pirates' manager before the 2011 season. Last year, the Pirates won 94 games, breaking a streak of 20 consecutive seasons in which they failed to finish above .500. They earned a wild-card playoff berth and advanced to the National League Division Series, where they lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals, and Hurdle won the NL Manager of the Year award. He had a 245-241 record in his first three seasons with the Pirates.
"I experienced as much joy in a lot of different areas in the first two years as I did last year because I saw the growth, I saw things getting better," Hurdle said.
Huntington, 45, joined the Pirates from the Cleveland Indians in September 2007. He orchestrated an effort to strengthen the organization through the amateur draft and international free agency, which drew heavy criticism because of the poor major league product.
"My belief in him was the same today as it was the last time we extended Neal's contract, and the time [before that] we extended Neal's contract," Coonelly said. "The fact that the major-league team won 94 games last year didn't change my view of him and his leadership, nor Clint and their leadership as well."
The extensions came about 15 months after Nutting conducted an organizational review following a second consecutive fall from playoff contention and opted against making changes in his baseball operations department.
"There was a lot of angst inside the organization," Nutting said. "At the end of that process, I think collectively we decided that there was far more going right than going wrong."
Coonelly and Huntington indicated contract extensions for other members of the baseball operations staff, such as assistant GMs Kyle Stark and Greg Smith, were in the works.
"We were all kind of in the same situation, and we were all fine with that, but with this opportunity we've got the ability to enhance our continuity," Huntington said.
Huntington and his staff are responsible for drafting, signing or trading for Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole, Justin Wilson, Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli and Russell Martin, all of whom contributed to the playoff run last year. His staff also drafted or signed Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon, who are the organization's top two prospects and might reach the majors later this season.
Hurdle said he has known players whose play reflected their manager's contract status. They pressed on the field, trying to help the manager keep his job, and suffered as a result. He knows not all players react that way, but was pleased that it would not be an issue now. He also said he was happy to continue settling into Pittsburgh.
"My roots are in," he said. "But now to know that there's a commitment on both sides that's real and significant, and know that the turbulence that will come, the challenges that will come, that we're bound together."
Asked about his status, Coonelly said he was an at-will employee. His original Pirates contract from 2007 expired, he said.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org. This story has been revised to reflect the following correction. A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Neal Huntington's role in signing outfielder Starling Marte. Marte signed Jan. 4, 2007, prior to Huntington joining the organization. First Published April 5, 2014 3:15 PM