Ron Cook: Huntington keeps focus in right place



Pirates general manager Neal Huntington had two thoughts Friday night when he heard the Oakland Athletics had given up a big part of their future to acquire starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a trade with the Chicago Cubs.

To paraphrase:

"Wow! The A's gave up Addison Russell? A player that hyped who is considered one of the best prospects in baseball? It definitely grabs your attention. We thought he was off the table."

And two ...

"Sure, you get tempted to make a trade like that. It makes you wonder how much further we would have had to go to be able to do something like that."

Samardzija, an All-Star pitcher, would look great at the top of the Pirates rotation. Even though their starters have been strong for more than a month, they don't have a No. 1. Gerrit Cole has a chance to be that guy. So does Francisco Liriano when he comes off the disabled list after the All-Star break next week. But there are no guarantees. Hammel, who is having a fine year, also would fit in nicely. No team ever has too much starting pitching.

But the Athletics are in a different spot from the Pirates. They took a 55-33 record into Monday night and are a lock to make the playoffs. They made the big trade to win the World Series.

"Billy talked very openly of going for it all right now," Huntington said of Oakland general manager Billy Beane.

The Pirates aren't as close to being a finished product. They wouldn't be a wild-card team if the season ended today, although they have played terrific baseball the past two months -- the best baseball in either league.

"There might come a time when we're overly aggressive and make a move like that and pay the consequences for it later," Huntington said. "But it has to be the right time for us. If we think it is, we have shown we're willing to trade prospects."

Huntington mentioned getting outfielder Marlon Byrd from the New York Mets in August for prospects Vic Black and Dilson Herrera, calling the trade a "very short-term decision for us." Byrd was a big part of the Pirates coming within one win of going to the National League Championship Series, but he left as a free agent after the season.

"Black and Herrera probably are going to be solid major-league players for a long time," Huntington said.

Losing Black and Herrera hardly has destroyed the minor league system. But giving up the type of prospects it would take to get Samardzija? The Pirates had better win it all to justify that kind of deal. Huntington was right when he said their impact players, for the most part, have to come from their system.

"When you trade for an impact player, it doesn't always have a positive impact. If you look at the list of the worst trades of all time, the majority of them have been trade-deadline deals where a team trades for a short-term fit and gives up a prospect who becomes an All-Star. ...

"It would have been easy for us to trade our right fielder last year. It would have been easy to trade our left fielder two years ago. It would have been easy to trade our young starter who progressed so quickly through our system."

Huntington is glad he didn't trade Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte and Cole. The guess here is Pirates fans are, as well.

"A lack of moves doesn't mean we don't want to win right now," Huntington said. "You ask if I get tempted. Absolutely, I do. But we work really hard to make logical, rational decisions rather than emotional decisions because emotional decisions usually don't turn out well.

"Our goal is to be a consistent championship-caliber organization for many years to come. In order to do that, we're going to have to make some hard decisions to hold on to players."

To paraphrase Huntington one final time:

"We'll look to improve our team any way we can before the trade deadline, but we're not going to sell off the farm to do it. We're not going to settle for one all-or-nothing shot. Not now, anyway. We don't just want to play meaningful baseball games this September. We want to play them next September, the September after that and for as many Septembers as we can."

It is sound strategy.

It should be the Pirates' only strategy.

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


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