Pirates extend Huntington's contract for three years
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Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, the architect of the organization's rebuilding process but also of unpopular moves at the major league level, agreed to a three-year contract extension with a club option for 2015, the team announced Sunday.
Huntington's contract would have expired after the season.
"I'm very excited," Huntington said, "to be able to continue to build on what we've been working so hard on the last four years, and to continue to move forward."
Huntington, who previously was the special assistant to the general manager for the Cleveland Indians, joined the Pirates in September 2007. The Pirates extended his contract for a year after the 2010 season but did not disclose the move until much later.
"I was confident that Neal was the right person for the job," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said. "He's demonstrated that he was the right person. They've done a lot of hard work. Obviously there's a lot of hard work to go."
The Pirates finished in last place in the division in each of Huntington's first three seasons.
Huntington has hired two managers, signed top draft picks and spent money acquiring international players during his time as GM. Under Huntington, the Pirates drafted Pedro Alvarez in 2008, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie in 2010 and Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell in 2011.
They gave contracts to Cole and Bell -- who committed to play baseball at Texas but changed his mind -- worth a combined $13 million. They also gave Mexican right-hander Luis Heredia a $2.6 million bonus in 2010.
"We said coming in that we had to acquire winning players, we had to acquire high-profile players, and we certainly have done that," Coonelly said.
Some of Huntington's trades netted quality major league players. He acquired Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Jose Tabata and Daniel McCutchen from the New York Yankees in 2008, Joel Hanrahan from the Washington Nationals in 2009 and James McDonald from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010. Trading Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves brought Charlie Morton in '09 as well.
Other moves fared worse. Huntington traded Jason Bay, an All-Star and the 2004 National League rookie of the year, to the Boston Red Sox in a three-team deal and received Bryan Morris, Andy LaRoche, Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss in return. Only Morris remains with the organization. Huntington also dealt All-Stars Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson, netting Ronny Cedeno and several minor league players.
Before this season, Huntington signed Matt Diaz, Joe Beimel and Lyle Overbay as free agents. All performed below expectations and none remain with the Pirates. Kevin Correia, another free-agent acquisition, was the best starter during the first half of the season and made the All-Star team but struggled after the break before getting hurt.
"We've learned a ton of lessons along the way," Huntington said. "The value of major league players, the difficulty of acquiring above-average major league players, the best ways to do it, the challenges of predicting human growth, development and evolution."
Huntington, the 12th GM in Pirates history, assisted Indians GM Mark Shapiro in addition to scouting and advance scouting work before joining the Pirates. He started with the Montreal Expos in 1992 and eventually became the Expos' assistant director of player development.
He joined the Indians in 1998 as the assistant director of minor league operations and became the director of player development later that year.
Huntington hired manager Clint Hurdle before this season after firing John Russell, who went 186-299 in his three seasons managing the Pirates. Hurdle helped the team move over .500 and into first place in the division in July, but since then the team has dropped out and will soon reach its 19th consecutive losing season.
"I think the excitement we saw this summer when the team was in contention just redoubled everybody's determination to make that a full summer," Coonelly said. "I'm confident that Neal and his team are the right people to finish the job and get that accomplished."
"We've showed ourselves that we can do some very good things for about four months," Huntington said. "Now we've got to figure out how to do it for six."
Injuries created many gaps for Huntington to fill this season. He acquired Michael McKenry, whose solid defense behind the plate balanced the Pirates after they lost Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder to injury, and also added Jason Grilli to the bullpen.
In an attempt to put some pop in the lineup, he traded for Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick at the trade deadline. Both missed time due to injury, but Lee has been terrific since returning.
The hardest part, Huntington said, was losing.
"Without question," he said. "We came into a situation we knew was difficult. Everybody wants to win, that's why we do this. We knew we had some work cut out for us.
"We're on the right path. We're maybe not moving as quickly as everybody would have liked and we understand that. We've got a lot of work left to do but there's a lot of good things going on and we're excited to be able to continue that."
First Published September 11, 2011 12:21 pm